A PRN file contains a set of instructions telling a printer how to print a particular document or image. It covers the content of the document or image itself, plus the formatting information such as what size of paper to print it on and how much margin to leave. In most cases you will never see or deal with a PRN file itself as your computer will effectively create it as a temporary file and pass it straight over to the printer to act upon, with no need to keep the PRN file permanently.

PRN File Uses

The main use of a PRN file is when you create a document on one computer but want to print it out on another computer. This is only really necessary when the other computer doesn't have the relevant software application to open the document itself. To use this method, you would use the print dialog on the relevant software application on the first computer to generate the PRN file, transfer the file to the second computer, then have the second computer use the PRN file information to tell the printer what to do.

Creating a PRN File

In principle, creating a print file on a computer is as simple as selecting the "Print to file" option in the print dialog menu in whichever application you used to create the original document. In practice, this will only work exactly like this if the default printer on your computer is the same as the printer on which the document will be printed on from the other computer. If it isn't you'll need to download and install the driver for this printer on your computer, usually from the manufacturer's website. Once you've done this, you'll need to open the document in the relevant software application, select the relevant printer from the print dialog menu (in place of your default printer) and then select the "Print to file" option. Check the manual or help guide of your software application if you aren't sure where on your computer it creates the PRN file.

Printing PRN File: Command Prompt

To print a PRN file on the other computer without any special software, you'll need to open the Command Prompt. In Windows 8, you can get to this through the "Windows System" section of the Apps screen. In Windows 7 and earlier, just click the start button, type "CMD" (without the quotation marks here and throughout) and press the Enter key.

Assuming you are using a USB printer, type in "COPY A:\OUTPUT.PRN /B \Computer_Name\Printer_Share_Name" and press the "Enter" key. You'll need to replace "Output" with the name of the PRN file, replace "Computer_Name" with the name of your computer and replace "Printer_Share_Name" with the name of the printer.

You can find the computer name by right-clicking "Computer" in Windows Explorer and selecting "Properties"; you can find the printer name by opening the "Devices and Printers" screen in Windows, right-clicking on the icon for your printer, selecting "Printer Properties" and then the "Sharing" tab.

If your printer is connected by a parallel port, you need to type "COPY /B filename.prn LPT1" and press the "Enter" key.

Printing PRN File: Utilities

If you cannot find the necessary information about your computer and printer or if you are uncomfortable using the Command Prompt, you can use special software utilities to print a PRN file. Examples include PRNPrint, Frogmore Raw Print and Free Raw Print (see Resources). You shouldn't need to pay for such a utility as many free options work well.