Problem: You plugged your printer into your AirPort Base Station or Time Capsule, turned it on, and tried to print. Sadly, your Mac doesn’t see the printer, so you’re left wondering whatever happened to the Mac’s promise of plug-and-play.
Solution: You use Apple’s “Bonjour” technology when you print from a device connected to a Base Station or Time Capsule. This technology really is plug-and-play (or “zeroconf” for “zero configuration”). The only software you could possibly have to install is a printer driver, and even that is unlikely. So, there’s little for you to get wrong with the software configuration. Instead, you need to make sure your AirPort/Time Capsule can see the printer, that your Mac is networked to the Base Station, and that you know how to add the printer. Here’s how:
- Think of the USB port on the AirPort Express/Extreme and Time Capsule as a USB port on your computer: you can plug in nearly any USB printer and use it wirelessly, provided your version of Mac OS X includes the driver or you have installed the current driver.
- Printers connected to AirPort base stations appear in the “Default” tab in the “Add Printer” window, just as a USB printer would. If you need to select a driver (because your Mac isn’t sure which printer it is), you select the same driver as if you had plugged it into your Mac. There isn’t a special driver just for wirelessly connected printers.
- Mac OS X Lion ships with a huge number of printer drivers, so it’s unlikely you’ll need to add your printer’s own driver, so long as you keep updating your system software. If Lion does not ship with your printer’s driver, then you do need to install it, regardless of whether the printer is connected to your Mac or an AirPort/Time Capsule.
- To see and add your printer, your Mac must be able to talk to the Base Station. This means you need to connect to that device with an Ethernet cable or wireless AirPort connection. If you use multiple Base Stations in your network, or if you have several wireless networks you can connect to, you should verify that your Mac can see the Base Station your printer is connected to. Open AirPort Utility in /Applications/Utilities. If the Base Station your printer is connected to appears in the AirPort Utility window, the Print & Scan system preference should be able to add the printer. If AirPort Utility cannot see the Base Station, you will either need to add the Base Station to your existing network or connect to the network that the Base Station is a part of.
- Optionally, if you have a second Mac, you can use these steps to try to print to the USB-connected printer. If you have success, then you can eliminate the printer and the Base Station as the problem (meaning your first Mac’s software or network connection is at fault).
A Note About Multifunction Devices and Scanners:
More and more printers today are also copiers, scanners, and fax machines. Many of these multifunction devices can connect to your Mac wirelessly (through a built-in WiFi card), allowing you to print and scan without a USB cable. When you connect a printer or multifunction device to your AirPort Base Station or Time Capsule, the only thing you can do wirelessly is print. The scanning function will not work wirelessly, which also means connecting a scanner via USB to the AirPort/Time Capsule will not work. If you want to scan wirelessly, you need a scanner or multifunction device that has a WiFi card and is Mac compatible.
Did this guide work for you? What other problems have you run into when connecting printers to your AirPort Extremes and Time Capsules? Let others know in the comments.