Before the advent of wireless, printer cables were used to run a line of communication directly from a computer to a printer. Today’s wireless printers still have ports so you can hardwire them to computers, and there are a number of practical reasons why you may want to do this. Lacking access to a router to facilitate wireless communication is one of the most common reasons, as well as the desire to ensure security if you’re printing documents that contain sensitive information. Here’s a quick guide to help you determine what kind of printer cable you will need.
USB and the AB Cable
USB cables are the most common technology today for facilitating wired communication. If you’re using a printer manufactured anytime in the past 10 years, the likelihood is extremely high that the printer will be equipped with USB technology. But bear in mind that USB-enabled printers require specific cables to make the connection, and that not just any USB cable will do.
The standard type of printer cable in use with today’s printers is called an AB cable. On one end of the cable, you have a USB-A plug. This is the familiar flat, rectangular end that fits into your computer’s USB port. The other end of the AB cable contains a USB-B plug, which is smaller and square. This is the end that plugs into the printer’s USB port. To be certain, check the printer’s rear or side panel for the presence of a USB-B port.
If you’re working a printer that was manufactured prior to USB standardization, you might need what’s called a parallel cable. These cables have wide, flat ends with pins that connect to a printer’s parallel port. The parallel port is the female end that sits on the printer’s rear panel.
The vast majority of computers manufactured today will not have a parallel port. If you’re trying to pair up a new computer with an old printer, you may run into difficulty achieving a wired connection without purchasing an adapter cable. These are cables that have a parallel plug on one end and a USB-A plug on the other.
Earlier versions of Mac printers used serial ports to make the connection between printer and computer. This is a design that’s been phased out by Apple. If you’re trying to pair up a new Mac computer with an outdated printer that’s still running strong, you’ll need to purchase a serial to USB adapter cable.
Mac or PC? No Problem
If you’re connecting a late model Mac with a modern-day printer, the printer cable standard is the same. Contemporary Macintosh printer cables require no different technology, and any AB cable that you purchase will work the same on a PC as it will on a Mac.
Things to Keep in Mind
Due to the amount of money that retailers make on printer cable sales, it’s become commonplace for printer manufacturers to not include connection cables in the box. For this reason, be sure that when you buy a new printer you also pick up a cable to spare yourself a return visit.
If you’re looking to purchase a printer cable for your home or office setup, you’ll also want to take into consideration finding a cable that’s the right length for your needs. In a small office environment, a three- to six-foot cable may be sufficient – but if the distance is greater, you’ll need to find a cable long enough to bridge the distance. Be sure that the cable you choose is long enough to have a bit of slack; a stretched USB cable can easily come unplugged, causing lost communication between computer and printer. Due to technological limitations, the maximum length of most USB cables is 16 feet. If you require a longer cable, you’ll have to get a hold of a special extension cable to avoid connectivity speed issues.