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 2008-2022 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.

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31 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.

      https://epson.com.jm/Support/Printers/All-In-Ones/L-Series/Epson-L3110/s/SPT_C11CG87301?review-filter=macOS+11.x#panel-drivers-01-1

  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.

    1. It seems as if the printer is either not on the same network as the Mac (or that one of them isn’t on a network at all). Or, if the printer is connected with a cable directly to the Mac, that the cable is bad (I’d unplug it completely, both ends, then reconnect, before buying a new cable). Or, something on the printer is set so that WiFi is off. Etc. There are many possible issues but this one seems like “connectivity.”

  9. Hi,
    I did all that you suggested. Unfortunately, my printer Brother MFC-9142 CDN (which worked fine before, connected via USB) decided over night that my MacBook Pro running MacOS 12.0.1 Monterey should not find it when trying to add a new printer (after wiping out all printers before…
    THe Mac just doesn’t find ANY printer.

  10. I have tried the procedure and it doesn’t work. My System preferences says “no printers are available”. Clicking on + is useless, I get a window titled. “Add” but with nothing in it. This was before I tried Reset.
    Reset made no difference.
    Yet I do have a printer (Canon TS 700), and it’s connected to my iMac by a usb cable.

    1. When you click the Add button you see all of the printers that the Mac can find. So, our problem is, the Mac can’t find your printer. If it were me: I’d disconnect the USB cable from both ends and then reconnect it. I’d try another cable. Your printer can connect directly to your Mac via USB as you’re looking to do. It also can connect to a wireless network, and it also can connect via Ethernet to the network. I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that if the network stuff (WiFi or Ethernet) is active, the USB won’t be available. I would redo the printer set-up, FROM THE PRINTER. Be sure you’re telling it that you are using USB and not WiFi or wired LAN. You’ll do that from the panel on the printer.

  11. Thanks for. such a prompt reply.
    You say “If it were me: I’d disconnect the USB cable from both ends and then reconnect it”. Yes, I’ve tried that several times with Canon tech support.It doesn’t work: System Preferences just says “no printer is available”.

    “I’d try another cable”: I don’t have one. But the cable I do have has worked about 6 or 7 times, when tech support have guided me on the phone, although this hasn’t worked recently. And I’ve been through the disconnect-reconnect routine several times with them.

    “Your printer can connect directly to your Mac via USB as you’re looking to do”: theoretically, yes. But in practice, it can’t.

    I don’t want a wireless connection. Canon helped me set it up for a usb connection.

    “Be sure you’re telling it that you are using USB and not WiFi or wired LAN. You’ll do that from the panel on the printer”. Yes, that’s what I did with the help of tech support, following their instructions to the letter.

    This printer doesn’t work and hasn’t worked ever since I got it last June. Fortunately I don’t often need to use a printer
    and my neighbour has kindly printed a few pages for me from time to time.

    This machine is getting on my nerves, with repeated and endless calls to tech support, and and I’m tempted to take it to the garbage and getting a new one. If I do, it won’t be a Canon.

    Best wishes,
    Xavier

  12. Hi Christian.
    I have just bought a 2021 iMac & I have tried to connect both/either of my Canon printers. I have a MP980 & a MP630. I know they are older but they work perfectly fine. Unfortunately their last driver update I could find was 2017. My Mac told me it was ‘incompatible’ with these printers & I’m assuming it is to do with their age & the drivers. Can you advise of a way to rectify this as I do not want to replace perfectly good printers.

    1. If you’re lucky Apple’s AirPrint driver will work. You’d find that out when you go to System Preferences/Printers and try to add one.

      If the AirPrint driver doesn’t work you MIGHT gt lucky with gutenprint. Go to http://gimp-print.sourceforge.net/MacOSX.php, download Gutenprint 5.3.3, install it, and then try to add your printer. When you go to add it you will choose “Select Software…” in the little pop-up menu at the bottom left. Let me know how it goes.

  13. Tried the gutenprint idea: my iMac still can’t find any printer. Something is very wrong.
    i bought a printer in June last year and it has never worked properly despite a dozen or so calls to Canon’s tech support

    1. Gutenprint drivers like all drivers) don’t help your machine to FIND a printer. They just help it work once the printer is seen by the Mac. So, your problem is one step before drivers. It’s connectivity. You can find out whether the printer is registering on usb by going to the Apple menu, the About This Mac, then Ststem Report. Find USB on the left side of the system report and click on it. You SHOULD see the printer there. If you don’t, you either have a bad cable, a bad USB port on one device or the other, or the printer is set up wrong *that is, it’s set up to either print wirelessly or over ethereal and not usb). For most printers, it’s one or the other at a time. If you have an Ethernet cable plugged into your printer, take it out. We are going all usb. One last thing: if there is a usb hub involved, try going around it. That is, go straight from the printer to the Mac.

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