GuidesWhat Is a Print Server? How Print Servers Work

What Is a Print Server? How Print Servers Work

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When you have a fleet of devices, multiple printers, or geographically distant office locations, a print server is a mechanism that provides adequate management and control. Print servers are high-powered appliances or software that help organizations manage files in a printing queue and facilitate the user-printer workflow. 

Today, print servers can be physical or cloud-based systems that connect devices to specific network printers. Office staff and authorized remote users can submit print requests to place a bid in a queue. It eventually gets printed as a physical file. 

Depending on the organization’s size — with some global enterprise networks in mind — a print server can manage more extensive networks’ print requests, organize the demand for the appropriate physical printer, and execute the queue of requests.

This article looks at what a print server is, how print servers work, printer server software, and more.

Learn more about the range of server types, functions, and purposes in our Guide to Servers.

Why Do I Need a Print Server?

While modern printers have many more capabilities than their predecessors, printers haven’t traditionally been high-powered machines. Because individual printers lack processing power, print servers are a solution to take the workload off printers and manage print queues at a network level.

Print Server Benefits

  • Receives and organizes print requests across a range of client devices and systems
  • Processes requested data, including file data, print specifications, and printer location
  • Manages multiple printers for location-based clients and large networks
  • Improves efficiency by balancing network workloads for printing and office machines
  • Fit for enterprises and large organizations with expansive networks and print queues

Check out the Best Load Balancers of 2021

What Can Print Servers Do?

At first glance, print servers might seem like a simple network system — users submit requests, and the server enables the reproduction of the file on a physical printer. More than that, print servers are network-level devices that administrators can configure to set policies for users, devices, printers, and features.

These configurable features include color printing quotas, departmental authentication, watermarking printed documents, blocking access to specific printers, and more.

Print Server Pros

  • Central control of print operations
  • More equipped for large print volume
  • Enhances security for printer devices
  • Load-balancing is cost-effective

Print Server Cons

  • Print network vulnerability point
  • Upfront investment for capabilities
  • Requires maintenance
  • Physical print servers on the decline

Are Print Servers on the Decline? 

Yes and no. Organizations increasingly rely on digital files, so printers aren’t nearly as stressed — or even needed — for some small businesses. But because plenty of businesses require physical documentation, including the legal and healthcare industries, the need for a print server is an organizational decision.

Print servers were an essential part of the network two or three decades ago, but their capabilities are increasingly pre-packaged onto other network appliances. Routers, firewalls, and individual client devices are just a few examples of machines that can play the part. Many servers sold are embedded with functionality for specific printer lines, while other servers can manage any printer with the appropriate connection or USB adaptor.

How Print Servers Work

Like other servers, a print server operates on the client-server model, receiving and processing user requests. As seen in the above graphic, physical print servers sit on the back end of an organization’s network and directly connect to network printers, maintaining control over the print queue. The print server processes request information from a device, including specific file and print specifications. 

While most printing takes place inside office networks, print servers are accessible — usually via authorized login — for external network clients.

Print Server Workflow

  1. User with an authorized client device requests to print a file.
  2. The print server receives the request and processes request data to direct the file to a specific network printer, placing the request in the print queue.
  3. Requests-turned-queue items move through the queue, and the file prints on the designated printer.

Read more about the state of print business with IT Business Edge’s HP and the “Never Give Up” Rule.

What Is Print Server Software?

Print server software is the underlying program that allows a general server, explicit print server appliances, and most modern computers to manage network printing. 

Beyond deploying the capabilities of print servers — where there are several free and open-source offerings available — plenty of software vendors address printing management today.

Kofax Equitrac

Since 1977, Equitrac has been a software vendor for cost management and production solutions for printers, copiers, and more. Equitrac offers secure access controls, data monitoring, and a central dashboard with capture and routing behaviors across devices.


Hailing from Australia, PaperCut is a print management solution for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Novell. It emphasizes the cost-effectiveness and environmental impact print optimization can provide. PaperCut’s core solutions offer self-hosted or cloud-based print server capabilities.


PrinterLogic seeks to eliminate traditional print servers and offers their serverless printing infrastructure as the prime alternative. Its printer and driver management platform provides a self-service portal capable of mobile, pull, and virtual printing for users.

Printing Protocols

A printing protocol is a communication between clients making requests and printers or print servers processing the request. Further, print protocols allow clients to visualize their query and alter the order or block requests. 

The dedicated protocols are specific to print operations for types of printing protocols, while generic protocols have broader applications and work for print needs. Alongside the rise of handheld technology, the wireless protocol employs dedicated protocol methods to give macOS, Android, and Windows devices printer connectivity.

Dedicated Protocols

  • AppSocket and JetDirect
  • Internet Printing Protocol
  • Line Printer Daemon (LPD)

Generic Protocols

  • NetBIOS
  • Server Message Block (SMB)
  • Telnet 

Wireless Protocols

  • AirPrint
  • Mopria Alliance
  • Web Services for Devices (WSD)
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