Mac printing in a Windows world

When a Mac turns up at a previously Windows customer, one of the things you’ll need to help them do is get it to print to the existing network printers rather than buying a new printer just for the Mac.

The real trick is determining what type of printer you want the Mac to print to, and even if you’re not familiar with Macs the choices are only a little different from considering how to connect from a PC.


• Bonjour-capable printers – such as many HP and Epson all-in-ones, which are great for workgroups – can be seen directly by the Mac. You’ll need the right printer drivers, and if a printer has built-in Bonjour support, then it’s a good bet the manufacturer offers Mac OS X drivers.


• Network print servers – like HP JetDirects – typically support either Bonjour or Unix-style LPD printing. Macs will happily work with either, provided you have a printer driver. If you’re dealing with a laser printer, it probably supports either the HP PCL printing language or the PostScript printing language and generic PCL and PostScript drivers are available for Macs (and in fact are built in to OS X).


• JetDirect is also supported by built-in protocol handlers on Macs, so anything attached to a JetDirect printer should work – again, provided you can get drivers for the actual printer.


• Windows-based printers can be the trickiest. One option is to add Microsoft’s Services for Unix on the server, which exposes Windows shared printers as Unix-style LPD queues – in which case, see above. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on the fact that modern Macs (running OS X 10.2 or later, usually) directly support printing to Windows network printers. Just open the Printers option from System Preferences, select the Windows tab, and choose your printer by browsing the network. Again, you’ll need the right drivers. Macs don’t support Windows’ Point-and-Print functionality, so you can’t store Mac printer drivers on the print server for ease of installation.


The big difficulty, then, becomes finding the right drivers. Laser printers nearly always support PCL or PostScript, so you’re good. Newer inkjets from HP and Epson typically have OS X drivers available, while manufacturers like Canon tend to be rather more hit-or-miss.


Using network printers on a Mac isn’t terribly different from using them in Windows. The dialogs look different, of course, so you may need to use a remote connection to the user to take a look at an error they’re complaining about if you’re not familiar with OS X already, and the issue of finding the right drivers can sometimes be a major pain, but aside from that you’re dealing with the same basic set of technologies.


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