Using non-PostScript printers with Mac OS X and print servers

by Matthew Gast

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I was recently working with a new Mac iBook G4 running Tiger (OS X 10.4), and needed to hook up an old PCL parallel-port printer (HP LaserJet 5P). I checked HP's support site, and they do post an OS X driver for the LaserJet.

Problem 1: The iBook has does not have a parallel port. I need to convert between some interface the iBook has and the parallel port used by the printer. That part seems easy. There are several inexpensive "print server" boxes that will take a print job from the network and spit it out an attached port. I was a bit surprised that parallel-port print servers are not as easy to find as they used to be. I eventually decided on the D-Link DP-G321, which also has two USB ports.

When everything arrived, I set up the iBook, and downloaded the driver from HP's web site. It didn't make much sense, or even support the printer I had downloaded it for, so I set the driver aside and started reading the manual for the print server. The quick start guide only had instructions for Windows, and referred me to the documentation for MacOS instructions. The main manual said that with OS X, the print server only works with PostScript printers.

Problem 2: Documentation claims that my print server only works with PostScript printers; the HP 5P is a PCL printer, not a PostScript printer.

I think what the print server documentation really meant is that it does not perform any translation on the submitted print job. In the minds of the manual writers, because OS X only speaks PostScript as its printer language, it cannot work with other printers. However, print filters can convert PostScript into other languages (for more information, see chapter 4 in Network Printing, or many other sources on the Internet).

As described in this article, Gimp-Print plugs into the CUPS system on OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) and later, and transparently converts PostScript into the printer's native language. Open source to the rescue again!

Installing Gimp-Print is easy. Double click on the installer icon, and everything winds up in the right places. In the Print Center application, when you add a new printer, there are now printer models that have the suffix "Gimp-Print" on the driver, such as the HP LaserJet 5 series. (As an important note from the FAQ, you need to hold down the option key when you add the new printer to get all the correct screens.)

The only problem left is that it takes quite some time to submit the job over the wireless LAN. The antenna in the iBook is quite good and has no packet loss to the AP. However, there's about 15% packet loss from the AP to the print server, and that makes the job queuing very slow. Maybe a better antenna for the print server would make things better?


2005-12-13 17:16:25
That's what I get...
...for believing the documentation! Thanks, I was actually reading your articles on MythTV and decided to explore your other writings, and look at me now, I can print from my Mac through my D-Link print server! Not a bad use of five minutes of my time!
2006-05-04 20:42:28
help with this one.
our postscript printer is installed in a pc, then we shared it. the problem is we cannot print in our laptop (ibook g4) but we can print using our pc. help me plzzz