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ATPM 7.12
December 2001



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How to Become a Network Guru

by Matthew Glidden,

Sharing USB Printers on a Network

As the impetus behind many a network setup, using one printer for multiple Macs is a convenience of both cost and space, and isn’t necessarily hard to do. With the Mac OS USB Printer Sharing control panel, your printer can grow to serve as many Macs as your house will hold.

There are some system requirements for the USB Printer Sharing control panel: you must use Mac OS 9 or higher, use TCP/IP as your network protocol (not AppleTalk), and the printer must be connected to your Mac’s built-in USB port, not to a USB expansion card. For AirPort network use, you need AirPort software 1.1 or higher. You also need to install the printer software on each Mac using the shared printer, and USB Printer Sharing may not work over systems with NAT (Network Address Translation, typically used to share Internet access across a network). For additional information, see the USB Printer Sharing documentation. To verify that your printer model is compatible with USB Printer Sharing, see Apple’s USB Printer Sharing page.

Note: This article addresses USB-enabled printers only. For information on non-USB models, see the Share a Printer page. With new USB printers supported by the aforementioned control panel, now may be the time to go for a printer upgrade if you’re having trouble sharing a non-USB printer.

Network Setup

In order to share a printer among your Macs, first connect your Macs to an existing network or create a new network for them. (If you’ve already done this, skip ahead to the Share your USB Printer section.)

USB-ready Mac models (iMac, G4, iBook, etc.) also include built-in support for Ethernet, and connecting two Ethernet-ready Macs is as easy as using a single crossover cable. Crossover Ethernet cables are available at most computer stores for $20 or under.


If you need to connect more than two Macs, you’ll need an Ethernet hub or switch to do the job, plus one normal (not crossover) Ethernet cable for each Mac. Any hub or switch should work—just make sure it has enough ports to handle all your Macs. Most computer stores carry multiple models, and you can check if you’re looking for a good mail-order deal.


To verify that your network connection is working, open the AppleTalk control panel on each Mac and make sure it’s set to Ethernet. For a more detailed version of the setup process, see the New Network page.

The network connection is all you should need to share your USB printer, but there are many other things you can do with your network. See the network articles from previous ATPM issues or the Web site for more info.

Share Your USB Printer

Most consumer printers produced in the last few years connect using a USB cable, which means you can use the Mac OS USB Printer Sharing software to share the printer with other Macs on the same network. Check the Control Panels folder in the Apple menu to see if you have the control panel already. If not, you can download it from the Apple Software Updates Web site or through your Mac’s Software Update control panel.

To share your printer, first turn its power on, then open the USB Printer Sharing control panel.


USB Printer Sharing Control Panel

Press the Start button to share the printer, then select the My Printers tab to confirm that your printer appears there. Check your printer and close the control panel.


Selecting a USB Printer

Connect to a Shared USB Printer

Any network computer that prints to your shared printer also needs the USB Printer Sharing control panel. To use another Mac’s shared printer, open the control panel and expand the Local Network list to show the available printers. Pick the one you want to use, close the window, and print away. The control panel should handle the communication with the host Mac and print your documents on the remote printer.


USB Printer List


The USB Printer Sharing control panel greatly eases the difficulty of sharing home printers among multiple Macs, which previously could be both problematic and expensive. And hey, it’s free!

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (30)

