Add a Desktop Printer to OS X

Bring Drag-and-Drop Printing Back to Your Mac

Printers and Scanners preference pane
Drag the icon of the printer you wish to be available as a desktop printer to the desktop. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Printing with a Mac is a pretty straightforward process. Open a document or app, select the Print option from the File menu, and you’re on your way to printing from a single page to hundreds of pages. If you have multiple documents that need to be printed, just repeat this process. Open the document, select Print, and if needed, adjust a few printer options. Continue to repeat this process as needed.

Desktop Printer Features

It wasn’t always this way. In versions of OS X that preceded Leopard (10.5), there was an option to create a desktop printer, an icon that sat on your desktop and provided both drag-and-drop printing capabilities and quick access to monitoring and fixing any printing issues that may have occurred.

Drag-and-drop printing is a very useful feature, especially if you have a number of documents to print at once. This form of quick printing will work for most document types, including text, photos, and spreadsheets.

Desktop Printers Fade Away

Desktop printers seem to have vanished as a supported feature once OS X Leopard was introduced. And while it's true that current versions of OS X don't provide an option to create a desktop printer when a printer is installed, that doesn't mean you can’t create one yourself using this guide.

Despite how it looks, OS X actually can use desktop printers; the only thing that has really changed is the process for creating them.

In previous versions of the Mac OS, Apple included a standalone printer utility that made it easy to add new printers. By simply ticking a checkbox, you could create a desktop icon for a printer as part of the install process.

Over the years, the printing function has been consolidated with other related components, including faxing and scanning.

Somewhere along the way, Apple dropped the desktop printer concept, and along with it, the option to create one.

We’re not sure if this was on purpose or just an oversight, but either way, you can get your old desktop printer back (or create a new one) with a simple fix.

Add a Desktop Printer

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking the System Preferences icon in the Dock, or by selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.
  2. Select one of the following, depending on the version of OS X you're using: 
    • OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard

      Select the Print & Fax preference pane, which can be found in the Hardware section of the System Preferences window.
    • OS X Lion and Mountain Lion

      Select the Print & Scan preference pane, which can be found in the Hardware section of the System Preferences window.
    • OS X Mavericks, Yosemite, and El Capitan

      Select the Printers & Scanners preference pane.
  3. From the list of available printers, drag the icon of the printer you wish to be available as a desktop printer to the desktop.

That’s it! Pretty simple. You now have a desktop icon for your printer that you can use to both control and monitor print jobs by simply double-clicking the desktop printer icon. You can also drag-and-drop files onto the desktop printer icon to print one-offs of documents.

One nice feature of drag-and-drop printing is that in most cases, your Mac won’t have to launch the document’s originating application to print it. The Mac’s printing system understands many common file formats and can send them directly to a printer.

As an added bonus, this tip also works with faxes and some scanners, in case you would like to have a desktop fax or scanner icon.

Published: 3/31/2009

Updated: 8/17/2015