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I am nstalling drivers for a printer, and I have a choice of either PCL (5 or 6), or PostScript drivers? Which one would you recommend and why?

The printer is HP LaserJet 2605dn, the OS is Windows 7 (x64).

Do you have a rule of thumb for this sort of thing? Or is it pretty much 'see-what-works'?

Thanks

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Woow, That all answers make sense worth reading.. As per my experience I can say in simple " If you want to Print PDF files use PS version , else PCL version of drivers for print jobs." –  Janardhan Jan 15 '13 at 4:30
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7 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

It's so amazing and horrifying when a thread like this has all sorts of non-knowledge and non-answers flowing in it and no answer gets it right.

First I'll give my own answer then I'll explain where the previous posters are wrong.

You should go with PCL 6. Here's why: You don't need PostScript. If you did need it you would know it and you wouldn't be asking this question. PostScript is more problematic than is PCL, so if you don't need it it's better avoided. It's more problematic in these ways and more: harder to find drivers (for a Win ME computer for example), more resource hungry (both on the printer, the workstation, and the network), HP's PostScript drivers are going to be much buggier than their PCL drivers, the quality of HP's PostScript emulation (that is, a third-party clone of Adobe's PostScript program) is highly questionable whereas the PCL is an HP product and therefore a better risk, PostScript tends to throw obscure errors when printing and requires obscure expertise to troubleshoot (very frustrating)-PCL does this less, PostScript tends to run the printer out of memory easier, PostScript drivers offer lots of obscure settings that are useful only to industry pros (like color separations, e.g.) and will only confuse normal people and give them more ways to cause themselves problems, and on difficult prints PostScript will often be slower. All that off the top of my head.

PCL6 is a powerful page description language and will do anything you ever need to do. Quality is not an issue, PCL works fine and can print the same vector graphics and vector fonts as can PostScript. Photos and other bit mapped graphics are outside the realm of PostScript's power and thus the two languages will print them the same, except that PostScript will render the photo in text and blow up its binary size, thus taking longer to download it to the printer (it has to do this because PostScript is a language of text, there is nothing binary there. Everything is rendered into text characters).

PostScript offers many advantages, but mostly to printing industry pros. An example is that if you want to print something on a super-high resolution image setter at some local high end printing shop they will likely accept the file only in Adobe Photoshop or PostScript formats, thus if you are using the PostScript driver you have a way to make such a file. However, PDF format can be used now in many situations where PostScript was formerly required. PostScript drivers do tend to offer more features than the PCL driver and some may be useful to you (like Booklet printing e.g.) but at this late date and age it's more likely that the PCL driver offers everything you would ever need, and the PostScript driver may not offer much at all extra that you could use.

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-1 for the arrogance displayed and not taking all factors into consideration. –  John Gardeniers Feb 21 '11 at 0:34
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@user61475 - I have removed the 2nd half of the "answer" because it was irrelevant to the answer. Please feel free to re-post your concerns as comments against the original answers that you have concerns about. You will need at least 50 rep to post comments however, but that should be pretty simple to achieve. –  Mark Henderson Feb 21 '11 at 0:47
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One major problem with PCL6 is that you can't capture the print job and read any of the content which can become an issue if you are trying to debug the datastream. PCL6 (XL) is nothing like PCL5 and is a compiled (aka .exe) stream while PCL5 is a set of commands and PS is human readable source code. If you look at a PCL6 stream it's unreadable. So simple things such as checking what the orientation for a specific page is for debugging some print issue, are very difficult. #1=PS #2=PCL5 #3=PCL6. –  Douglas Anderson Oct 30 '11 at 15:51
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To me this depends on a couple of things:

  1. Does the printer support native PostScript. Many printers only have PostScript emulation. The actual printing engine does not "think" in PostScript and so you lose some definition in comparison to a true PostScript printer. A lot of HP printers (not sure about the 2605) only do emulation.
  2. Do your users need PostScript? If they are printing mostly office documents (Word, Excel) PCL will be the best. There are normally far fewer options on a PCL driver, which makes it simpler for an enduser. If your users are printing out graphical presentations or lots of pictures and are very picky about the final product, then I would go with a PostScript driver, but only if it is a true PostScript printer...

In short, I would test to see which works the best in your environment.

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The issue between PCL and PostScript is very specific to which software and printer combination is used. On some printers, PCL is better than PostScript and on others, the reverse applies. Some printers like the HP LaserJet 5 Color (and many others) have an add-on module that fits in one of the SIMM slots that provides PostScript support. Yet other printers have factory built-in support. Sending a PostScript file to the printer produces fairly high quality output that is very predictable. On the other hand, the software on the PC/MAC/X-computer (or whatever the source of the PostScript is) becomes the wild card here. At some point, there has to be a conversion from whatever your document is to PostScript (unless the document is already in PostScript, and even in this case there are issues). This conversion to PostScript is a HUGE problem. Some software (usually Windows printer drivers) simply convert whatever document that you have to a bitmap and embed the bitmap in a PostScript file and sends this to the printer. This is a huge waste of space in all respects, and it completely goes around whatever advantage that PostScript offers. PostScript is a layout language that can layout vector and bitmap items. If you have a text document, the location of the text, font, and other details are described, and the raw text is sent to the printer. The PostScript engine in the printer is aware if the physical layout of the printer and renders the output in a way that is likely to produce good output taking the actual printer hardware into account. If your printer driver takes whatever text is in your document and renders this as a bitmap and then puts this bitmap into a PostScript file, then your printer is simply printing a bitmap. This creates a problem: When you are printing bitmaps there are specific optimisations that the printer will use to make bitmaps look nice, in most cases, these optimisations are different than the ones that will be used for text, so the end result is usually non optimal. So to make sense of everything, the following issues have to be considered:

  1. How good is the software that converts your document to PCL or PostScript?
  2. How good is the PCL or PostScript support of your printer?
  3. Which combination works best for my specific computer/printer combination.

