Setting Up a Networked Printer

Originally published 16 April 2001 as a Mac Daniel column for Low End Mac.
Revised slightly 31 July 2003.

Q: How can I set up a network printer or set up a Mac as a print server?

A: While Apple's true print server software — software to allow a single Mac to do virtually nothing but accept and queue print jobs — is long since defunct, there are a couple options for turning most Mac-compatible printers into network printers. The old dot-matrix ones are the hardest: The ImageWriter II and LQ had a LocalTalk option card that could be used to make the printer available on an AppleTalk network. The cards are available on eBay for under $20 most of the time.

AppleShare Print Server, a very old piece of software that runs fine under System 6 (but may not work under System 7), may have the ability to turn a Plus or similar Mac into a print server for an ImageWriter without the network card, but finding this software is even harder than finding the network card for the printer.

If you have an Apple-branded inkjet, try the Printer Share extension that ships as part of the Mac OS. It will make most, if not all, Apple-branded inkjets available on the network, but it's best to run it on a dedicated machine, since the print jobs take over the CPU once they're spooled to disk.

If you have a third-party inkjet, Printer Share works on some (mostly HPs), and EpsonShare (shareware) will work with most Epson inkjets, as long as the host Mac (either 68K or PPC) is running System 7 or higher.

If you have a laser printer that supports AppleTalk (most HPs and Apple-branded LaserWriters do; if yours doesn't then you're probably out of luck), there are two separate issues to consider. First, does your laser printer have built-in Ethernet, or do you have an external print server (such as the HP JetDirect) for it? If so, you can skip to the next paragraph. If your laser printer doesn't have Ethernet and only has a Mac serial connection, you'll need to hook it up as a LocalTalk printer on your network with the appropriate LocalTalk cabling. For more about this, keep reading.

If you have an Ethernet-only network, you'll need to make sure you have a Mac that has Ethernet and LocalTalk capabilities before proceeding. About the only Macs that won't work for this are the original Macintosh, the Mac 512K, and 512Ke, and the iMac line. All the rest can be easily upgraded to support both or already support both on the motherboard. Once you have your Mac picked out, make sure it has at least System 7.1 on it and then download the LocalTalk Bridge software from Apple. Once you have that downloaded and installed, connect the Mac and the laser printer with a printer cable, turn the LocalTalk Bridge control panel on, and restart the Mac.

If your network already has several Ethernet and LocalTalk devices on it, just add the laser printer as another LocalTalk device on your network and make sure you have a bridge between the LocalTalk and Ethernet portions of your network. If you don't, follow the steps above to download LocalTalk Bridge and install it on a Mac you don't mind having on all the time.

If you don't want to dedicate a Mac to the bridging or don't want to have a computer running all the time, there are several brands of hardware LocalTalk-Ethernet bridges. Asanté, Dayna, Farallon, and Cayman are probably the four most common brands, and their products, though all discontinued, can be found easily on eBay. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 to $60 for a used bridge, and more if it supports other functions like IP routing (like the Cayman GatorBox). I have Cayman GatorBox CS acting as a printing bridge on my network, and it's been flawless. It replaced a Dayna EtherPrint-T that was likewise flawless (but didn't offer the MacIP routing that the GatorBox does).

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson