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How to Automatically Change Your Default Printer Based on Your Location

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Windows 7 has a ton of great features, most of which are really obvious—but there’s also some great features hidden away that you might not know even exist. One of these is that Windows 7 can automatically change your default printer based on which network you’re connected to.

The normal use case, of course, is to switch printers depending on whether you are at home or at work, but this feature is especially useful if you use one of the many print-to-PDF solutions—you can continue to print things even while you aren’t connected to any network.

Note: this does not work for Home edition of Windows 7, and Obviously it only applies to laptop PCs, since nobody carries a desktop around with them from location to location.

Switching Your Default Printer Automatically

Head into the Devices and Printers panel, and then just click on one of the printers, which will enable more buttons on the toolbar. Now you can select the “Manage default printers” button.

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In here you can change the radio button to “Change my default printer when I change networks”.

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And now you can select a network in the first drop-down, and then select the printer you want to assign to that network in the drop-down box. The neat trick is to select the “No network” item in the drop-down box for anytime you aren’t connected—this is what I use to assign my print-to-PDF as default when I’m offline.

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At this point you can see I’ve got my home office network set to print to our printer, and when I’m offline, the default is to print to PDF instead.

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Not that I really print very often.

Using the Default Printer

There’s really nothing you have to do—the default printer will switch back and forth depending on the network. For instance, in this screenshot I’m not connected to any network, and my default printer is now set to doPDF.

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And now when I connect to my home network…

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The default printer immediately changes.

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Very useful!

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/7/11

Comments (27)

  1. Emiliano

    It should be noted that this is available only to users of Windows 7 Professional and above.

  2. Kent

    I have Windows Home Premium and I found this article very confusing. :-)

  3. Andy

    Awesome tip!

  4. Liz

    Great addition, I usually have to write files for everyone at work

  5. The Geek

    Sorry all, I totally forgot to put in a note about Home editions not having it.

  6. Mike

    I am running Win 7 w/SP-1 and there is no “Manage Default Printers” option on my tool bar.

  7. Huw

    Well, I have Windows 7 Professional (with SP1) and there is no “Manage Default Printers” button for me… :(

  8. The Geek

    Are you guys with Professional making sure to click on a printer first? The items in the toolbar don’t immediately show up unless you click on a printer.

  9. Jose

    I’m using WIndows 7 Ultimate. My bluetooth is not working in API. I can’t able to pair with it.

    Could anyone solve me….z

  10. Kris

    Great Tip!
    How about a similar solution for mapped network drives when switching networks?

  11. Deb

    I also have Professional version of Win7 and after clicking on a printer I get more button options, but not “Manage Default Printers”

  12. John Student

    Does this only work with local printers or will it work with networked printers as well?

    I also do not see the Manage Default Printers and I have selected the printer first as instructed.

  13. Avidan

    Why should you even use a PDF printer?
    Starting from Office 2007 you can directly made PDFs.

  14. GeezerAl

    To all who commented that they did not get the “Manage Default Printer” the author not only failed to clearly note initially that this is not for Home version only for Professional and above, he forgot to mention that is was for only for portable computers that run on battery. If, like me, you have a desktop that you move from location to location, this solution does not work.

    This was a poorly vetted article by How-To-Geek and they need to fix this blog.

  15. Shawn Collins

    I second what “GeezerAl” said! This article was VERY poorly vetted. I’m no computer novice by ANY means, but how many novices spent how much time looking for “Manage Default Printers” on a desktop (versus a portable computer that runs on a battery, which is the only way this feature is available)? THAT being said, nobody’s perfect. The article was not incorrect, it just inadvertently left out a rather important fact. This should have been caught by SOMEONE at “How-To-Geek” at SOME point before publication! Everything considered, “How-To-Geek” is one of my top 5 sites! :) Now, dangit, tell me how to get back my blue progress bar (which I had in Windows 7 UNTIL SP1. Now the “mod” doesn’t work.

    Shawn

  16. Mike

    AHHH SOOO. I was trying it on my desktop. I will try my laptop, which I rarely connect to a printer and see what happens.

  17. john3347

    There are printers that I use at 3 different locations. When I arrive and set up at each location I simply click “Start> Settings> Printers” and change the default printer to the correct printer for that location. I have initially installed drivers for the appropriate printer at each location. This seems much simpler than having it done “automatically”. This works for ANY version of Windows at least back to Windows 98 and possibly beyond (and probably other popular OSs, as well). Why make 3 left turns when one right turn gets you headed where you want to go?

  18. Mike

    Nope, didn’t work on my laptop either. On the tool bar across the top of the Devices and Printers page I have “Add a device”, “Add a printer”,”See what’s printing”, “Print server Properties”, and “Remove device”. No “Manage Default Printer”. Guess I have weird computers. The laptop is an HP dv6z running Windows 7 Professional-64-bit operating system with 4 GB RAM and 500 GB HDD.The desktop is an HP a6430F running Windows Professional 32-bit operating system with 4 GB RAM and 1.6 TB HDD. This tip didn’t work on either machine.

  19. The Geek

    @Everybody

    Microsoft’s documentation clearly states that this feature is available for Professional and Ultimate editions.

    To see the dialog, you obviously need to have multiple printers installed, and Obviously this feature is only meant for use on a laptop. I’m assuming that people don’t carry their desktop PCs around with them.

  20. Tom

    This would be cool if you could set the default printer by which access point the machines connected to!

  21. Mike

    Well Geek, Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you have to get dressed up for them all. This is still one of my favorite sites and I will continue to visit you every day. Thanks for all of the great tips and free software you provide.

  22. Ed

    @Tom

    It does exactly that.

    The left drop-down list lets you pick a network and then the right drop-down list lets you pick a corresponding printer. The button to the right adds the network and printer combination to the list below it.

  23. Huw

    Aha, right, makes sense now. But I DO move my desktop computer around, e.g. during university term time my computer is in my student house, with a local printer. When I am back at home, it connects to a network printer in the other room. It’s quite a bad oversight on the part of Microsoft to include this function only for laptops, as it would be a VERY useful thing for me to use on my desktop. I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken much time to implement it universally. :/ Anyway, great article – shame it’s apparently of no use to me and my clunky ol’ desktop PC!

  24. Anand Tulpule

    I am running Windows 7 Ultimate. It has the mentioned tab. It really rocks.

  25. Brian

    Very cool – very nice piece of analysis by Microsoft of the needs of a roaming user.

  26. Klient

    Hi Avidan,

    Why install a pdf printer? My computer runs additional software then just the office suite.

    Clint

  27. Andy M

    I’ve got a similar situation to that describe in the post for which I am looking for a solution. I have my wireless router setup for a guest network as well as for a Primary network. Every so often when I boot my desktop computer it finds the Guest network not the Primary network. None of my three printers (all of which are networked) work on the Guest Network. I typically figure out I’m on the guest network when I can’t print. I’m posting these questions here because the intro to this post made me think it would tell me how to get my guest network to work with my printers.

    Two questions:

    1. How do I get my Guest Network to print to my Network Printers?

    2. Why does my computer connect to the Guest Network and not the Primary and
    Default Network about 5% of the time? How can I force my computer to always connect to the Primary Network?

    Running Windows Pro on a 64-bit HP Pavillion computer.

    Thanks in advance for any help.

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