The answers for these questions is quite often not black or white. And to make things worse, some printers that have poor PCL quality might actually make nicer looking documents in PCL because the PCL converter on the computer puts in specific fixups or work-arounds for problems with PCL on a specific printer, or the reverse with PostScript.

Then there is yet another issue... Some printers claim to support PostScript, and in reality, there is no PostScript support whatsoever! The printer vendors claim support for PostScript based on that their printer driver that runs on the computer can convert PostScript to whatever language the printer speaks!

My personal approach is to use PostScript when ever possible. Generally, I won't buy a printer unless I know it has good support for PostScript, and I am talking about the actual printer, not about software that runs on the PC to convert PostScript to some other format that the printer uses. PostScript is a well established standard format, that is going to be around for a while, and sending the EXACT same postscript file to any random printer that supports PostScript is likely to produce acceptable output. The down side to this is that such printers are usually more expensive, and require more memory than other methods. However the price is well worth the time saved fighting with drivers, and also, if there is a problem with the PostScript converter on the PC side, it is ONE thing to fix and the fix works on every printer.

You could probably do the same thing with PCL, but this is not as clean as doing things with PostScript because PCL usually involves printer specific commands and sending the same PCL file to different printers is more likely to produce the wrong results than with PostScript. Also, some PCL drivers tend to have huge libraries of work-arounds that are printer specific, so it is not so easy to sent the same PCL file to different printers and expect the same output. This also means that if you have a very old PCL printer, who ever made the printer is less likely to release fixes for the older printers, and only issue PCL fixes for later models. This is generally not the case with PostScript, as a single fix to the PostScript software would effect all printers regardless of who made them or their age.

There have been other posts to this thread that are wrong: First off, True Type fonts are vector (outline) fonts, very similar to Type1 (which are also vector fonts) but with the ability for the author to hand code pixel hints. This generally makes True Type fonts look better than Type1 fonts under certain conditions. It all comes down to the quality of the software that renders the fonts more than the actual format of the font. I have seen True Type font software that is so badly designed that it renders the fonts at a fixed size and then scales the output for display. It all comes down to the quality of the rendering software much more than the format that the font is in. (This only applies to vector/outline fonts, bitmap fonts are an entirely different issue.)

The point here is that PCL and PostScript are both standards that many printer manufacturers have adopted. Depending on how well the manufacture wrote the specific implementation will determine how well the printer will work with a given standard. There are also many proprietary printer languages that are printer specific. In my opinion, non standard printer languages are to be completely avoided when ever possible! The reason is that non standard languages are often not documented, and when the company comes up with a new one, support for the old one is likely to be discontinued. So when you upgrade or change the OS on your computer and there is no driver that works with your printer/OS combination, you now have a door stop. One other reason is that nobody has ever been able to demonstrate that a proprietary printer language has any real printing quality advantage over PCL or PostScript, so there is no reason whatsoever other than saving hardware cost on the printer, which now days is pointless because computing power is so cheap.

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For one or a small number of computers I normally go PCL, but if output speed, quality, or printer functionality (eg stapler) is important then I always do test prints to compare. For example colours or logos on letterheads may be rendered better with a particular driver. Speed may also be an issue if the printer is going to get heavier use on complex/long documents.

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It does really depend on what you're printing. One answer said to use Postscript because it has better fonts. That may be true if you're only printing text documents but if you're printing mixed jobs that have both text and graphics PCL6 may be better. Print and compare the difference. Personally, I usually go with PCL6 first, then PCL5 then Postscript.

Are you using the driver provided with Windows 7 or are you using the driver from HP.com? Windows in-box drivers usually only have a subset of features. You're almost always better off downloading the drivers from HP.com. The latest drivers for the CLJ 2605dtn for Win7 64-bit are at http://h20000.www2.hp.com/bizsupport/TechSupport/SoftwareIndex.jsp?lang=en&cc=us&prodNameId=1140732&prodTypeId=18972&prodSeriesId=1140727&swLang=8&taskId=135&swEnvOID=4063. In this case, you'd be using the "Universal Print Driver" which supports many other HP printers including the CLJ 2605dtn.

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Rule of thumb: PCL should cause less problems for the average user. However, it is causing problems with certain PDF documents we are printing, unless pains are taken to adjust advanced printer settings (ie..."send true type as bit image"; disable print optimization)when it happens. The adjustments don't always work. Adobe PDF is apparently a PS oriented document--PCL drivers create HUGE files during conversion which in our case overload the memory or jam our network.

In a search for a solution I learned that some people load both PS and PCL drivers specifically to use with problematic PDF documents.

This is a real life illustration of what many are saying--depends on many factors. This is one.

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PostScript is Far superior to any other font type. since a PostScript fonts are Vector based meaning that there is an algorithm for every character and a drawing. This makes the Fonts superior because Fonts like TT fonts are Dot based rather than equation based...

And If a printer supports a PCL does not mean you can print PostScript unless it clearly states that it supports it...

The clear and easy test are when a printer supports 1200dpi, you would select the smallest font size and print a page in postscript and a page in PCL you can clearly tell each character individually also, you can test it out the sameway by extending the Font size to a VERY large scale... there, you can see dots in the corner of letters such as S, or J , or even D. you would not see the Ugly dots in postscript.

For printing documents PCL fonts are enough..

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TrueType is vector based. –  afrazier May 9 '10 at 14:37
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