anonymous · December 4, 2001 - 10:49 EST #1
You say it works for "Mac OS 9 or higher." OS X is certainly "higher" than OS 9, but since there are a lot of applications (and this is actually part of the system software) that don't work in OS X, it'd be helpful to explicitly address OS X compatibility. Thanks!
Matthew Glidden (ATPM Staff) · December 4, 2001 - 22:36 EST #2
Okay, I'll amend the requirement to "Requires a version of Mac OS 9," as taken from the USB Printer Sharing docs. That would seem to imply no native OS X support, although I welcome comments from an OS X user who's given it a try.
Vlado Veljanovski · December 10, 2001 - 23:14 EST #3
I'm setting up a TCP/IP network with 5 PCs and 2 Macs. A laser printer will be added through a print server attached to the hub. I have printer drivers and print server drivers for both the Macs and PCs. Will this work? If anyone has tried a similar setup, I would greatly appreciate any comments.
anonymous · December 25, 2001 - 20:40 EST #4
USB printer sharing is not supported in OS X. It will run in Classic. This means that if you create something in OS X, you need to be able to open it in an OS 9 application running in Classic in order to print it this way. Rumor has it that this will be added in a future version of X but it is not here yet.
Jim Chaffin · December 27, 2001 - 21:04 EST #5
Having great luck now with USB Printer Sharing. However, when I first attempted this, it was almost nothing but trouble. What made things stable was 1) having the same OS on both iMacs and 2) putting one printer (a laser) directly on one of the iMacs. The Epson 900 is connected to a powered hub. The laser to my wife's iMac. Until setting things up this way, we had 9.1 and 9.0.4 operating systems. Both printers were connected to the hub. My wife would constantly "lose" her connection to the laser, even though she never accessed the Epson. I suspect the laser driver "wants" a direct connection, period. An Apple "genius" suggested that things would work better with the same versions of the Printer Sharing software on both machines. Whether both changes were needed or not, I am satisfied with the current results (and, more importantly, so is my wife!).
Carole · January 21, 2002 - 11:20 EST #6
I can't get the USB printer sharing to work through my Airport. I have an HP connected to a blue and white G3. My blue and white is connected to the Airport via ethernet and my laptop is wireless. I can see the printer on the local network, but something stops it because it always stops at about 17% sent. Suggestions?
Annie · January 28, 2002 - 22:36 EST #7
Carole: You have just described my printing problem. I have an iMac and an iBook which a tech person set up for us in December. The tech couldn't make the printer work but later I just looked at the different settings and the printer worked 100% from the iBook for 3 weeks. Then I set up indexing overnight for the iMac and that program trashed some of the Mac's IE and Entourage, and the iBook wouldn't print the next morning. My neighbor, who knows Macs well, looked at all the settings and saw nothing amiss. He put the desktop printer icon in the trash. Then he doesn't remember for sure what he did--probably went to the Chooser and clicked the printer because a new printer icon appeared on the desktop. That worked fine for 3 days and electrician doing general building work accidentally shut off the electricity to the computer. When I turned on the computers on, the printer again acted as you describe--I can see it spooling and get to 33% etc. complete and then a dotted line appears. Carole and others, have you had success in overcoming this problem? I've seen it work as I've printed lots of pages which makes it even more of a frustrating mystery. Thanks.
Jade · February 6, 2002 - 18:36 EST #8
I run a network of about 50 iMacs. I share a printer in each classroom through USB sharing, and running OS 9.2. The network has a T1 connection to the internet that runs through the district. It is also using DHCP. Howevever, USB printer sharing is just not working. It works for a few days, and after something like restarting, an error -23 comes up which i believe is a permissions error. What do I do? I'm lost.
Luis Felipe · February 7, 2002 - 11:29 EST #9
Hi. I need help sharing a USB printer connected to my iBook with a PC running Windows. I have a local network with ethernet. What I don't understand is why my iBook can use the USB printer sharing with AppleTalk, but my PC running PC Mac LAN doesn't see it. Please tell me if you have a clue.
anonymous · February 12, 2002 - 21:10 EST #10
I am doing what is supposed to be impossible, some of the time. I have a USB Epson 780 attached to a G3 Powerbook via a Macally PCMCIA card. That printer is being shared with a PowerBook 3400 via ethernet and a Linksys router. This setup works frequently in that both computers can use the printer effectively. However, occassionaly, for no predictable reason, the 3400 is unable to connect to the printer.

Is there any way to query/ping a USB network and identify or mount items such as printers? Or should I be happy with the unreliablity of doing the "impossible."
anonymous · February 12, 2002 - 21:24 EST #11
Follow up: Wouldn't you know that just as I sent the above plea for help, my wife (using the 3400) would stumble on a possible solution!

She went to the USB Printer Sharing dialog, clicked on the Network Printer tab and messed around in there until the rotating arrows stopped (evidently indicating that the network had been queried and the printer found). Indeed that is what happened.

Whether this is a repeatable trick for pinging the network remains to be seen. If you know of a more reliable technique, I'd still love to hear it.
Blair · February 19, 2002 - 19:07 EST #12
Hi. I'm new to networking and have been using Macs for about a year. I just bought an HP 4MV printer (postscript) that has a parallel port and also an HP JetDirect ethernet network card. So far, I have had no luck in getting my iMac to recognize this new printer, even with software installed for it.

