Printing on Linux: Choosing The Right Printer and Getting It To Work

Danny Stieben 16-07-2014

One of the few pieces of hardware that may cause the most trouble on a Linux system is a printer (and scanner, if it comes with one). Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to check whether your printer is supported. Once you know that your printer is supported, it’ll take just a few steps to get it to work.


With a printer that isn’t supported (whether there’s no driver already in the Linux kernel What Is a Kernel in Linux and How Do You Check Your Version? Linux is an operating system, right? Well, not exactly! It's actually a kernel. But what is the Linux kernel? Read More or whether the manufacturer doesn’t have any Linux drivers of its own), there’s nothing you can do to get it to work. There are very rare exceptions where you might get a printer to work that isn’t marked as functional, but it’s safe to stick with the general rule that if the printer is unsupported, you’re out of luck.

Determining Compatibility

To find out whether your printer is supported, you can head to the OpenPrinting Database and search for your printer (or an extremely similar model). This will then tell you whether your printer is known to work completely, mostly, partially, or not at all.

You can use this database to look at your current printer, but it’ll just tell you how well your printer is expected to work on Linux. So if your printer is marked as non-functional, then you at least know that you’re out of luck.

But this database is a lot more useful for when you’re looking for a new printer, because you can then look up models that you’re considering and see whether they should work on Linux. I did this with my last printer purchase, and I was very glad that I did. Because of it, I bought a printer that was marked as fully functional, and that’s exactly what I got. I have no issues or frustrations whatsoever.

Getting Your Printer To Work With Linux

Once you have a printer that the database says will work, you have three possible options for getting it to work. Those three options are plug-and-play, installing a package from your distribution’s repositories, and getting the driver from the manufacturer’s website.


Sometimes (but more often not), your printer will work as soon as you plug it in. This can either be because the driver is already in the Linux kernel, or because the package that you’d need is installed by default in your distribution. For example, most HP printers use the HPLIP package to work correctly, and Ubuntu includes the HPLIP package by default in all desktop installations. You’ll need to do a bit of research to see which, if any, package holds the driver you need.

If your printer doesn’t work as soon as you plug it in, you may need to install a package from your distribution’s repositories. When you add a new printer via the Printer configuration window, it should detect that a printer is attached, and can automatically search for the package that includes the needed driver. If it fails at this, you can do a Google search for your specific printer and see which package is needed, if it is available.

If there isn’t a package available in your distribution’s repositories, or it is outdated, then you may want to look at the manufacturer’s website for Linux drivers. I personally don’t like using drivers from the manufacturer’s page because there are plenty of things that could be wrong with them. For example, they might be limited to certain kernel versions; if the driver is available in the repos, it may contain a patch to allow it to run on newer kernels.

Another thing is that manufacturer’s drivers are very inconsistent — some might provide a package for easy installation, but potentially not for your distribution. It may even require you to download a .zip file and compile the contents, which makes installation much more difficult. I wish I could be more specific for this section, but each manufacturer does their own thing.


Trouble Using Your Printer With Linux?

That’s all there really is to it. Using the OpenPrinting Database makes picking the right printer so much easier, so you don’t have to encounter any headaches later. I can already say that HP has been the most Linux-friendly manufacturer I’ve encountered, so if you’re in doubt, look for a HP printer and then check it on the OpenPrinting Database. Odds are high that it’s fully functional on Linux.

For other hardware, check out our article on three sites that can help you figure out whether your printer is compatible with Linux Top 3 Websites To Check Whether Your Hardware Is Supported By Linux No operating system will have support for every single piece of hardware out of the box, and it's important to know which ones have that support. There's always a driver for that piece of Windows... Read More . Also, if this is a single troubleshooting step for you in the process of determining whether Linux is right for you, don’t forget about our easy-to-follow Linux checklist The Ultimate "Should I Use Linux?" Checklist Deciding whether switching to Linux isn't so easy, because Linux isn't perfect and sadly not for everyone -- although we'd like to think that. Is it for you? Read More .

How many times have you had problems with your printer on Linux? Are there any unconventional troubleshooting steps that you’ve used to get your printer to work?

