Using printer pooling
Printer Pooling is a standard feature of Windows NT, 2000 and XP which in theory lets you spread your printed output across a pool of several printers. I will come back to why the "in theory" qualifier later in the article. The main benefits of pooling printers are that it is often cheaper to run two smaller printers rather than a single large device and you also have some backup if one of the printers fails.
Configuring Printer Pooling is very straight forward, you start by configuring the first printer as a standard Windows printer. Then by using the Ports tab of the Printer Properties you can check the "Enable Printer Pooling" option at the bottom of the dialog box. This will allow you to add and select ports for each of your additional printers.
If all the printers you are adding to the pool are the same make and model then it really is as simple as this, however if you are using different models or even makes of printer then you will need to think about which printer driver to use. Most printers are backwards compatible with previous similar models so by selecting the driver for the oldest model of printer in your pool you are most likely to have success. For instance if I have a pool of printers consisting of a HP LaserJet 4 and HP LaserJet 5 then I would use a HP LaserJet 4 driver as this will produce data compatible with both printers. There may be some combinations which just will not mix, an example might be a Epson inkjet and a HP laser printer, these two devices have distinct data streams which are not compatible with each other.
I did mention at the start of this article that you can balance your printer load "in theory", the reason for this is that by default the output will go to the first printer in the pool unless that printer is unavailable. When it is unavailable then the output will go to the next available printer. This obviously isn't sophisticated enough for most applications as one printer will get all the wear and tear, for a more sophisticated solution you will need to look at some 3rd party software such as our Print Distributor product.