So, I'm thinking maybe I'll go the network route with an ethernet hub so that I can use my HP printer and ethernet cable modem for internet. I guess what I'm asking is, can I have a network setup when there's only one computer attached? Will this cause problems in the long-run? Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

anonymous · February 20, 2002 - 10:52 EST #13

If all you wanted to do is print, you could hook up your Mac directly to the printer's Ethernet port (using a crossover Ethernet cable rather than a staight-through since you wouldn't be using a hub).

However, since you want to use Ethernet for your cable modem too, you probably need a hub and then hook (a) your Mac, (b) your cable modem, and (c) your printer into the hub.

Other people please correct me if I'm wrong or leaving something important out!
Steff · August 2, 2002 - 13:44 EST #14
Just a tip--printer sharing is possible on OS 8.6 as well as 9, despite no USB printer utility. I think you have to have a recent Epson printer to do it, though. Newer Epsons have a printer sharing option accessible through the Chooser which works fine on Appletalk. I'm not sure if something similar is available on other makes of printer.
Sam · October 8, 2002 - 15:45 EST #15
I am trying to connect my new iMac to my existing PC network. I want my iMac to use the printer which my PC is using. Can someone please tell me how to configure it?
Julie · January 17, 2003 - 23:24 EST #16
I am trying to share an Epson 1520 printer with a G4 and a PC. It is directly connected to my Mac. How do I set up the PC to recognize it?
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · January 19, 2003 - 21:00 EST #17
Julie - another ATPM staff member, Eric Blair, had the following to say:

It's doable, but there's no Apple-provided GUI for it. It's a bit of command line plus the browser interface to CUPS, with a requirement of OS X 10.2 (for CUPS). I haven't tried any of these approaches myself, but people have had some luck printing from Windows to a Mac-connected printer and vice-versa.

First of all, for either of these approaches, you should have gimp-print installed so you have the CUPS driver for your printer.

Next, here are the directions for connecting a Mac to a Windows printer.

And, here are the directions for connecting a Windows box to a Mac printer.

These may be beyond the technical know-how of the average Mac user, though.

Also, Evan Trent added:

If you put PC-MacLan on the Wintel box and connect the
printer to it, the Mac will be able to print through the PC. That
would be the reverse scenario. I know this works though I've never
set it up myself. A friend of mine has a laser printer that only has
a parallel port and he shares it via his PC such that his Mac can
print to it using PC-MacLan.
Ray · May 8, 2003 - 10:51 EST #18
I, too, connected an Epson 780 to a PowerBook G3 through a Macally Cardbus but, suddenly, the USB port on the Chooser dissapeared, leaving the "modem/printer port" as the only available connection! I remember having this trouble when I first bought the printer. The USB port appeared when I connected an Apple USB keyboard, but now I don't have it. Is there any way to make the port appear?
Charlene · May 29, 2003 - 17:11 EST #19
I've just attempted to connect an HP 6127 to 16 iMacs running Mac OS 9.0.4, networking through ethernet cables, hub, etc. I gave the printer an IP address. The networking configuration sheet says all is a go, but no Chooser recognizes the printer. I just found that Printer Sharing works, but I'd rather work it the other way. Any suggestions for getting the computers to find the printer?
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · June 8, 2003 - 14:26 EST #20
Charlene - I did a little web searching since I can't recite the steps from memory. I found this Carnegie Mellon University page which describes how to set up an LPR-based printer on a Mac. If you simply replace the CMU-specific information with your own (specifically the parts about which PPD to select in step 6 and the printer address in step 8), this should get you going.
Scott Lawton · June 17, 2003 - 14:24 EST #21
The above info is useful, but it only solved half my problem. So, in case anyone reads this far:

  1. In "Connect to a Shared USB Printer," note that USB Printer Sharing must be turned on here too, i.e. on the "client," not just the "server." That's not what I expected. It's very different from how file sharing works.

  2. The article leaves out the rest of the procedure:

    1. Make sure the printer's drivers are installed on the client.

    2. Launch Desktop Printer Utility.

    3. Select "Printer (USB)" then OK. Again, this wasn't obvious to me. I was thinking of it as a network printer.

    4. In the bottom section (USB Printer Selection), click Change, select the driver, click OK.

    5. In the top section (PostScript PPD), click Auto Setup.

Incidentally, kudos to Lexmark for an easy download of the latest drivers. I have a Lexmark Optra E310. It was inexpensive, but has been quite reliable.
Zia · July 28, 2004 - 12:36 EST #22
I am student system admin. I have lab with 25 PCs and 6 new eMacs. I have windows server 2000 which is attached to the hp printer (working as print server). When i print from PC, the job go to print server queue on server and then i released them, but when i send the job from eMac, it get to the printer queue on server, but when i released for printing, the job just disappear and nothing happened. I have checked everything to solve this issue, but so far no success.