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  1. Richard
    June 5, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    It is a shame that you choose to push HP . I bought one for my partner It worked spasmodically but refused to work with refilled ink cartridges. and was informed by HP that outdated cartridges are rejected by the system. What a waste I replaced it with aCanon pixma but the canon website has hundreds of different drivers (why???) and the scan gear never did work on our printerThey may work on linux whose printer I had endless problems with when using refilled ink cartridges. The software refuses to operate in such cases and the "official ink" is ridiculously expensive. I still have an inkjet 500 (the main reason I bought the HP Printer for my partner )which has been chugging along for years on any old ink I choose to supply. (even without a colour cartridge it does not complain. It no longer prints colour with any accuracy(hence no cartridge) but scans prints and photocopies well but slowly. Why are HP and for all I know, all modern printer manufacturers, not compelled by law to end the wastefulness. Surely the customer has the right to decide what ink to use.
    I am looking for a printer at present. HP No!!! Any other suggestions for a printer/copier/scanner would be appreciated. We exclusively use Linux (Ubuntu and Mint but distro is irrelevant to me for printer choice) I have no Windows software and no wish to use it.

  2. John Goldspink
    September 30, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    I have been "tinkering" with Linux distros since 2000 and this article is absolutely correct. Until recently I despaired of ever finding a distro that will print but I have found 3 - Knoppix 7.7, Mint 18 and Solydx. All of these do work on my pc, laptop and notebook with my HP 1514 printer/scanner. They also find my router by ethernet and wifi. These 3 are the only ones in a stack of distros 20 ins. high.

  3. stuart
    January 7, 2015 at 9:35 am

    It is far too complicated for for someone new to Linux. Terminology and abbreviations are frustrating to say the least. I have yet to find an explanations in simple explanatory terms. I like Linux very much but have great difficulty understanding especially the setting up of a printer. Windows is much easier.
    Something as desirable and needed as a printer l think should be very much part of the OS without all the run a round associated with Linux. I will keep trying as l do not like to be beaten. Stuart. N Z.

  4. MITCH
    July 19, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    I had to go to our Local Linux Users Group to get my Printer / Scanner to work ( Phoenix Linux Users Group ( I use a Brother MFC 7360 N. I agree with Ramon .

    Thanks, Mitch

  5. Ramon F
    July 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Many Linux printer and scanner drivers are limited when compared with their window counter parts. As much as I like Linux and Open Source, printer and scanning is a major shortcoming.

  6. RD
    July 18, 2014 at 4:00 am

    Don't take the results you get from the OpenPrinting Database as gospel. They are 100% wrong for my make/model printer. My old Canon MP250 worked just fine under Ubuntu 10.04 with the Linux drivers I downloaded from the Canon website and with Ubuntu 12.04 it works with the Ubuntu pre-installed drivers. Black & white/color printing and scanner all function as they should.

    • Danny S
      July 31, 2014 at 9:15 pm

      Ah, sadly that's true. But at least if IT says a model works, you can be sure that it does.

  7. Fritz G
    July 17, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    I don't have any Linux version on any of my computers (yet), but I went to the manufacturer's page for my multifunction Canon MG5320 and there is a dropdown box to get the drivers and software for whatever OS you use, and it includes Linux.

  8. ed
    July 16, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    I think the bigger issue are the all-in-one printers. I have an HP D110a that works with Fedora or PCLinux OS as a wireless all in one, but in Ubuntu/Mint the scanner is not seen.

    Granted, this was a couple of years ago and may be different now, but the scanner part may be an issue for some. Luckily, this HP has a web interface for scanning that can be used in Linux.

    And yes, Windows printer drivers can be soooo bloated, often installing other imaging software. I usually go onto HP's site and download the driver only option to avoid all the bloat and then cross my fingers on wireless printer/scanners.

  9. dragonmouth
    July 16, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    In the past 10 years or so of using Linux I can't remember having any problems setting up a printers, no matter which distro I used. Just plug it into a port, wait a few seconds, fill in couple of boxes and I'm printing away. However, trying to get the same printers to work under Windows was a PITA most of the time - download driver(s), install driver(s), try to print and have Windows tell me the driver does not support the printer model, rinse and repeat.

    • Bob
      July 22, 2014 at 7:31 am

      I had just the opposite problem. An old Lexmark Z600 ran fine under XP (had an install disk) but would not work under various Linux distros. Also have an HP 8100 that is fully supported under Windows but not under Linux (basic printing and scanning works but not scanning negatives and slides).

    • Danny S
      July 31, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      I have to agree that installing Windows drivers is more difficult, but at least you can be certain that they exist. In Linux, it either goes much smoother or not at all. I've had a few friends with printer problems after I recommended Linux to them.