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The trick to finding the right printer driver for your Mac

Ted Landau | Sept. 19, 2014
I recently purchased a new Epson AIO inkjet printer, the 2014 WF-4630. Overall, I couldn't be more pleased with it. It's fast, versatile and produces superb output.

I recently purchased a new Epson AIO inkjet printer, the 2014 WF-4630. Overall, I couldn't be more pleased with it. It's fast, versatile and produces superb output.

I had only one problem with the printer. And finding the solution to it led me down a road that is relevant to the owner of almost any printer on the market today.

The printer's setup was easy. Super easy. In fact, to connect to and use the printer over Wi-Fi, you don't have to install any new software. The printer driver shows up in the Printers & Scanners Preferences pane automatically. Still, I installed Epson's software (downloaded from their website) so that I had access to updated printer firmware and other printer-specific utilities (such as for scanning). This didn't change the selected Epson printer driver, but it did add other software to my Applications folder.

I thought I was done. And I was — until I wanted to fiddle with the printer's color settings.

I knew to expect a Color Options item in the Print dialog's menu. The printer's manual confirmed this. But I couldn't find any such item. I subsequently noticed that several other printer-specific settings were similarly missing. What was going on? It was time for some troubleshooting.

In search of a solution

My first thought: Perhaps I wasn't using the latest printer software. I knew not to depend on any software included on the CD that came with the printer, as it could already be obsolete. But I had already installed the latest software and updated firmware from the Epson website, so I was confident that this was not the problem.

Next, I launched OS X's App Store and checked for updates. Here I found an entirely separate Epson Printer Software Update 2.18. I installed this as well.

But none of that helped: Color Options was still missing.

I deleted and reinstalled the printer driver from System Preferences' Printers & Scanners — still to no avail.

To be clear, none of this prevented me from using the printer. As long as I was willing to ignore the absence of Color Options, I could print just fine. However, I did not want to just ignore the problem.

Eventually, I contacted Epson support. They provided the solution. It was one that I should have known, as I had previously confronted a similar situation with my HP laser printer: I needed to switch drivers. Because, as it turns out, for most printers today, you have a choice of two different printer drivers.

The first driver is maintained by Apple (in conjunction with the printer vendor presumably) as part of OS X. This is the one that you update via OS X's App Store. It's also the one that appears automatically by default if you don't install any vendor-specific software. You can typically identify this driver because it will have -AirPrint at the end of its name, indicating its compatibility with this OS X printing feature. An Apple support article confirmed this: "If the printer is AirPrint-compatible, OS X adds it without downloading and installing any additional software." This is the driver that I was using.

 

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