Reset Your Mac's Printing System to Fix OS X Printer Problems

If You Can't Add or Use a Printer, Try Resetting the Printing System

How to Reset Your Mac's Printing System
The Reset Printing System option is available by right-clicking in the printer list sidebar. Screenshot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The Mac's printing system is pretty robust. In most cases, it's downright easy to install printers and scanners with just a few clicks. Even older printers that don't have current printer drivers can be installed using a manual installation process. But despite the easy setup process, there may be times when something goes wrong and your printer fails to show up in the Print dialog box, no longer appears in the Printers & Scanners preference pane, or is listed as offline, and nothing you do brings it back to an online or idle state.

First, try the usual printer troubleshooting methods:

  • Check the printer for ink/toner and paper.
  • Cycle your printer off and on.
  • If it's a USB printer, disconnect it and then reconnect it.
  • Use Software Update or App Store (under the Apple menu) or visit the printer manufacturer's website to see if there are any newer versions of your printer's software or drivers available.
  • Delete and reinstall the printer in the Printers & Scanners preference pane.

If you're still having problems, it may be time to try the nuclear option: clear out all of the printer's system components, files, caches, preferences, and other odds and ends, and start with a clean slate.

Lucky for us, OS X includes an easy way to restore its printer system to a default state, just the way it was when you first turned on your Mac. In many cases, sweeping out all the aging printer files and queues may be just what you need to successfully install or reinstall a reliable printer system on your Mac.

Reset the Printing System

Before we begin the reset process, remember that this is the last-ditch option for troubleshooting a printer issue. Resetting the printer system will remove and delete quite a few items; specifically, the reset process:

  • Deletes all printer queues and any print jobs that may be within the queues.
  • Resets all printer settings to the factory defaults.
  • Removes all printer preference files.
  • Performs a permissions reset on your Mac's /tmp directory.
  • Removes any printers or scanners previously added to the Printers & Scanners preference pane.

Reset Printing System in OS X Mavericks (10.9.x) or Later

  1. Launch System Preferences by selecting it from the Apple menu, or by clicking its icon in the Dock.
  2. Select the Printers & Scanners preference pane.
  3. In the Printers & Scanners preference pane, place your cursor in an empty area of the printer list sidebar, then right-click and select Reset Printing System from the pop-up menu.
  4. You will be asked if you really want to reset the printing system. Click the Reset button to continue.
  5. You may be asked for an administrator password. Supply the information and click OK.

The printing system will be reset.

Reset Printing System in OS X Lion and OS X Mountain Lion

  1. Launch System Preferences by selecting it from the Apple menu, or by clicking its icon in the Dock.
  2. Select the Print & Scan preference pane.
  3. Right-click in a blank area of the printer list sidebar, then select Reset Printing System in the pop-up menu.
  4. You will be asked if you really want to reset the printing system. Click the OK button to continue.
  1. You may be asked for an administrator password. Supply the information and click OK.

The printing system will be reset.

Reset Printing System in OS X Snow Leopard

  1. Launch System Preferences by selecting it from the Apple menu, or by clicking its icon in the Dock.
  2. Select the Print & Fax preference pane from the System Preferences window.
  3. Right-click in the printer list (if no printers are installed, the printer list will be the left-most sidebar), and select Reset Printing System from the pop-up menu.
  4. You will be asked if you really want to reset the printing system. Click the OK button to continue.
  5. You may be asked for an administrator password. Supply the information and click OK.

    The printing system will be reset.

    What to Do After the Printing System is Reset

    Once the printing system is reset, you will need to add back any printers, fax machines, or scanners that you want to use. The method for adding these peripherals is slightly different for each of the various versions of OS X that we covered here, but the basic process is to click the Add (+) button in the printer preference pane, and then follow the onscreen instructions.

    You can find more detailed instructions for installing printers in:

    The Easy Way to Add a Printer to Your Mac

    Manually Install a Printer on Your Mac

    The two guides listed above were written for OS X Mavericks, but they should work for OS X Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, or later.

    To install printers in versions of OS X earlier than Lion, you may need the printer drivers or installation apps provided by the printer manufacturer.