Finding the Best Driver

The preceding discussion avoided one critical issue: How do you know which printer driver to select? If you're using a configuration tool such as Apsfilter or CUPS, you'll probably see a list of printers. If you're lucky, your printer will be on that list, so it should be obvious which one to pick. If you're unlucky, though, you might see two drivers for your printer or none at all.

If you see two drivers, I recommend that you try both. For both drivers, try printing both text and graphics output; one driver could produce better text and the other could produce superior graphics. If that's the case, and if both text and graphics quality are important to you, you can configure two printer queues, as described in the upcoming section, "Accessing Printer Options via Multiple Print Queues."

Most Ghostscript drivers work with many printers. For instance, Hewlett-Packard (HP) developed a printer language called the Printer Control Language (PCL), which has been adopted by many printer manufacturers for their laser printers. Thus, picking an HP LaserJet model will work for many non-HP laser printers. If you don't see your printer model listed, select an earlier model from the same line or a compatible model. Most printers that emulate others come with documentation that should help you pick the right driver.

If you have no clue which driver to try, consult the Linux Printing website (http://www.linuxprinting.org). Click the Printer Listings link in the column on the left side of the window, and then use the selector buttons to locate your printer or all printers made by a given manufacturer. The resulting web page provides information on the overall level of support for a printer as well as details on specific drivers. The overall support is summarized as one of four levels: perfectly (printer works in all resolutions and with all major features), mostly (printer works, but has minor problems or limitations, such as lack of support for some resolutions), partially (printer works in a very limited way, such as black-and-white only on a color model), or paperweight (no support for this model). Below the summary information you'll find information on all the Ghostscript drivers that work with a printer, where appropriate. (Listings for PostScript printers note that you don't need to use Ghostscript.)

As a general rule, the standard Ghostscript drivers work well for most printers, particularly for printing text. One particular set of add-on drivers deserves mention, though: GIMP-Print (http://gimp-print.sourceforge.net). These drivers ship with most distributions, and you can select them from your printer setup tools. They derive from work done to support non-PostScript printers with the GIMP, and so their developers have optimized these drivers to get the best results on graphics files. Therefore, even if you get acceptable text printouts using a standard Ghostscript driver, you might want to investigate GIMP-Print for printing graphics.

One unusual alternative to any of these drivers is the TurboPrint package (http://www.turboprint.de/english.html), which is a commercial replacement for Ghostscript in the Linux printing queue. If you can't find regular Ghostscript support, or if the Ghostscript drivers are inadequate, TurboPrint may be worth investigating. The package also includes GUI printer management tools, so if you don't like your distribution's GUI tools, TurboPrint may be the answer.

A few applications support printing using printers' native modes rather than PostScript. The GIMP is the most notable of these programs, but there are other examples, such as WordPerfect 8.0 and Anywhere Office. To use the non-PostScript printing options of such programs, you must either have a printer queue that's smart enough to recognize the printer's native format and pass it through unmodified or you must configure a raw print queue. A raw queue doesn't use a print filter. You can create one for BSD LPD or LPRng by duplicating a conventional print queue entry in /etc/printcap, changing its name, and eliminating the if= line. (If the if= line is the last line in the entry, be sure to eliminate the trailing backslash on the end of the previous line, too.) If you're using CUPS, you can create a raw queue by selecting Raw as the printer make and Raw Queue as the model.

Raw queues can be useful for sharing a printer with Windows hosts, too. If you share a conventional printer queue, a Windows system may need to use a PostScript printer driver. This may work well, but it sometimes poses problems, particularly if Linux's support for the printer is weak. By using a raw print queue, you can use the printer's native Windows drivers, which may work better than using PostScript drivers. In fact, it's sometimes possible to share a printer using a raw queue even when no Ghostscript drivers exist.

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