Can’t Add a Printer? Reset the Mac Printing System

Updated October 3rd, 2020.

Many printers from Epson, Canon and Hewlett-Packard come with instructions to NOT install the software that comes with them on CDs. Rather, the instructions say, get the software from Apple, and indeed that is excellent advice. Apple long ago tired of waiting for printer manufacturers to provide software compatible with each new version of OS X, so they started doing it themselves, and on the whole this has been a good thing for Mac users.

In general, the process is:

  1. Connect printer to Mac with USB cable (or wirelessly)
  2. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu, then click on Print & Scan
  3. Click the “+” at bottom left of the Print & Scan preference pane
  4. Let Apple deliver the software over the internet (totally automatically)

It almost always works. But sometimes it just won’t. Usually the failure happens when getting the software from Apple: everything seems to be proceeding apace when all of a sudden, during the download, a message pops up saying something about the software not being available, and to “Please try again later.” Try later all you want, but once you see that message it is NEVER going to work. Never, that is, unless you know what to do next.

The thing to do next is to “reset the printing system.” That gives you a fresh start, and in my experience, resetting the printing system ALWAYS solves the problem, allowing the printer software to be downloaded successfully from Apple. I’ve never seen it not work. It’s easy:

  1. Go to the Print & Scan preference pane (Apple menu/System Preferences)
  2. Control-click in the list of printers (outlined in red below)
  3. Choose “Reset printing system…”
Resetting the Printing System in the Print & Scan Mac preference pane
Resetting the Printing System in the Print & Scan Mac preference pane

The trouble is, resetting the printing system wipes out all of the printers in your Print & Scan Preference Pane. You can see what mine looked like before I Control-clicked in the printer list area (three printers).

Here’s what it looked like after. No printers. But, that’s what “reset” means.

After resetting the Printing System in the Print & Scan Mac preference pane-- no printers!
No printers, after resetting the Mac’s printing system

After you’ve reset printing (and wiped out all of your printers) you can click that little “+” (the one in the lower left corner of the window, next to the “-“, not the one in the middle of the screen) and add your printer, the one you couldn’t add a few minutes ago. It’s going to work this time. You can also go back and click the “+” to add your other printers. It’s easier than it sounds and will take just a few minutes per printer. No one likes making extra work for himself but sometimes it’s the only way, and like I said before, in my experience resetting the printing system always works. So, as a last resort, now you know what to do.

Copyright 2008-2021 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.

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20 thoughts on “Can’t Add a Printer? Reset the Mac Printing System

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  1. What do you do with that empty window? Is that your advice? What do you do when clicking + brings another empty window where you cant add anything? There is a search window but what to put in there?

    1. If you get an empty window after clicking the “+” it means your Mac can’t see any printers, so it can’t add any. Basically, it can’t add what it can’t see. We need to make it so the Mac can see the printer. Leave that blank window open, and then… If connected with USB, just unplug and replug the USB cable and see if that works. If you’re going through a USB hub try going direct. If you’re expecting to connect to the printer wirelessly, double-check that the printer is on the same network as your Mac. If you’re expecting to connect to the printer over a network, once again you need to be sure it’s “seen” on the network. One thing that is often the cause of printers disappearing: there could be a little button for WiFi that needs to be turned on. Let me know which model of printer you have, and how you’re connecting it, and I can help you more.

  2. hi im having this issue my printer used to be wired to my iMac but have reconfigured office so printer now needs to be wireless but it won’t work it says the printer can’t be verified on your network Unable to connect to ‘HP ENVY 5530 series [6CE254]._ipp._tcp.local.’ due to an error.
    iPhones etc pick up the printer fine just the iMac can’t have tried switching everything off and won ( several times!!)

  3. This is bad advice, it accomplishes nothing but to create more headaches. I have simply been trying to setup a Canon printer that has worked fine in the past, and still works on other computers, but my newer Mac just can’t find the drivers no matter what I do. Following this advice just made me have to re-install all of my other devices, which is hugely annoying.

    1. Yes, that’s a pain. There’s a reason I put the warning in the article– “The trouble is, resetting the printing system wipes out all of the printers in your Print & Scan Preference Pane. You can see what mine looked like before I Control-clicked in the printer list area (three printers).

      Here’s what it looked like after. No printers. But, that’s what “reset” means.” Resetting the printing system is a last resort. I’ll try to make that more clear.

      If your Mac is “too new” there may not be a driver for that printer. Or if the printer is “too old.” I put those in quotes because how old is “too old” and how new is “too new” is a moving target. You might have some luck using Apple’s AirPrint drivers or the drivers from the Gutenprint project.

  4. Updated to Big Sur and now my computer recognizes but cant connect to my Epson C88 even after resetting. What is happening? How can I fix this? I wish I never updated, nothing but headaches.

  5. Hi Christian, I did exactly what you wrote, but still can not do it..the sign came up “error occurred” I have Epson L 360 series and my Mac is update to Big Sur

  6. omg thank you so much! I spent 3 hours trying to fix this and after I read your post it only took me a minute to connect my printer to my Mac… thank you

  7. Hi, I recently updated to Big Sur and now it is unable to add my EPSON L3110. It can recognize the printer but suddenly says “an error occured while trying to add the device”

    The Big Sur update seems like a bad idea now 🙁

    1. Based on what I see on Epson’s web pages there may not be a Big Sur (macOS 11) driver for your printer. Not yet. I would not give up. They seem to imply that they are working on this. You may be able to make it work by NOT choosing the automatic method when adding the printer, but by choosing “AirPrint” or “Secure AirPrint.” Maybe.

      This link to Epson’s site looks to have the newest software. Make sure you’re using this.

  8. “It’s going to work this time.” No, it didn’t work, and now I can’t add ANY of my printers 🙁

    1. If you’ve reset the printing system, and you can’t add any printers, maybe there’s something else wrong. Probably there’s something else wrong. If you go to add a printer, and don’t see any, then either the printers and the Mac aren’t connected (not on the same network? USB not connected? WiFi switched off on the printer?) or the Mac system needs reinstalling. If you see the printers but can’t add them, I’d lean toward reinstalling the system.

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