Manually Install a Printer on Your Mac

Use the Printer & Scanner Preference Pane to Add Older Printers to Your Mac

Manually Install a Printer on Your Mac
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Installing a printer on a Mac is usually a simple task. You shouldn't have to do much more than connect the printer to your Mac, turn the printer on, and then let your Mac automatically install the printer for you.

While the automatic printer install method works most of the time, there may be times when you'll have to use the manual install method to get a printer up and running.

A bit of background: For many years, manually installing printers was the normal method of getting a Mac and a printer to communicate. It usually required a trip to the printer manufacturer's website to get the most recent printer driver, running the driver install app that came with the printer software, and finally, opening Mac's system preferences, choosing the printer preference pane, and running through the printer setup, which united the printer with the newly installed driver software.

It wasn't a difficult process, and it allowed the use of older versions of printer software, or even generic printer drivers when appropriate drivers weren't available from the printer manufacturer.

But Apple likes to make the Mac as easy to use as possible, so with the advent of OS X Lion, it added automatic printer installation as the default method of getting a Mac and a printer to work together. But once in a while, especially for older printers, the automatic process doesn’t work, usually because the printer manufacturer never supplied Apple with an updated driver. Luckily, you can use the manual printer installation method we'll describe here.

For this guide, we're going to install an older Canon i960 USB printer on a Mac running OS X Yosemite. The method we outline should work for most printers, as well as future versions of OS X.

If you're attempting to set up and use a printer connected to a Windows PC, take a look at: How to Set Up Printer Sharing with Windows Computers

Using the Printer & Scanner Preference Pane to Install a Printer

  1. Connect the printer to your Mac using a USB cable.
  2. Make sure the printer is properly configured with ink and paper.
  3. Turn the printer's power on.
  4. Launch System Preferences by selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu, or clicking on the System Preferences icon in the Dock.
  5. Click the Printers & Scanners preference pane.
  6. If your printer is already listed in the preference pane's printer list sidebar, go on to step 18.
  7. If you don't see your printer on the list, click the plus (+) button near the bottom left side of the preference pane sidebar to add the printer.
  8. In the Add window that appears, select the Default tab.
  9. Your printer should appear in the list of printers that are connected to your Mac. Select the new printer you wish to install; in our case, it's a Canon i960.
  10. The bottom of the Add window will auto-populate with information about the printer, including the printer's name, the location (the name of the Mac it's connected to), and the driver it will be using.
  11. By default, your Mac will auto-select the driver. If your Mac was able to find a proper driver for the printer, the driver's name will be displayed. You can click the Add button and then go on to step 18. If instead, you see Choose a Driver, then proceed to the next step.
  1. If your Mac wasn't able to find a usable driver, you may be able to find one yourself. Click the Use: drop-down menu and choose Select Software from the drop-down list.
  2. The Printer Software list will appear. Scroll through the list of available printer drivers to see if there's one that matches up to your printer. If not, you can try a generic driver if one is available. If you find a driver to use, select the driver from the list and click OK. You can now click the Add button and then go on to step 18.
  3. If there is no matching printer driver software listed, you can go to the printer manufacturer's website and download and install the most recent version of the printer driver.
  4. Since we're trying to install a Canon i960, we went to the Canon printer support website where we discovered that the latest driver version Canon has for the i960 is for OS X Snow Leopard. Although that's a pretty old version, we decided to download the driver anyway and install it using the installation app included in the download package.
  1. Once the driver installation completes, return to the Printers & Scanners preference pane. If all went well, your printer should now show up in the Printers list sidebar in the preference pane. Jump to step 18
  2. If the printer wasn't automatically added to the printer list, go back to step 7 and repeat the steps. The OS should either auto-find the driver or list it in the Select Software drop-down list of printer drivers.

    1. Verifying That the Printer Is Working
  3. After clicking the Add button, or auto-adding the printer by using the manufacturer's driver install the app, you're ready to check to see if the printer is actually working.
  4. Open the Printers & Scanners preference pane, if you previously closed it.
  5. Select your printer from the Printers list sidebar.
  6. Information about your printer will appear in the right-hand area of the window.
  7. Click the Open Print Queue button.
  8. The Print Queue window will open. From the menu bar, select Printer, Print Test Page.
  9. A test page will appear in the printer queue window and be sent to the printer for printing. Be patient; the first print can take a while. Many printers perform special calibration routines on a first print.
  1. If the test print is OK, you're all set; enjoy your printer.

If you had problems with the test print, such as the page not printing at all, or looking strange (incorrect colors, smears), check the printer's manual for troubleshooting tips.

If you still have problems, and you manually selected a generic driver for your printer, try another driver. You can do this by deleting the printer from the Printers & Scanners preference pane, and repeating the installation steps above.

By the way, we were successful in getting our seven-year-old Canon i960 printer to work with OS X Yosemite. So, just because the last available printer driver doesn't include support for your current version of OS X, it doesn't mean that an older driver won't work with your Mac.

By the way, if you are not able to successfully install your printer, don't give up hope resetting the printer system may be all that is needed to fix the issue.

Published: 5/14/2014

Updated: 11/5/2015