Why Can’t My Mac See My Wireless Printer?

by Matt

Problem: You bought a wireless printer or multifunction device that promises to let you print and scan to your Mac without any cables. Life should be good, but you can’t get your Mac and your printer to see eye-to-eye.

Solution: Therapy. Both are talking, but neither can hear what the other is saying. You’ve got to get them to make two promises: that they will be part of the same wireless network and that your Mac will promise to have the right software to interface with the printer. Each relationship will be difrerent, so here are some general rules to follow when setting up the printers:

  • If your Mac already connects to a wireless network, you will need to configure your printer to connect to the same network. Some printers allow you to select the wireless network directly from the printer’s LCD panel (you select the network and put in the password). This is the preferred way to set up the printer because the Print & Scan (or Print & Fax) system preference is likely to find the printer on your network.
  • Other printers (especially older ones) create their own wireless networks, and you need to connect your Mac to your printer’s wireless network (which will show up in your Mac’s AirPort menu) before you can tell the printer that you want it to connect to a different network. You typically need to install the printer’s software before you can change this configuration, but be sure to read your printer’s manual (or the manufacturer’s website) for specific instructions.
  • If you’re running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or earlier, it is fair to say there is no universal standard for wireless printing, it is highly likely you must use the install CD that comes with your wireless device (or download the newest version from the manufacturer’s website) to both install the device’s drivers and configure the device. After all, your wireless printer is not going to instinctively know your wireless network’s name and password.
  • If, however, you are running Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or 10.7 Lion, Apple bundles the wireless printer drivers for all recent printer models from major manufacturers. It is the printer’s manufacturer’s responsibility to create these drivers and send them to Apple. Ultimately, the manufacturer controls what kind of functionality the printer has (for example, can you print *and* scan wirelessly, or only print wirelessly?). One problem you run into is that if the printer driver is not already on your Mac, your Mac won’t know that it should download the driver from Apple unless it can already see your printer on the network. This is why the preferred method for connecting a wireless printer to your Mac is to tell the printer, from the printer’s LCD console, how to connect to your exisitng wireless network. If you can’t do this, you may want to directly connect the printer to your Mac via USB first. Your Mac will see the printer, download the appropriate driver from Software Update, and that may help you configure the printer from the software that gets installed.
  • You must install the drivers and software on each machine you that must use the wireless device. Because you should only have to configure the device when you change your wireless network name or password, you do not need to install this configuration software on each machine. What this means is that if you have three Macs, and you use an HP OfficeJet 6500 (as I do), you need to install the HP driver set on each of your three Macs and add the printer from System Preferences on each Mac.
  • Many people run into problems with old wireless printers (say, from 5 years ago or older). These printers create their own wireless networks right out of the box. Your Mac can see the printer’s wireless network from the AirPort menu. With these printers, you must connect to the printer’s wireless network, then use the printer’s setup software to tell the printer to instead connect to your wireless network. The printer setup software will only see the printer if your Mac is connected to the same wireless network as your printer.

Did any of these tips work for you? When you can’t get your Mac to see your wireless printer, what do you do to solve the problem? Let others know in the comments.

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