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

When your printer doesn't print, fails to show up in the Print dialog box, no longer appears in the Mac's Printers & Scanners preference pane, or shows as offline and nothing you do brings it back to an online or idle state, trying familiar printing fixes may work. However, if these fixes don't solve the problem, it's time to go for the lesser-known and much more extensive option of resetting the Mac printing system.

Information in this article applies to Apple computers with macOS Catalina (10.15) through OS X Mavericks (10.9).

Basic Printer Troubleshooting Methods

Before you tackle resetting the printing system, take these simple steps:

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

If you still have problems, it's time to reset the printing system, which clears out all the printer's system components, files, caches, preferences, and other odds and ends and starts over. This approach also clears out all scanners and fax machines from the Mac.

Before You Reset the Printing System

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

This reset process is the last-ditch option for troubleshooting a printer issue. It removes and deletes many items. Specifically, it:

  • Deletes all printer queues and any print jobs in the queue.
  • Resets all printer settings to the factory defaults.
  • Removes all printer preference files.
  • Resets the permissions on the Mac's /tmp directory.
  • Removes any printers or scanners you added to the Printers & Scanners preference pane.

After you reset the Mac printer system, add back any printers, fax machines, or scanners you use on the Mac.

How to Reset Your Mac's Printer System

You reset the printer system on your Mac through the System Preferences. Here's how:

  1. Launch System Preferences by selecting it from the Apple menu or clicking its icon in the Dock.

    System Preferences under a Mac's Apple Menu
  2. Select the Printers & Scanners preference pane.

    Printers & Scanners in a Mac's System Preferences
  3. In the Printers & Scanners preference pane, position the cursor in an empty area of the printer list sidebar. Then, right-click and select Reset printing system from the pop-up menu.

    Reset Printing System option on a Mac
  4. The system asks if you want to reset the printing system. Click Reset to continue. If the system asks for your administrator password, type it, and then click OK.

What to Do After You Reset the Printer System

After you reset the printing system, add any wired or wireless printers back to the Mac. The basic process is to click the Add (+) button in the printer preference pane and then follow the on-screen instructions. Occasionally, this simple approach doesn't work with older Macs. In that case, you need to install the printer on your Mac manually.