How to Add a Printer to Your Mac

You would think that after all these years setting up new printers and using them would be easy, but the reality is much different.

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How to Add a Printer to Your Mac

It seems like such a simple thing – printing. But, printers and printing problems are some of the most common issues encountered in tech support. You would think that after all these years setting up new printers and using them would be easy, but the reality is much different.

While Macs may bill themselves as being easier to use compared to Windows, the fact is they are a computer, and just as complicated. The same can be said for printing, as well. But, I must say that overall the process is a bit easier, but isn’t always without its issues. Today, let’s look at how you add a printer to your Mac so you can send those print jobs you need on paper to your printer without fail.

Types of Printers

For the purposes of this guide, I’m going to break down the printers into three basic categories, although after you see them you will realize that two of them are very similar to each other. The three types of printers are:

  • USB Printers – These printers are the simplest to setup, as they connect directly to your Mac using a USB cable. This can be made more problematic with the lack of USB ports on newer Macs, but can be overcome with a simple adapter. While this is the easiest way of doing it, if you have multiple computers, you will have to disconnect the cable and connect it to the other machine before you can print to it as it can only be connected to one machine at a time.
  • Network Printers – These printers connect with an Ethernet cable to your router. Once connected, the printer will receive an IP address and be available as a printer to every computer on your network. This setup is a little more complex, but will give you the ability to print from almost anything connected to your network including computers and even smartphones and tablets.
  • Wireless Printers – Wireless printers are just like their network printer cousins, only they don’t use wires. Instead, they connect to your Wi-Fi network. The benefit of this is you can place them pretty much anywhere in your home as long as the signal strength is strong, and like network printers any device on your network can use them. However, in my experience, wireless printers can be a bit finicky, especially if you have a weak Wi-Fi signal or constant problems with your router or Internet service.

Which one of these you choose is really up to you. Personally, I always go with the wired network printer first if possible, and then move onto the others if it just isn’t feasible. Many printers you buy today are able to connect in all three ways, but you will find some that don’t have wireless, for example, and some large production printers won’t have the ability of being connected via USB either.

What You Will Need

Before you get started, you will need a few things depending on how you plan on connecting your printer.

  1. Your chosen printer
  2. A Mac
  3. Software drivers either from an included CD or downloaded from the Internet
  4. Ethernet cable if you are connected to a wired network
  5. USB cable if you are connected via USB with an adapter if you are using a Macbook
  6. Your Wi-Fi network name and password if you are setting up a wireless printer

Once you have gathered your materials, it’s time to get started. I will break down the setup into two main sections – USB Printers and Wi-Fi/Network Printers.

USB Printers

First, let’s look at how you install and setup a USB printer on your Mac. In most cases, this setup is much easier than the network setup, but remember, you will only be able to use the printer on one computer at a time.

1. Update your Mac. In many cases, Apple will already have the printer driver you need included in macOS, but you need to ensure that your Mac is up to date to have all the available drivers ready to go.

2. Follow the instructions included with your printer to get it ready for printing.

3. Connect your printer with the USB printer. If it prompts you to download software, download and install it.

4. Test the printing. If everything works fine, you are done. If not, proceed to step 5.

5. If you had issues, download the drivers directly from your printer manufacturer’s website and install them.

6. Test your printing.

You may also want to reboot your Mac for good measure, although in most cases this isn’t necessary. But no matter what, you should be done and your printer should be running just fine.

Wi-Fi/Network Printers


Now that we have covered USB printers, let’s take a look at network and Wi-Fi printers. This setup can be a little more complicated, but in the end you will have a printer that can be used by any device connected to your network.

1. Update your Mac. In many cases, your Mac can use Airprint to print to your network printer. But it will need to have the most updated version of macOS to ensure it will work with your printer.

2. Setup your printer. Configure the printer according to the instructions included from your printer. Turn it on, and if there are no errors, you are ready to proceed.

3. Connect your printer. If you have a wired ethernet, connect an ethernet cable to your router. If you have a Wi-Fi card, you will need to follow your printer’s instructions to connect it to your network. For some printers, you can press a button on your router to pair it. In other cases, you may be able to navigate the menu of your printer to connect it to your network. If these two aren’t an option, you may have to connect it to your computer with a USB cable to configure the wireless on your printer.

4. Add the printer to your Mac. Go to Apple > System Preferences > Printers & Scanners.

5. If you don’t see the printer listed, click the “+” icon and wait for it to appear.

6. Click on the printer to install it.

7. If these options don’t work, you can add a new printer manually using the IP address.

Congratulations, now you a brand new printer connected to your computer that you can use with your Mac or any other device connected to your network, including Windows PCs, smartphones and tablets.

Parting Thoughts

There you have it. As you can see, there is a little more to it than just plugging it in, even on a Mac. Still, Apple has made it a bit easier compared to other platforms. One thing is certain. If you follow this guide, you should be able to setup almost any printer you purchase for your Mac. Just make sure they have Mac drivers before you buy it.

What has your printer setup experience been like on your Mac? Was it easier or harder when compared to installation on a Windows PC? Tell me your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

By Matt Garrett

Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing on our sister ShopNinja sites where he enjoys talking about anything and everything tech.

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