Much as you may have heard about the paperless office, the truth is that paper is still a popular item to have around the home and the office. And it is because many of us have at least one printer attached to our computerseither physically tethered via a cable or virtually connected over a network. Whether you hope to use that printer to produce photographs, drafts of your next novel, or flyers for your kids upcoming jai alai tournament, it will do you little good sitting in its box. Nows the time to break it out and configure it for your Mac. The means for doing that is Mountain Lions Print & Scan system preference.

Your preference for printing

Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu and, in the Hardware area, click Print & Scan. If youve switched on your printer, attached a cable between it and your Mac, and if the Mac OS natively supports that printer, youll see the printers name in the Printers list. At this point, youre well on your way. When you next wish to print something, just choose the File > Print command from within the application youre using and your printer should shortly produce the printed document youre after.

To the right of the Printers list is an area that contains a few options. They include:

Open Print Queue: When you print a document, the PrinterProxy application opens. (When it opens, its named after your printer.) Any documents in line to be printed will appear in its window. Within this application you can perform a couple of printing chores, which Ill go into later in the column.

Options & Supplies: When you click this button, youll see two or more tabs. Click the General tab and you'll find fields for your printers name and location. (The location isnt entered by default. To add oneSpooky Attic, for examplejust type it in. That location will appear after the Location entry in the preferences main window.) You should also spy a listing for the printers driver version.

If you see a Driver tab, click it and youll view options offered by your printer. For instance, you may be able to choose a different tray to output pages to. Or you may see a Fit to Page option. And particular printers will show the total memory installed in the printer.

And then theres the Supply Levels tab. Some printers (inkjet models, for the most part) will tell you how much ink remains in their cartridges. This can help you learn when its time to purchase new cartridges. Note, however, that these supply levels are approximate. Some printers report levels inaccurately, which can result in you replacing cartridges before theyve run out of ink. A better bet is to check this tab every so often and, when it shows low levels, pick up some new cartridges. Continue to print until you can see evidence that a cartridge really has run out. Then replace those cartridges that need it.

Sharing Preferences: At one time, if you wanted to share a printer across a network, that printer had to have networking hardware built into it. Thats no longer the case. Instead, you can enable the Share This Printer on the Network option and your printer will appear as a printing destination for any other Mac on your network. (When you do this, Printer Sharing should be switched on for your Mac. If it isnt, click the Sharing Preferences button and, in the resulting Sharing window, click the Printer Sharing option in the Services list.)

Default Printer: If you have just a single printer, this pop-up menu will mean nothing to you. However, if your have Printer A in your home office, Printer B in your mates bathroom, and Printer C in the rumpus room, youll want to carefully configure this menu so that youre printing to the most appropriate device. (You can also make a printer the default by Control-clicking it and choosing Set Default Printer from the menu that appears.)

Default Paper Size: Here in the United States, most of us can choose US Letter from this pop-up menu and never touch it again. But if you use a different size of paperlegal or A4, for examplechoose it here.

When setups not so simple

Well, that was pretty easy. Unless, of course, your printer doesnt appear in the Print & Scan window. Although configuring a printer is far easier than it once was, there may be times when you need to do more than this. For example, if youve connected a printer to your Mac and it doesnt appear in the list of printers, or it does appear but is listed as a generic printer rather than by its name, youll have to install the printer software (specifically, the driver) for that printer.

Some printers ship with a CD that contains that software but, increasingly, new Macs dont have CD/DVD drives. And honestly, thats fine. Much of the time that printer software is out of date. Youre better served by going to the printer manufacturers website, locating its Support/Downloads area, and downloading the latest version of the printer driver and accompanying software.

Once youve downloaded and installed the printer software, your printer should appear in the Printers list. Unless it doesnt. And why wouldnt it? Suppose that printer isnt physically connected to your Mac. Instead, it uses a network connection. What then?

Adding a printer

In such cases, you should add the printer. And you start by clicking the Plus (+) button that appears below the Printers list. Do this and an Add window will appear containing a few options. Lets run through them.

Default: When you click Default, youll see a list of some of the printers available on your local network. (I say some because these are printers that have been configured to make themselves known to your Mac using a scheme called Bonjour. This requires no more work from you than to choose to share your printer over the network using printer sharing as Ive described.)

To add one of these printers, just select it and then click the Add button. Its name, location, and driver should appear below. Youll then be prompted to add it. Go right ahead.

Fax: Ha ha ha ha ha, who uses a fax these days&. Oh, you do? Sorry. If you have a multifunction printer that includes a fax feature, it will appear here if youve installed the software that accompanies that printer. Select it and click Add if the printers fax feature doesnt appear in the Print & Scan window.

IP: Devices on your local network are assigned an IP (Internet Protocol) address. For example, if your devices are connected to an AirPort base station of some kind, your Mac might have an IP address of and your iPad a address. Network printers are assigned addresses of their own. You can learn what that address is by printing a configuration page. (See your printers documentation to learn how to do this.)

Once you have that address, click the IP tab and enter the printers IP address in the Address field. If the address is good and your Mac sees the printer on the network, youll see Valid and Complete Address below the Address field. The Name field will hold the IP address. Youll want to change that to something more recognizableBobos Printer, for example. Then click Add and the printer will be available to you.

Windows: We try to not have an attitude about Windows in Mac 101. If Windows computers, and printers attached to them makes sense for your work and play, good on ya. This is particularly important because many new Mac users come from the Windows world and would like to continue using as much of their old or existing gear as possible. Fortunately, Mountain Lion is quite understanding of Windows when it comes to printing.

If youve shared a printer via Windows (using something called the SMBor Server Message Blockprotocol) your Mac can be made aware of that printer and use it. Just click the Windows tab, select Workgroup, and locate the printer attached to that workgroup. Then select it, and click Add.

You can also add a scanner to the Print & Scan window (thus the word scan in its name). But as scanning is a horse of another color, Im going to address it specifically in an upcoming column.

Regarding desktop printers

You can create something called a desktop printer. This is an icon that represents your printer that you place on your Macs desktop. When you want to print a file from the Finder, simply drag it on top of this icon. The documents host application will open, and the file will print without you having to jump through any dialog boxes.

Creating a desktop printer is a cinch. From within the Print & Scan window, just drag your printer to the desktop. Its icon will appear with a small arrow pointing to it, indicating that its an alias to your real printer.

About the print queue

As promised, lets turn to the print queue. When you send a file to be printed, a new icon that looks very much like your printer will appear in the Dock. This is the PrinterProxy application. The number of documents its queue holds will be reflected in a red badge icon that appears at the top right of the icon.

Click this icon and youll see the queue. There are a couple of things that you can do within it. First, you can pause all printing by clicking the green Pause button in the toolbar. Until you click Resume, all printing stops.

You can also pause the printing of individual documents. You do that by clicking the Pause icon that appears to the right of the document you wish to pause. Other documents that arent paused will continue to print. To resume printing of a paused document, click the Resume icon (which looks like a half-circle with an arrow at the end). You can remove documents from the print queue by clicking the X next to them.

And there you have the basics of configuring a printer to work with your Mac. Next week well focus on the actual job of printing documents from within applications.

Next week: The printing primer