What is the difference between all those damn drivers? This question has been asked by many and it usually goes unanswered once a user realizes that no matter which driver they download, it still just works on their machine. But the question still lingers, at least in the back of my brain, and every time I download a driver from HP’s website, I see the same 3 choices… PCL5, PCL6, and PostScript. So finally, I googled that exact question above and found some answers. I’m going to break it down for you here:

  • PCL5 – The most widely available printer command language. It is almost *pure* text, and therefore easily programmable from any OS platform. However, the most recent printers coming out might not be 100% PCL5 compatible or not compatible at all.
  • PCL6 – A somewhat advanced version of PCL5 that used a compressed protocol instead of *pure* text. Unfortunately, this protocol can be buggy over a network. If you are having trouble printing over a network with PCL6 you may want to try PCL5 or Postscript instead.
  • Postscript – This language is often built into printers. It was developed by Adobe and was previously the most used printing protocol. Postscript is supported by a lot of utilities, especially obscure ones on Linux distributions. It is generally more resource hungry, but that is because it is in plain ASCII and somewhat human readable.

Even though PCL5 and PCL6 are HP technologies and Postscript is an old Adobe technology, many printer manufactures use those instead of developing their own printer languages because of the popularity of PCL5, PCL6, and Postscript. HP themselves have shifted towards using PCL6 as the future and have started releasing more and more printers with less and less support for PCL5. Unfortunately, the PCL6 format is not perfect due to its error-prone structure and is ill-suited for “noisy” network environments. In networks such as those, you may be better off installing a PCL5 driver that will continue to soldier on through the network unreliability, printing garbage documents occasionally, but getting a few successful print jobs completed as opposed to a bunch of aborted PCL6-driven failures may be worth it.

So all in all, go with Postscript for the most widespread compatibility (especially in a Linux environment). Use PCL6 with your newer HP printers. And use PCL5 for those medium-to-old aged printers or if you are in a “noisy” network environment and are getting a lot of print failures with PCL6.

If you’d like to read more about the differences, I pulled most of the information in this port from a forum post I found on HP’s website.

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