Giving Up on Multi-function Printers

| Editorial

Last fall, there was the crashing sound of silence as Hewlett Packard customers discovered that a Snow Leopard update killed the scanner function on their multi-function printers. The whole affair has soured me on these kinds of printers.

Last week, my colleague, Ted Landau, wrote about how he’s had it with inkjet printers. (I stole his title.) I generally agreed, and feel that the agenda to make money from ink has blinded printer companies to the need to build quality products that don’t chew up our time and frustrate us. In any case, my own experience echos something different: I’ve had fairly good luck with inkjet printing, but with with each upgrade to Apple’s Mac OS X, it’s been an increasingly difficult affair to keep all the multi-functions all smoothly operational all the time.

This falls under the category of “So what did I expect from a US$100 consumer printer?” It’s the buyer’s delusion. The joy of setting up a new printer is frequently offset by the time we waste trying to recover from software fiascos down the road and once again, I am reminded that paying a little more can save a lot of grief. Accordingly, I don’t think I’ll ever buy another multi-function printer. It’s just too much hassle to keep the admittedly dicey software working all right all the time. In my experience; in my opinion.

Where it All Began

It was the release of, I believe, Mac OS X 10.6.5 in November 2010 that killed the scanning process for many HP printers — from what I saw looking at the forums. Worse, it’s not a widely reported event, so people are still walking into, say, Staples, buying an OfficeJet 4500, and tearing their hair out when they discover that HP’s scanner software doesn’t work in Snow Leopard 10.6.7.

Officejet 4500

The problem is made all the worse by the fact that people can go a long period between scans, but when they need a scan, it’s usually right now and mission critical: a legal, real estate, or job finding document. That’s immediately followed by the frustration and misery of trying to figure out how and when things went wrong. There’s guilt. “Did I do something wrong?” Just last night, my wife approached me with some aggravation: “John! My HP Photosmart (C4680) printer won’t scan anymore!” I told her that it happened to me too and, yes, I’d been using Ed Hamrick’s fabulous VueScan since Christmas. I installed on her iMac, and it worked perfectly.

I imagine a lot of (former) HP customers have discovered VueScan. It’s one of those practically perfect apps for the Mac that makes it onto the top ten list every time. It works with an enormous number of scanners and printers. It saves the day. There’s a free trial period to get you out of an immediate jam. It has it’s own built-in drivers so you don’t have to depend on on Mac OS X idiosyncrasies. It’ll cost you $40/year, and you’ll feel like it’s worth every penny.

The Future of Printing

There are many home computer users who despise printers and printing and somehow manage to avoid owning the nasty devices. Wasting time and space and paper and natural resources isn’t a good thing these days, and it may be an industry conceit that we need the kinds of printers we buy these days. And yet, there are those occasions when printing out a crisp copy of a document, right now, is essential. It could be your Income Tax. It could be an article you need for a class. It could be that you need a copy of a contract or a receipt. Times have changed; printers have not.

It’s a sad irony that we buy cheap multi-function printers for occasional use*, but then when the occasion arises, it’s almost always urgent. Any little thing that goes wrong can tax our patience to the limit. That’s why some home office people have a decent laser printer designed for regular office use. It’s there, ready to perform and create great looking documents in a pinch. A stand-alone scanner, one whose drivers can be expected to be professionally maintained for the Mac, is also a good idea.

Technology Changes

Multiple devices take up room on our desktop, but technology changes, and one of the changes happening these days is that, in my opinion, inexpensive multi-function inkjet printers just aren’t up to the job anymore. (I had similar problems with a previous Lexmark multi-function printer.) Worse, in my opinion, there’s never a clear admission by the vendors of any specific problem because the technical issues can remain unresolved with Apple for some time. Plus, the near infinite mixes of printer models, drivers, and OS updates make it impossible to cite specific remedies. The documentation for my OfficeJet 4500, which is actually a pretty good printer, as a printer, says that printing and scanning are supported in version 2.3.2 of the print driver. That’s obviously not the case nowadays, yet no one has changed the chart to reflect current reality.

The typical result is that it’s not clear how to fix the problem, if can even be fixed. HP provides some unbelievably obtuse instructions on how to get things working, but fails to note whether this procedure will work post-10.6.5. I’ve read stories by users who’ve tried everything HP recommended, spent hours and hours, and failed to recover the scan function.

To make matters worse, some jerk in the forums will recommend a snarky, throw away solution, like, “Re-install your OS, then reinstall the print package.” Some people foolishly take that advice and end up wasting hours or days. In the iPad era, this is just so sad.

My Plan

When my current multi-function printer fails, I plan to buy a good quality laser printer and a good quality flat-bed scanner. But I’ll be careful there as well and read lots of reviews. My last Canon LiDE scanner had an install process written by aliens from 51 Pegasi.

