Explanation of Wireless Vs. Wired Printers

By David Weedmark

Updated August 23, 2018

Wi-Fi printers can be shared with all the computers on your network.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

If you are considering a new printer for your home or office, or just looking to get more from your current printer, both wired and wireless printers have their advantages and disadvantages. Many printers on the market today come ready to be connected both wirelessly or through a cable. Understanding the benefits and limitations of each technology will help you determine which is the right for you.

Wireless Printers

There are two types of wireless printers available today. A Bluetooth printer can be connected to any Bluetooth-capable computer. Its main benefit is that it can be placed several yards from your computer and still work without having a cable draped across your desk. A Wi-Fi printer connects wirelessly to a Wi-Fi router, so it can be accessed by any computer on that network; its main advantage is that it's easily shared by many workers. Disadvantages of Wi-Fi printers include slow print times and print errors if the network is busy or if there is interference in the network. A Wi-Fi printer also opens a new door to anyone accessing your network if your security is lacking. Of course, a wireless printer isn't completely wireless. Unless it's battery-operated, it still needs a power cord.

Wired Printers

Wired printers connect directly to a computer with a cable. Most printers today use a USB cable, while older printers and computers connect with a specialized printer port. The main benefit of a wired printer is that print jobs can be sent quickly without worrying about the interference or signal loss that may affect wireless printers. Wired printers are also more secure, as they can't be accessed unless you are logged in to the computer. You can share a wired printer with other computers on the same network, provided the computer is on and printer sharing has been enabled on the operating system.

Wireless Adapters

Most USB printers can be converted to a wireless printer with an adapter. Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth adapters are available from printer manufacturers as well as third-party manufacturers. Before purchasing one, you should first make sure that the adapter will work with your printer. The manufacturer's product description will tell you if it works with all printers or only specific models. You will also need to install the printer software on each computer you want to connect to the printer.

Ethernet Printers

If you don't have a Wi-Fi router, or if you don't want to worry about wireless signal degradation, an Ethernet printer is a good option for sharing one printer with more than one computer. Ethernet printers attach to an Ethernet router or hub on your network using an network interface card just like those found on most computers. Even if you have a Wi-Fi router, most router models come with at least one Ethernet port on the back that you can use to connect to the printer.