Usually when we’re yelling at printers, it’s at the printers themselves, not the software. They’re out of ink, have a page jam, or—if you’re printer is old school—flashing PC LOAD LETTER. But sometimes, it’s your Mac that’s giving you trouble.
On occasion and for discernable reason, your Printers & Scanners preference pane could wind up empty, and every action you take causes a spinning rainbow cursor or extremely long delays on the order of minutes. This happened to me recently, and a survey of people’s post across many forums provided no better explanation as to why than my own suppositions.
Your first move is easy:
Control-click in an empty area in the Printers list.
Select Reset Printing System.
Confirm the reset.
You have to add back all your printers and reset defaults, but it should bring things back to normal.
If that fails, you have to switch to the command line in Terminal and enter several commands, the effect of which is all of the following in sequence:
Stop the CUPS software, an open-source printing system that handles everything behind the scenes.
Delete the configuration file used by CUPS.
Copy the default file that’s left in place during installation as your new configuration file.
Delete the file that contains a list of your current printers—which may not be displaying anyway!
Finally, launch the CUPS software again.
Here’s the series of steps to carry out:
Quit System Preferences.
Copy this command and enter it, followed by Return: sudo su -
Enter the administrative password for your account.
Now copy and paste the file lines below as a group.
In the Terminal, press Command-D, which exits the special “superuser” mode you entered in step 3.
Open the Printers & Scannings preference pane.
Add back your printers one at a time and change the defaults back to the way you want them.
You should not need to restart your Mac after entering these commands, as CUPS is a standalone system.
Ask Mac 911
We’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently along with answers and links to columns: read our super FAQ to see if your question is covered. If not, we’re always looking for new problems to solve! Email yours to email@example.com including screen captures as appropriate, and whether you want your full name used. Every question won’t be answered, we don’t reply to email, and we cannot provide direct troubleshooting advice.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read ouraffiliate link policyfor more details.