Hardware Mac MacBook

How do I add a printer to a Mac?

white printer on white table
Paper trail: get your printer connected

With working from home now a way of life, the time may come when you need to add a printer to a Mac. If you’ve switched from using a Windows computer, the Mac’s Printers & Scanners settings are similar to the Printing control panel in Windows, so you should feel relatively comfortable. Unfortunately, Apple makes things slightly confusing.

Should I install the printer manufacturer’s software?

First things first, do you need to install any software provided by the printer manufacturer? Apple makes its view quite clear:

 Don’t install the software that came with the printer or from the manufacturer’s website

That seems pretty straight-forward. If it wasn’t for this advice on the same support page as the above quote:

On your Mac, update your printer software: check with your printer’s manufacturer to see if any updates are available for your printer model.

I’d recommend trying to install the printer without any extra software in the first place. I use a wireless HP printer on my Mac and haven’t installed any software. The manufacturer’s software can provide additional features but, for most home users, it may not be necessary.

There are exceptions to this rule, where specialist software is needed to get the most out of the device. For example, I also have a Dymo label printer and that requires software to generate the printed labels. Installing that software adds the printer to the Mac automatically.

How to connect a printer to Mac

Based on my own use of printers on Mac, I’d recommend the following method to add a printer:

Time needed: 2 minutes

Connect a printer to a Mac

  1. Connect a wired printer

    If you’re using a wired printer, connect it to the Mac first. If you’re going wireless, then jump to the next step.

  2. Find your printer in System Settings

    Click on the Apple icon in the top-left of the screen, then System Settings and then click Printers & Scanners in the sidebar.

  3. If your printer isn’t found

    If you don’t see your printer listed on this screen, click Add Printer, Scanner or Fax at the bottom. When your printer appears in the list, select your printer, then click Add.

  4. macOS will now install the required software


    Usually, when you add a printer, macOS uses AirPrint to connect to the printer or it will automatically download the printer’s driver.

  5. If the above doesn’t work, install the manufacturer’s software

    If the printer didn’t appear in the list of recognised printers, or you weren’t able to add the printer, then try installing the manufacturer’s software to see if that remedies the situation.

How to change the default printer on a Mac

If you have more than one printer, you change which one is used as the default. Head back System Settings > Printers & Scanners and you’ll find a drop-down menu labelled Default printer.

macOS printer settings

Click on this and you can change whichever printer is assigned as the default. This includes “Last Printer Used”, in case you don’t want it to be fixed to only one.

How to view printer information and settings

If you’ve decided not to install the manufacturer’s software, how can you change your printer settings? What about ink levels? macOS does provide some of this and, for most people, this will be enough.

When you go into System Settings > Printers & Scanners, click on the printer in question and you’ll see a window similar to this.

macOS printer settings for HP Color LaserJet

From here you can see the printer queue, change how the printer is shared but also see Options & Supplies.

You’ll find many more options available when you go to print something, although this won’t change settings for future prints. If you can’t find a required setting in the menu mentioned above and you haven’t installed the manufacturer’s software, then adjusting this on the printer itself may be your best option.

About the author

David Artiss

Works for Automattic Inc., the company behind WordPress.com and Tumblr. Tech geek, international speaker and occasional PC Pro podcaster. Lover of Lego and video games.

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