I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter that OS X provides built-in support for a large number of printers. However, the truth is that there are a lot of other printers out there—some old, some new, some that were extremely popular, and even some that were touted as being "Mac-compatible"—that aren't officially supported under OS X 10.2 and later. If your printer is one of them, don't give up and buy a new printer just yet: you may be able to add support for it on your own.
One of the advantages of Apple's decision to use CUPS as its core printing technology is that as an open-source system, CUPS is easily extensible. In addition, because of the popularity of Unix among techies, there is a talented pool of programmers who spend their time (often without compensation) working on open-source projects. The end result is that there are developers all over the world who are writing printer drivers for Unix computers that use CUPS. By installing these drivers, you can instantly gain support for hundreds of additional printers: older inkjet printers, LocalTalk printers, QuickDraw printers, PostScript Level 1 printers, large-format printers, dot-matrix printers, and even new, "Windows-only" printers. In addition, even some printers that are officially supported in OS X are better supported through open-source drivers. For example, many Epson printers support borderless printing, but some of the official Epson drivers don't allow it; the open-source drivers do.
The two main sources for CUPS-compatible printer drivers are the Gimp-Print Project (http://gimp-print.sourceforge.net/MacOSX.php3) and LinuxPrinting.org (http://www.linuxprinting.org/macosx/). Gimp-Print drivers are supplied as a single installer package that provides support for over 300 printers (mostly inkjet but also many laser printers), whereas the LinuxPrinting.org drivers are provided in smaller packages based on printer brand/type: Brother, Hewlett-Packard, Apple ImageWriter, PostScript Level 1, and Samsung. You can see the complete lists of supported printers at http://gimp-print.sourceforge.net/p_Supported_Printers.php3 and http://www.linuxprinting.org/database.html. The Gimp-Print page even shows the degree of current support for each printer: fully operational, operational, needs testing, or untested. What's more, since many printers work well with drivers for closely related models, even if your printer isn't listed, it's worth a try before you go out and buy a new one. (If a particular printer model isn't listed, you can even submit a request for a driver; there's no guarantee, but there's a good chance someone will try to help you out.)
You'll notice that the lists of printers supported by Gimp-Print and the LinuxPrinting.org drivers include many "Windows-only" printers. In case you're wondering, the answer is yes: by using these open-source drivers, many Windows-only printers are instantly usable on your Mac!
In the section that follows, I'm going to show you how to install and use the Gimp-Print driver package. Although I'm prevented by space constraints from doing the same for the various LinuxPrinting.org packages, rest assured that they work in much the same way, and include detailed documentation to guide you through the process.
If your printer is listed as being supported by the Gimp-Print package, you're a free download away from being able to print again. Although installing and using the Gimp-Print drivers is fairly straightforward, there are a couple places where it's easy to get tripped up.
In case you're wondering where the Gimp-Print project got its name, it's because it began as a printer plug-in for the Unix graphics application The GIMP.
Installing the Gimp-Print package actually involves two steps. The first is installing the drivers themselves. The second is installing a package called ESP Ghostscript. Some applications, such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, and Apple's own AppleWorks, generate their own PostScript code. This causes problems for the Gimp-Print drivers, so a third-party PostScript interpreter is needed as a go-between. ESP Ghostscript, another free, open-source product, fills this need. In fact, once you install it, it operates invisibly and you never even know it's there. Here's how to install both:
Download the Gimp-Print package from http://gimp-print.sourceforge.net/MacOSX.php3. You'll see several download options; I recommend the one that says "newest final release" (as opposed to the one that says "newest pre-release," which means it's still in testing). From the same page, download the ESP Ghostscript package. Both downloads will be in the format of OS X disk images.
Mount both disk images in the Finder (by double-clicking them or dragging them onto the Disk Copy utility).
If your printer connects to your Mac via a USB cable, make sure it's connected and turned on.
Open the Gimp-Print image and double-click the Gimp-Print installer package (it should be called something like Gimp-Print 4.x.x.pkg). Provide your admin username and password, and then follow the on-screen instructions. Exit the installer when finished.
Open the ESP Ghostscript image and double-click the ESP Ghostscript.mpkg package. Follow the same procedure as in Step 4.
Restart your Mac.
You've just added support for a few hundred additional printers. The next step is to set up your printer.
Because the Gimp-Print drivers are fully CUPS-compatible, you could use the CUPS web interface to set up your printer. However, I find that Print Center is much easier for such simple tasks. The only tricky part is that you have to access Print Center's "Advanced" options screen.
Launch Print Center (in /Applications/Utilities).
Hold down the option key and click the Add button in the Print Center toolbar. (The option key enables access to the Advanced setup options.)
Click the pop-up menu at the top of the window and select Advanced.
Click the Device pop-up menu; your printer should appear at the bottom of the menu. (If it doesn't, double-check to make sure your printer is connected and turned on.) Select it from the menu.
If desired, change the Device Name to something more exiting or meaningful. (But don't change the Device URI—that's how your Mac keeps track of the printer.)
Click the Printer Model pop-up menu, and select the printer name or model number. If your printer is not listed, but you have a PPD file for it, select the Other… option and navigate to it in the resulting file browser (the PPD file must be located on your hard drive).
Click Add to add the printer.
Some AppleTalk printers—and LocalTalk printers connected via a LocalTalk-to-Ethernet adapter—are also supported by Gimp-Print. Simply follow the instructions provided for setting up a USB printer; your printer should show up in the Device pop-up menu (Step 4) just like a USB printer would.
If your printer (or, in the case of many business environments, print server) is not connected directly to your Mac but is available via TCP/IP (a network connection), you need to set up an IP printing queue rather than a local printing queue. You should get the IP address and queue name of the printer or print server from your network administrator, then follow these steps:
Click Add in the Print Center toolbar.
Click the pop-up menu in the resulting window and select IP Printing.
In the Printer's Address field, enter the IP address of the printer or print server (or the domain name if it has one), and enter the name of the print queue in the Queue Name field.
Click the Printer Model pop-up menu, and select the name or model number of the printer (or, as above, if you have a specific PPD file for the printer, select Other… and navigate to it).
Click Add to add the printer.
If you want to change the name of your newly added printer, select it in the Print Center window and then select Printers ➣ Show Info. From the pop-up menu, select Name & Location, and enter your preferred name in the Printer Name field. You can also add a more meaningful location in the Location field.
To add a printer being shared by a Windows computer, follow the same steps listed under "Using Print Center" earlier in the chapter; the difference is that now you'll have a whole lot more printer drivers to choose from.
As I mentioned earlier, once you've set up a printer using the Gimp-Print drivers, it functions much like any other printer. You can set it as your default printer in Print Center or the CUPS web interface, or you can select it for any individual print job using the OS X Print dialog. The one area where Gimp-Print drivers differ is in accessing special printer features. Many manufacturer-provided printer drivers alter the main print dialog itself to provide additional printer features. However, because the Gimp-Print drivers all use a standard interface, when you print to a Gimp-Print-supported printer, the options pop-up menu includes a new Printer Features panel. This panel will show all of the additional options specific to your printer.
The only caveat to using Gimp-Print (and other open-source) drivers is to remember that they don't come from the printer manufacturer. In most cases they work like a charm; however, sometimes they don't, and the printer manufacturer—which evidently doesn't support the printer fully to begin with—probably won't help you with any problems you might have. Be sure to check out the driver rating to see if all of your printer's features are supported. However, it's important to keep some perspective: for many printers, open-source drivers are the only solution. In addition, the open-source community is generally responsive to requests for help and bug reports. Be sure to check out the forum and feedback links on the Gimp-Print and LinuxPrinting.org websites.