Techs who support local printers often field end-user complaints about the amount of time it takes to print documents. As a result, techs are often looking for tricks they can use to improve printing performance. Fortunately, Windows allows you to tweak printing performance by adjusting the spool file settings according to the type of printing the user does most often.

What exactly is a spool file?
Essentially, a spool file is a temporary file on your hard disk that holds documents as they’re printed. When you print a document from an application, Windows creates a spool file on your hard disk and copies the document to that file using a special enhanced metafile format. Once it has created the spool file, Windows returns control to your application and then, in the background, it sends the document to the printer from the spool file.

Spool file format

While you shouldn’t ever need to adjust the spool file format, you might be interested in knowing a bit more about it. Click here to find out more.

Moving the spool file
In Windows 2000 and Windows XP, you might be able to tweak the performance of the spool file itself by moving it to a faster hard drive or another partition. (However, you can’t move the spool file in Windows 9x.)

To begin, you’ll need to create a new folder on the drive or partition. You can name it whatever you like. Then, access the Printer And Faxes folder. From the File menu, select the Server Properties command. When you see the Print Server Properties dialog box, select the Advanced tab. Type the path to the new folder in the Spool Folder text box. Then, click OK. When you see the confirmation dialog box, click Yes and then close the Printer And Faxes folder.

Accessing the spool file settings
To adjust the spool file settings, you’ll begin by accessing the Printers folder in your version of the Windows operating system. In Windows 9x and Windows 2000, you’ll find it on the Start menu in Settings | Printers. In Windows XP, you’ll find it directly on the Start menu as Printers And Faxes. (You can also access the Printers folder and the Printers And Faxes folder through Control Panel.)

Once you have the Printers or Printers And Faxes window open, right-click on your active printer’s icon and select the Properties command. If you’re using Windows 9x, in the printer’s properties dialog box, click the Details tab. Next, click the Spool Settings button near the bottom to display the Spool Settings dialog box, shown in Figure A.

Figure A
In Windows 9x, the print spool settings are found in the Spool Settings dialog box, which is accessed from the Details tab.

If you’re using Windows 2000 or Windows XP, select the Advanced tab and you’ll find the spool settings in the middle of the tab, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
In Windows 2K/XP, the print spool settings are found on the Advanced tab.

Spool print jobs so program finishes printing faster
The default setting for all versions of the Windows operating system is Spool Print Jobs So Program Finishes Printing Faster. This setting configures Windows’ printing operations so that control is returned to your applications while printing occurs in the background. There are two subsettings that allow you to control how fast the background printing operation begins.

Begin immediately
The default subsetting, titled Start Printing After First Page Is Spooled In Windows 9x and Start Printing Immediately In Windows 2K/XP, allows the Windows operating system to begin the background printing operation as soon as the first page of the document has been sent to the spool file. While the operating system is printing the first page, it continues building the spool file in the background. For most common printing situations, this is the optimal setting.

Of course, the advantage here is a quicker turnaround between the time that you initiate the print job and the time that the last page rolls out of the printer. But there are two additional advantages. First, control is returned to the application more quickly. Second, less hard disk space is required for the spool file and, subsequently, there is less hard disk management overhead.

A bit of an illusion

It’s important to keep in mind that returning control to the application quickly is a bit of an illusion. Even though the application is available, it’s still working on printing the document. So the application might not be as responsive as it would otherwise be.

Begin momentarily
If the user is regularly printing very large documents or complex graphics, using the Start Printing After Last Page Is Spooled setting may actually improve printing performance. When you select this option, Windows will focus its full attention on spooling the entire document to spool file before beginning the actual background printing operation. The advantage here comes from the fact that having the entire document available to the printer at one time via the spool file can eliminate intermediate bottlenecks or other potential problem areas.

Another advantage of creating the entire spool file before printing begins would be in the case of a super fast printer that might be able to print faster than pages can be spooled to the spool file using the immediate setting. If that’s the case, the printer might be waiting on the spool file.

Of course, this option has the potential to cause extra delays—not only will the turnaround time be longer, but it will also take longer for control to be returned to the application. Furthermore, this setting requires more hard disk space than the default setting because Windows will need to place the entire document in the spool file at one time.

Print directly to the printer
In some printing situations, the spool file itself can be the cause of the delay. If neither of the spool file settings improves printing performance, you can try the Print Directly To The Printer setting. As its name implies, this setting completely eliminates the spool file and ensures that your print job has the printer’s full attention. Of course, this will mean that your application will be busy during the entire printing process.