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I have two USB Zebra label printers, same make and model. Each is loaded with a different type of label. I would like to connect them both to the same computer, via a switch box. This way, the computer will think there is one printer connected, and I can switch it back and forth to either printer, depending on the label type I need.

The label printing software we're using only allows one printer to be set up, that's why we need the switch box. It's not practical to replace the software at this point. We could also hook up one printer, and manually swap the labels as needed, but we're trying to avoid that.

We looked at this switchbox 2 PC to 1 USB 2.0 Device AB Switch Box from Amazon, but it lets two computers share the same printer, which is not what we need.

In the days of parallel port printers, these "A/B" style switch boxes were fairly common.

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Good question! I can't think of a way for this to work, since all USB hub/splitters I have used or seen enable constant 2-way communication for all connected devices. I'm sure someone will find an obscure one for you to try, though, or a software solution to hide one of the printers. –  JNK Sep 3 '10 at 17:21
    
Also, it may be relevant to know what OS/label software yo uare using. –  JNK Sep 3 '10 at 17:21
    
I doubt that a switchbox would allow the two printers to go under the same name. –  digitxp Sep 3 '10 at 17:21
    
Have you prototyped this by manually unplugging one printer and plugging the other one in? I wouldn't expect a one-printer-at-a-time software package to be able to automatically switch between printers like that. I'd expect the software to see the second printer as an unknown device it wasn't set up to talk to, and just not print. Realize that A/B switch boxes physically disconnect the wires from one port and connect them to the other port, so it's equivalent to unplugging from one and plugging into the other. –  Spiff Sep 3 '10 at 17:28
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8 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

This looks like it would do what you want: http://www.ambery.com/2x2usb20rosw.html
Check out the cross-routing diagram a little bit down the page and take the second PC out of the picture.

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@afrazier Good post but wouldn't it be how the label printing software 'saw' the printer rather than how the OS 'sees' it? If the software is only interested in the printer name and port then I think this is do-able. Swapping the printers on the same USB port as you advise is of course the first thing to try, ensuring that the printers display in Windows with the same name (rename them if Windows gives them unique names when plugging them in). If this works then the name change could be handled programmatically. –  nimizen Sep 3 '10 at 18:19
    
In our case, the software just looks for the printer name as it appears in the Windows printer folder. –  Chris Vesper Sep 6 '10 at 16:51
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You may have luck plugging both printers in and configuring them normally. Then try adding a third printer manually and choose as the PORT one of the two physical printers. When you need to switch printers just switch the port on the virtual printer.

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This is almost certainly not going to happen. If those printers have a serial number embedded in them (most likely), it doesn't matter what you do, Windows is going to detect that they're 2 different printers. The first thing to try is to swap the printers, using the same USB port, and see what happens. If the system detects that they're different printers, game over.

This Old New Thing Post explains some how Windows identifies USB devices and why it does it the way it does.

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That's a good observation, before looking into the switch box we did test it by swapping the printers on the same port and it worked just fine. –  Chris Vesper Sep 6 '10 at 16:47
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I recently tackled this silly problem with two identical Laserjet printers and a windows 7 box. Eventually I found enough parts in my spare time to rig something up and make it work. The switch box was the hardest piece of gear to find, the cables you can get from anywhere, they all came from different sites because I'm a crazy person and need to manage my time better!

The switch box: http://www.weconnex.com/2-way-usb-manual-data-switch.html

the cable from your switch box to your printers needs to be a USB B to B cable (a half box / half rounded end on each side: http://www.dcables.net/USB-B-to-B-Cable-v2_0-6-Feet.aspx I first tried using an A to B adapter and it worked but it was flimsy.

The cable that goes from the switch box to your computer needs to be a USB A to A cable. CDW has them but spam prevention prevents me posting 2 or more links.

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This solution is not exactly a switch box but ...

I'll assume the vid/pid of the printer is the same but have different label stock. If you have them both plugged in, but turned off, the devices is not detected. Therefore, just turn one on or the other and the driver would think the printer just went offline and then reconnects to the other printer. Which ever one is on gets the label print request.

Now if you want to get fancy, find a power switch box that only allows power to one device at a time. Or go to an electronics store and make your own power (break before make) switch box.

Just an idea.

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i have a box from compucable manufacturing group .. its called "iperipheral" .. its a 4 to one mechanical USB switch .. (part number USB-ABCD) .. www.compucable.com ... i can use this box to select one of 4 printers to one computer or i can use it to connect one printer to up to 4 computers. it works fine for printing but they forgot to twist the port cables inside the box so it doesn't work for scanners or other high speed devices unless they are USB 1 ... a little better design and this could be a nice product .. it does work fine for all my printers .. there is also several active USB selector switches available ... they usually have software that selects one or the other output .. some also have a push button switch on the box that overrides the software .. the push button has to be used with scanners .. printers can be used either with software select or push button select ..

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Please rephrase and format your answer...it's unreadable in the momentary state. –  Bobby Sep 6 '10 at 9:56
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Is there a good reason you can't use the switchbox you mentioned in reverse? Connecting the two printers to the dual in and the computer to the single out. I may be very wrong, but it might be worthwhile to check.

If the OS recognizes the swap as unplugging and plugging it back in, then you're out of luck. But if the hub keeps the port occupied, doing the hardware switch inside the switchbox, it might work.

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It turns out the cabling was backwards on that box, it has two B connectors (d-shaped) and one A (flat rectangular.) To hook up two printers we needed two A connectors and one B, since the printers have B connectors and the computer has an A. We couldn't find a B to B cable, or an A to A cable, which would have solved it. I wonder if those kinds of cables are prohibited by the USB specs. –  Chris Vesper Sep 6 '10 at 16:50
    
I have seen A-A (and nothing I know of would make B-B impossible). This may be more trouble than its worth, but http://www.deepsurplus.com/ is a place where you can get almost any cable... Just search "USB B A". There are also "converters"-- like gender changers, but from different types, etc. –  yhw42 Sep 7 '10 at 4:21
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This is very simple. When you have connected the printers each to their own USB ports windows sees these as two different printers and not the same. This means that when you go to print it will ask you which one to print on and all you have to do is select the printer you want to use. Even though they are the same printers made by the same company windows will still recognize them individually. So there should really be no need, now if you are using an older version of windows you would have to manually config them but this really is only needed if the OS you are using does not support P-N-P. I have never seen a switch box for USB but I could be wrong. Hopefully this will help you.

Okay, Well here's my question: If the software will only allow you to print to one at a time then why would you want to switch to the other? Are you talking about while one is printing you would be able to print something off of the other or am I not understanding you right? Or are you trying to set it up to print two separate sizes of labels. You can not make two separate printers look like one in windows cause windows will always see them as two separate machines thats just the way Microsoft set it up and its also logic. You could always Hack windows and rewrite the whole OS! LOL.

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Thanks, if you re-read the question you'll see that the software does not allow you to select the printer at label print time, it forces you to select one printer by name. This is why we were looking for a solution that makes two printers appear as one to windows. We were able to solve this via the switch box –  Chris Vesper May 9 '11 at 14:06
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