Guides Mac

How To Optimize Your Print Settings

Mac OS X print window
Most of us go about our day, deftly printing the most common, letter-sized documents without a care in the world — that is, until we want to switch things up and print photos instead, only to find that Mac OS X’s normally easy-to-use printer settings suddenly fail to be of much help.
We don’t often have to think about printing on a Mac — once you’ve installed the appropriate driver for your printer, it tends to “just work,” like most things do in the World of Apple. That is, until they don’t work, leaving the user stabbing blindly at settings in the Print window in a desperate attempt to make things right once more.
Print Settings in TextEdit
Although print settings vary from program to program, the nitty-gritty stuff is buried inside a pulldown menu aptly named after the application in question. Casual users may never have need to dig into these settings until trouble arises, or you need to switch to specialized paper, perhaps for photos, cards or business presentations.

For example, pulling down Safari’s printer options reveals a host of hidden options, ranging from Layout and Color Matching to the vitally important Print Settings and even Booklet Printing options, depending on which printer you’re using. (As a general rule, the more expensive your printer is, the more options you’ll probably find lurking within your driver software.)

We won’t go into detail on each of these choices right now, but here’s a peek at a few important ones, as well as some printer “gotchas” to watch out for.

Print Settings for Epson inkjet

Print Settings

Depending on what kind of printer you’re using, you’ll see a section for Print Settings (or possibly Color/Quality Options). Important things to watch out for here include the Media Type and Color setting — if you’re printing on a specific type of paper, you’ll definitely want to change the Media Type to match to get optimal results.

Many printers include both Automatic and Advanced options under Print Settings. Automatic generally works fine for casual printing, but if you’re looking to squeeze a bit more quality out of your prints (especially for photos), switch to Advanced mode and tweak some of the settings there. These might include Print Quality options ranging from Economy to Normal to Fine settings that could dramatically improve the final output.

How do you know which settings to use? A lot of it is unfortunately trial and error, but suffice it to say, it also depends a lot on what you’re outputting. Photo prints will benefit most from higher quality settings and more expensive paper, but even archival text-only documents will benefit from a trip to the Print Settings so you’ll print the sharpest, cleanest type your printer is capable of.

Media Type pulldown menu

Media Type and Speed

While most of us enjoy care-free printing on whatever paper we can get our hands on, there’s something to be said for selectively choosing the Media Type under Print Settings — you may think it’s just a ploy by manufacturers to get more of your hard-earned dollars, but the right paper and settings can make the difference.

The key here is to select the correct Media Type, which can often be a confusing mess to end users. In the example above, Epson offers six different types of paper (plus an Envelope option) under Media Type, five of which they manufacture. What’s the difference between “Ultra Premium Photo Paper Glossy” and “Photo Paper Glossy”? No one except the engineers at Epson probably know for sure, but since inkjet printing is an exact science, it pays to match the Media Type to your exact brand of paper for best results.

Likewise, the old adage “Do you want it done quickly or do you want it done well?” applies here — most of us probably print with the standard Automatic settings, from which the printer tries to get the job done quickly with decent quality. However, a quick slide toward the Quality setting — even for those of you using otherwise Automatic settings — can greatly improve the final output.

Color Management options

Color Management

Many printer drivers also feature a section dedicated to how color is printed on the page. In the case of our Epson printer, this includes options to customize the brightness, contrast, saturation and individual ink cartridges separately, rely on their own PhotoEnhance technology or just turn off color management altogether and get the most faithful printout you can, theoretically speaking.

Due to the vagaries of Apple’s built-in ColorSync or even the advanced color management built into applications such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, there’s no such thing as the ideal setup from the printer driver — you’ll have to do some trial and error to get the best results, so have plenty of paper and ink handy.

Page Setup window

Don’t Forget Page Setup

Printer settings used to be considerably more confusing with Mac OS X, with key settings such as paper size, scale and portrait or landscape tucked away under a separate Page Setup window instead of front and center with the rest of the Print options.

Thankfully, Apple has consolidated the Page Setup options into the Print window these days, although some old-school applications such as TextEdit or much of Adobe’s Creative Suite still keep them separated. Before heading to the Print window, be sure to check for a Page Setup option under the File menu — if it’s there, open that sucker up and make sure your settings match what you intend to print.

Among the Page Setup options are the Format For pulldown; whether you have several printers or only one, you’ll want to change “Any Printer” to match the one you’re about to use so the rest of your Page Setup options are properly shown. Page Size should match the media you’re about to print on, which varies from printer to printer — for example, some printers don’t automatically include 4×6 print settings, even though they may be capable of printing them.

Custom Paper Sizes


Thankfully, you can roll your own quite easily — pull down the Paper Size and select “Manage Custom Sizes.” From there, it’s a simple matter of clicking the + button to add a custom paper size, then entering the desired width and height. You’ll want to choose the correct printer under Non-Printable Area, since this varies from model to model, but you can always override those setting by selecting “User Defined” and manually entering those numbers.


Once you’re finished, you can double-click on the text field to name your new custom size, then be sure to click OK. Now you’ll see your custom size listed below the default settings, and you can add other custom sizes as oddball jobs come up, such as wedding invitations or other projects.


Finally, be sure to select the proper paper Orientation and Scale. Do you want to print your text in portrait or landscape? You can see at a glance which way the text will read and which way the paper should feed, then you can reduce or magnify the printout as necessary and click OK when ready. Now when you visit the Print window, your Page Setup will be carried straight over and you’ll be good to go.