In my experience, printer companies don’t seem to invest a lot of money in making their multi-function printer software perfect, reliable and a joy to use for the myriads of printer models they sell and the OSes supported. It’s an embarrassment compared to the quality of Apple software in general. Keeping all the software components of a multi-function printer working nicely at all times, through all the Mac OS X updates, seems an impossible task. (You may have been one of the lucky ones. I look forward to your comments.)

It’s time for another home office strategy change.


* The next time someone wants to send me a fax, I’m going to say, “What’s a fax?”

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My sympathies. I almost never have to print anything.

However, as I mentioned in Ted’s column, for work-related needs, I cheat; I send all print work to my staff, who print for me (and I buy them nice printers). My office-based HP all-in-one g85xi driver never recovered from migrating to Snow Leopard. It’s 10y/o so no surprise or loss.

At home, it is so seldom that we print that, last week, when my son (urgently) had to print a visa application, the black cartridge was dry. We have a very basic HP inkjet 5550. Still works. However, given its speed (glacial) and our frequency of use (Pluto orbits faster), my inclination is to not replace the current printer when it dies, but use print services (FEDEX, Kinkos, online solutions like efax, if you buy their business options), for those odd jobs.

My wife may overrule me. If she does, I may still go cheap rather than spring for the laser, barring any changes in our printing habits.


Well, since you asked for comments, john.

My Samsung mono SCX-4200 laser is about five years old and cost about $135 (adjusted for US dollars at the time). It has had some bad reviews but I have had no problem with it. It scans to make pdfs and it prints from my Mac without complaint. Great job in both areas, quality and time wise. Seems well made. I print so little I am on my second cartridge.

I bought a cheap ink printer from COSCO the Epson Workforce 500 so I could a) do colour if the need arises (it has once) and b) do quicker scanning as it has a feeder. For $50 I feel I got what I paid for. The feeder tray is made of cheap plastic and one of the clasps broke, but it sits well and still works though lifting the feeder tray one has to be careful. I do a lot of scanning of booklets, articles and handouts from and for work. I used to be able to do that faster at work but our self-appointed tech fixed the photocopier so it won’t send my pdfs via email. No one can fix it now, thus the purchase.

If there were such a thing as an inexpensive scanner with double-sided feeder so I could make my pdfs faster, I would grab it and pack the Epson to the basement. Otherwise, it does the job.

I hope Lion won’t mess up my systems.


I used to support multi-function printers on Macs a long time ago. They never worked then and it appears they have never improved. I?m glad I never bought one.

We used to joke about the software being written by Windows people that had no clue how it should look or work on a Mac.

We could not understand why the manufacturer would not invest in hiring Mac qualified programmers.
After a few years they moved the support offshore.
Getting one of these multi-function printers working after they quit was an extreme ordeal. Offshore support could not possibly deal with this.

I sold my inkjet a year ago and good riddance.
Clogged jets and costly ink, goodbye.
I bought a color laser and it has never failed to print.



I strongly recommend Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners. I use the 1500 which is small enough to sit on the desk. ( I print wirelessly to a Cannon inkjet - free with a Mac purchase- hidden away in the closet, plugged into the Time Capsule. )


I would prefer individual units such as a laser jet separate from a scanner. Anyway, it will not be HP unless you like having NO customer service.


I’d look into separate devices but it’s very difficult to find a wireless scanner that isn’t built into a multi-function device.


Separate devices are great if you have the room. We don’t have space for a scanner AND a printer AND a copier. So we have a multi-function. FWIW my Epson NX400 has never missed a beat. We print a few times a day, scan about once a month and copy less than we scan and it just keeps humming along. The ink is expensive but its worked well for us.

Oh and the Canon LiDE series? I’ve never heard, or experienced, anything good from them. I avoid Canon computer equipment (but my Canon Camera is good. Overly complex but good.)


I gave up on ink printers about 8 years ago, which happens to be the first moment I could afford a laser printer. I seldom print anything at all, but when I do my laser printer fires right up and prints it perfectly the first time (nine times out of ten anyway). When ink jets are idle for more than a few minutes between jobs there’s clogged cartridges, streaky print heads, misaligned paper, smearing? and it takes several minutes of “cleaning the print heads” before the printer gives any thought to actually doing what you want. I hope it’s gotten better recently, but regardless I’m never going back.


Since I print and scan so rarely, there’s no way I’d want multiple devices, no way I’d want to buy more expensive versions, and no way $40/yr for VueScan would be “worth every penny”.  The printer+scanner needs to be as compact and out-of-the-way as possible.  Fortunately I’m one of the lucky one’s who’s never had a problem. (I’m pretty sure I scanned something since installing 10.6.7 ...)

Apple’s quality is generally attributed to their total control of software + limited number of hardware configurations.  Printers is very much not controlled or limited.  With 3rd-party peripherals, most of them use standards like USB and bluetooth keyboards and mice.  Printers are the sort of thing that for some silly reason tend to use proprietary per-vender per-model drivers.  Apple can’t test all million of them, and those vendors have no financial incentive to test drivers for anything other than their current models. So naturally it is all horrible.


