How many computers are in your household? Two? Three? More? Many households have more than one computer, but having multiple printers is probably overkill. Here are four ways to share your printer:
1. Integrated Ethernet/Wi-Fi printer
The most obvious and convenient way to share a printer is to use a printer with a built-in Ethernet or Wi-Fi connection, like the Brother HL-2270DW. Wi-Fi printers are convenient if you want to put your printer somewhere that isn't near your router, but using the Wi-Fi connection isn't the only way to print wirelessly. If your printer has an Ethernet jack and is located near your router, plug it in to your router and install the printer drivers on each of your computers. Setting up the Ethernet connection on a printer is usually easier than Wi-Fi and you're likely get a stronger connection than you'd get relying on the printer's Wi-Fi antenna. Most network printers also support multiple operating systems, which is great if your household runs multiple OSes.
2. Standalone print server
Standalone print servers are a good way to get more mileage out of a printer you already own. They can cost as little as $40 and allow you to use your printer's USB connection. You just plug your printer into the print server, then plug an Ethernet cable between the print server and your network router. Depending on your OS, you may need to install some software too. Many standalone print servers support multiple OSes as well. The only problem with using print servers is that they don't usually support multifunction (all-in-one) printers. We also recommend that you check your printer model with the print server's compatibility list, just in case your printer isn't supported.
3. Integrated print server on network routers
If you have a network router, you may want to check the router's feature list to see if it has a built-in print server. Some routers have a USB port where you can plug in your USB printer and share your printer through the router. Every router's print server implementation is different, so check the manual for help on setting it up. As with the standalone print server, multifunction printers may not be supported on your router's print server.
4. Windows printer sharing (HomeGroup)
Windows printer sharing, or HomeGroup, as it's called in Windows 7, is probably the least convenient option on this list. Why? Because you have to leave a computer on with your printer plugged in for sharing to work. Essentially, you're turning your computer into a print server. However, this might work for households that don't print that often or if you leave your computer on most of the time anyways. For more on how to use HomeGroup, check out Microsoft's guide on using HomeGroup.