When a document is "printed" by a virtual printer, instead of physically printing it on paper or other material the underlying software processes its contents in some other way, often resulting in a file being produced or the information being transmitted.
In the early 1960s the B5500 Master Control Program (MCP) operating system included virtual printers, called "Printer Backups" in the form of Printer Backup Tapes (PBT) and Printer Backup Disks (PBD).
Typical uses of virtual printers include:
- Saving a document to another format such as a PDF file.
- Saving a document in a format which can be included in another document. For example, a word processor may not be able to include an engineering CAD document, but it could include a TIFF image of that document printed from the engineering software package.
- Saving multiple documents into a single document
- Saving a web page into a single document as it appears in the web browser. This will save the web page without relying on it being available or functional in the future.
- Saving a reference copy of a document for longer term access. This would allow the document to be viewable by non-proprietary software in the future. This would not be an archival version of the document.
- Saving a document in a non-editable format. A draft of a book may, for example, be saved in a PDF as TIFF images, to make it more difficult to copy the text of the book.
- Sending documents to a fax server.
- Converting documents for sharing in universal, platform/version/hardware-independent format (e.g. JPEG, multipage TIFF, or PDF) in order to eliminate issues such as missing fonts;
- For example in order to play it on universal stand-alone equipment such as: DVD/mp3/mp4/JPEG player or built-in digital camera player or other JPEG display equipment with TV-out for more convenient read for example on Big TV screen as form of e-Book
- Word processing and presentation documents often appear differently when viewed on another computer. Different versions of the software, different fonts available, and various other settings can all affect the way these documents display. Formats such as PDF which include fonts or such as TIFF which rasterize fonts eliminate these issues.
- Allowing user to control certain aspects of printing not supported natively, such as printing multiple pages per sheet without border, print letterhead, watermarks etc. This output can either be saved in a file for future printing or passed to another printer.
- Saving paper and ink while testing how something will print, cropping etc.
- Allowing remote printing of documents over the Internet. At least one example of this technology creates a virtual printer on one computer which actually converts the document and sends it to a server on the WWW, from which the file can be printed to a printer attached to a PC in a remote location. Similar technology is also being used to allow printing from devices such as smart phones.
- "What is a virtual printer?". Frogmore Computer Services. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
- "Virtual Printer". Universal Document Converter. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
- "4 Benefits of Online Fax for Financial Professionals". eFax. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2013.