How to fix Mac printing problems

Tame troublesome printers and get better results

Fix Mac printing problems

Printers can be frustrating devices.

If you're having issues with printing from your Mac, you're in the right place.

We've gathered together the most common printing issues experienced on Macs and attempted to solve them. Let's start the questions...

"Why can't my Mac detect my printer at all?"

Have you installed the driver software that came in the box? Also check the manufacturer's site and run Software Update to check for newer versions of the drivers.

Now plug the printer in using a USB lead – it should show up automatically in the Print & Fax pane. If not, click the + and you ought to see it in the Default tab. If you can't, check it's switched on and that the cabling isn't faulty, and try a different USB port (or better still, test it with a different computer).

If it's a wireless printer you've got, it needs to be connected to the same network as your Mac. Use the printer's control panel to make sure Wi-Fi is enabled and it's hooked up to the correct network – you can often print a network diagnostics page to get all the details at a glance.

If you recently altered the WPA key to get on your network, you'll need to change it on your printer as well. And try temporarily connecting your wireless printer to your Mac using a USB lead – does it appear in the Print & Fax pane now?

"Why am I getting these lines across my printouts?"

Blocked inkjet print heads are the likely culprit, so use the utility software that came with your printer to run the nozzle cleaning tasks (you'll find the software in your Applications or Utilities folder). It may take several goes, but run the nozzle clean until the test page prints out perfectly.

While you're in the printer utility, it may be worth checking the print head alignment, which can also have an impact on your printouts. Blocked nozzles are caused by ink drying out in the pipes when the printer isn't being used, so try to use your printer at least once a week to prevent blockages. Faint areas suggest your ink or toner is running out – time to buy some more.

"Is it possible to check ink or toner levels on my Mac?"

It depends if your printer supports this. Go to System Preferences > Print & Fax, select the printer, click Options & Supplies… and select the Supply Levels tab. Some printers may have a separate app that provides this info, so have a look in the Applications or Utilities folders to see what's there.

"Am I able to print from my iPhone or iPad?"


While AirPrint currently only works with a limited range of printers, there's a utility called Printopia that enables you to print to any printer connected up to your Mac.

While we expect AirPrint to be opened up to more printers over time, using Printopia is a really easy way to run off hard copies from your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch in the interim. And at under £7, it won't break the bank.

How to print troublesome docs

We'll assume your printer's on, not flashing any error lights, there's paper in it and you're not out of ink or toner – but you'd checked that already, hadn't you?

Open the Print & Fax pane in System Preferences, select your printer and click Open Print Queue…. Check it's not paused – if it is, click Resume Printer at the top. There may be other documents in the print queue that are holding things up.

Have any error messages appeared in this window? If so, they should give you a clue as to what's not right. Type the exact message into a Google search to look for answers.

If there are print jobs waiting that won't roll off the press, delete the lot and try printing again. The problem could be linked to an individual file or app, so try printing a different document from a different app.

Should this not help, right-click the Printers column in Print & Fax and choose Reset printing system…

Quick tip

If you need to reinstall your printer drivers but you've lost the disc that came with it and can't find them online, Apple includes common ones with OS X. Pop in your Mac OS X DVD, run the Optional Installs app and choose the relevant drivers under Printer Support.

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