Upgrading to a new version of OS X is a process that is always fraught with peril; no matter how smooth Apple tries to make the transition—and, by all accounts, the company makes it very smooth indeed—there always a number of factors that are outside of the normal upgrade process and must be researched and anticipated, lest they trip up the unwary user and cause all sorts of problems.
One of these steps into the unknown is figuring out what’s going to happen to your peripherals once you install the new operating system. Printers, in particular, are tough to figure out: the wide variety of manufacturers and models can make determining whether all will be well post-upgrade a challenge.
The good news
The first thing to keep in mind is that the odds of an upgrade going smoothly are very much in your favor, because, unlike the transition from OS X 10.5 to 10.6, Apple has not made any major changes to the printing technology in OS X Lion. Therefore, most manufacturers have now had several years in which to tweak their support for Apple’s desktop OS, and most of them have, by now, been able to catch up.
Although it’s always dangerous to draw conclusions from a small sample, in my case Mac OS X Lion was able to immediately find and install updated drivers for all the printers in our office, including one that’s nearly 10 years old and was made by a manufacturer that no longer exists. In fact, the updated drivers for the latter—the printer’s brand now belongs to another company—even provide new and better management features than their predecessors.
If you have already upgraded, therefore, your first stop should be the Print & Scan pane in System Preferences, where you can install a driver for any printers that are connected to your Mac or shared on your local network. If you are connected to the Internet, OS X will automatically look for the appropriate drivers for each printer on Apple’s servers, and handle downloading and installation for you.
Do your homework
Obviously, waiting until after you’ve upgraded to find out whether your printer will still work under Lion is a risky proposition; if, for some reason, updated drivers aren’t available, you may have no choice but to either give up on your printer, or revert back to an older version of OS X. Neither of these options is particularly palatable; therefore, it pays off to do a little research first—if not for any other reason than to at least get into the upgrade process with full knowledge of what lies ahead.
Your first stop should be Apple’s support Website, which contains a list of printer models that are supported on OS X Snow Leopard and Lion. The list is thorough and extensive, with information on a wide range of manufacturers and printers; for multi-function devices, this data also details whether the driver can be used for printing, scanning, or faxing.
Finding your printer in the list is usually straightforward, particularly if you keep in mind that some drivers cover an entire range of models; for example, a Samsung CLP-315 will be covered by the Samsung CLP-310 Series driver.
Second plan of action
If your printer is not listed on Apple’s Website, your next stop should be the manufacturer’s own online presence, where you are likely to find additional information about drivers that a manufacturer supports. These do not necessarily correspond with the list that Apple provides, since an individual printer maker may provide “unofficial” drivers for older models that the fine folks from Cupertino have, for a variety of reasons, decided not to include in the official Lion distribution list.
In some other cases, you may have to do a little more digging; for example, Samsung maintains a separate page for each printer model on its support Website, which means that an answer is, most likely, just a quick search away.
And don't forget the telephone. Most major printer companies have support phone lines where you can seek help from a human being.
When all else fails
If neither Apple nor the manufacturers seem to be of any help, fear not.
In many cases, even if there is no software available for a particular printer model, you might be able to use one of the several generic drivers supported by OS X. These appear in Print & Scan when OS X cannot determine that a more specific driver will do, and can often offer at least basic printing functionality that could save an otherwise unusable printer.
Apple’s support communities are a veritable treasure trove of information; if you’re experiencing a problem of any kind, there’s a fair chance that someone else has already reported it and possibly found a solution. At the very least, if no solution currently exists, a quick look through the forums will save you the pain of scouring the Web for information only to come up empty-handed. The same idea applies to your printer’s manufacturer; even where no drivers are offered, most companies maintain a peer-to-peer discussion forum where you might be able to find workable alternatives.
Finally, a Google search can uncover other “unofficial” drivers for printers, like Splix and Gutenprint; while these are unsupported and require a bit of an adventurous streak to install, they can often mean the difference between a working printer and an expensive, oversized paperweight.
[Frequent contributor Marco Tabini is a an entrepreneur (and occasional developer) based in Toronto. He can be found on Twitter as @mtabini .]