PC using windows 2000 professional.
Server using window advance 2000 server.
eMac has OS X.
Printer. HP laserJet 5SiMX.
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · July 28, 2004 - 12:54 EST #23
Zia - I've never successfully printed a job from my Mac to my office's print servers, so here's how I do it. I'm not sure if the 5SiMX supports AppleTalk, but it would need to. I have a LaserJet 4100N where I work. In the JetDirect network configuration menu, I had to turn on AppleTalk capability (I don't remember if it was on or off by default, but my office's IT staff wouldn't have turned it on since I have the only Mac in the building). Our network is Novell-based and every device, including the printer, has an internal IP address. Once AppleTalk was enabled in the printer, it showed up in the Printer Configuration utility as an available AppleTalk printer. I didn't even have to manually plug in the IP address. Once my Mac found it, I simply set it up as if it were directly attached and everything works just fine. Thus, I'm not using the print queue that all the PCs in the building use.
Indiana · August 11, 2004 - 07:47 EST #24
I am using Windows 98, PC MACLAN vers. 7.2 and a Kodak Polychrome USB Postscript printer. I shared the printer on the print server of PC MACLAN on my PC and tried to print a PS document via a G4 MacOs 9.2, but I couldn't find the printer on the chooser and on USB Printer Sharing. (File sharing on PC MACLAN is working fine and all connections to the printer and to the network are OK)

What is wrong? Can anybody help me?
Jim Marek · May 28, 2005 - 18:52 EST #25
I have a Airport Extreme that is has a Epson Stylus C86 hooked to it. I have a blue/white G3 connected to the Airport and a Windows 2000 box connected via a switch. I can print from the windows 2000 machine to the C86, but I can not figure out how to get to the printer from the G3 running Mac OS 8.6. I went into the chooser, but ther are no printers on the right side for anything I select on the left. I was under the impression that the Laserwriter 8 would allow me to get there, but no success. Any help would be much appreciated!
elaha · June 1, 2005 - 02:28 EST #26
i need help, i lost my way i even dont know where i should search for my responce, i tried many diffrent sites but no responce, may you please help me on this, i am working in an organization that has many printers and many of them are shared but i dont know why they automatically install on the other computers i mean how can i apply the settings to avoid shared printers being AUTO installed ?? i know you can help me or might show me some other way to find my answer.

Matthew Glidden (ATPM Staff) · June 2, 2005 - 00:09 EST #27
Elaha, we'd like to help, but are not sure what kind of computer you're using. Is it a Mac system? If so, which OS version and what model of printer does your organization use?
Matthew Glidden (ATPM Staff) · June 2, 2005 - 00:22 EST #28
Jim, the LaserWriter software won't work for the Epson printer. Here's what a Google search turned up for Epson drivers:

According to Epson, the C86 doesn't support OS 8.6. Wish we had better news!
Grant Hower · January 10, 2006 - 13:37 EST #29
I'm trying to run a 9 application through tenI hooked up two printers usb ones a lexmark the others a epson.
However I can' t choose the lexmark in the chooser
Ron Sanders · January 21, 2007 - 23:26 EST #30
I have a 733MHz PowerPC G4 Mac tower running DSL internet via a Westell Model 327W Router connected by ethernet cable. Attached to the G4 is an HP DeskJet 932C usb printer.

I also have a dual USB G3 ibook (12" white) wirelessly connecting to the internet via Airport through the router and also sharing the printer via OSX 10.2.8 System Preferences Printer Sharing. In OSX I am able to print from the ibook just fine.

However, Classic programs (like my version of Word) won't print. The Chooser does not see the printer unless I plug it directly in.

Both machines are running OSX 10.2.8 with OS 9.2 for Classic.

I thought that I had this working previously. But then the ibook HD fried and had to be replaced. Now OS9 won't print. The only difference is that previously I was connected via a USB Wireless adapter and now I am connected through an Airport card.

The ibook belongs to my wife, so I don't use it much. Now I'm starting to doubt whether I'm remembering correctly or not. (?) Maybe it never printed from 9?

Does anyone know how to make OS9.2 read a USB Shared printer? Both machines have Appletalk on. Both have printer sharing on. Both will read and print to the printer in OS10.

Thoughts or advice??

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