We mostly use a Cannon MP530 all in one that works great, even the scanner.  The HP C4280 print cartridges dried up but the scanner worked last week after some fiddling. We use the Cannon for color printing. A Ricoh AP610N, a black and white laser,  is used or large format printing.  We print quite a few color photos, got over 22,000 photos in iPhoto.

Dan Hamilton

my solution:

iPhone 4 with the great camera
Laser printer.

Works every time


I’ve been happy (not ecstatic, just happy) with my Canon LiDE25 scanner; but I never use the alien software. The scanner - and scanner sharing - works just fine with Image Capture.

I strongly suspect the future in this home office will be a small photo printer (if I can find one that works with OS X) and a laser to replace an 11 year-old HP 960c, which must use gold-plated ink. Phew!

I don’t think the boss will let go of her Canon ip5300. She loves it, even though the ‘first pass’ is always the wrong settings on the wrong paper.

SOHO printing has never worked well, right from the beginning.  Give me an IBM 1403 any day. I close my eyes and I can still smell it!

Dick T

I’ve had Canon multi-function inkjets since Tiger and have never had even one problem with software updates and I’ve installed every one right through the latest Snow Leopard version.

Brian Platts

Mine works fine - I don’t know what the fuss is all about


I think the key word here is Hewlett Packard.  When I switched our office over to PC’s in the 90’s I bought a Hewlett Packard aio for my home office and PC running NT 4.  Big sticker on box said NT compatible.  Six months later it became true.  Personally switched back to Mac with the introduction of 10.1.  Same story newer printer.  Finally went all “Office Space” and trashed it replacing it with a Canon aio.  Did the same with my brother’s and sister’s after trouble shooting numerous glitches (mostly scanning) of their HP aio’s.  All Canon all the time for the past 4-7 years with nary a problem.

C Ruggiero

Apple includes the free application Image  For as long as I can remember Image has been able to scan from any USB or networked multifunction printer made by HP, Canon or Lexar.

Beginning with Leopard, Image can scan multiple documents (like receipts)—even with each little document laying at a different angle—and save them to separate files.

I never install the crud “scanning software” that come with my HP multifunction printers. 

Image does a lot more than just import photos from your camera / iPhone.  And it is A LOT more reliable than the printer manufacturer’s software.

Forrest Friedrich

At our house we have a 3-year old HP C7250 multi-function printer from Costco; we’ve had no problems printing and scanning wirelessly, all the way through the latest version of Snow Leopard, 10.6.7, using the Apple-supplied drivers. And I don’t know what HP did differently with this printer, but we’ve never, ever, had any issues with clogged heads, even after leaving the printer unused for two months. HP seems to have gotten this one right, but hearing the reports, I sure don’t feel the need to replace this printer any time soon.


10.5 years ago, we bought a MicroTek scanner ($360, FireWire, good optical specs).
And, then a Mac OS X upgrade caused it to “not work”.
Bought Vue-Scan for $80 for a lifetime of free upgrades.
We use the scanner about 5 times a year and “it still works”.

Meanwhile, on the printer front.
Multiple laser printers.
A $2000 Tektronix 740. Color duplex.
A $700 Samsung CLP500N.
And, last a $400 Brother HL4070CDW. The quietest. The cheapest cartridges.

We think: good choices for a small business.

Scott B in DC

I have a Canon fax/ink jet printer that is over 10 years old. The fax part stopped working about 5 years ago. Since I was printing pictures on the printer, that was fine for a while. I stopped using it about 4 years ago when Apple and RitzPix made it easier to order prints online. I need to get this thing off of my desk!

We use the Epson R300 ink jet printer I bought when I bought a 17-inch PowerBook G4. I rarely use it since I am trying to manage everything electronically. My wife prints more than I do but not by much.

I have an HP Scanjet 4670, the thin stand-up model. It’s a wonderful scanner that I use to scan often, including scanning old pictures in order to preserve them. However, it does not work on my late 2009 27-inch iMac. HP has been no help. So it’s attached to my PowerBook running Leopard happily scanning documents for me directly to a networked drive.

I might buy a new scanner, but I am happy with the two devices that are separate!


I’m mostly happy with my Canon MP630 AIO, it scans with Image Capture no probs, prints duplex and CD/DVDs. If I have to grumble it’s the suspicion that it’s blowing away a fortune in ink with protracted head-cleaning. Esp prior to printing a DVD.
The DVD print software is not very Mac-like but once you’ve learnt its quaint ways, is quite capable.
The Image Browser could give iPhoto a run for its money. I’ve only tinkered with it, but it seems less in-your-face than the latest versions of iPhoto. Why do Apple keep fixing stuff that ain’t broke?
I’m also running a Canon S9000 A3 printer that seems to chug ink, but it’s invariably printing vast expanses of canvas paper, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain. Certainly I keep it turned off at the wall to minimise sneaky head cleans at random intervals.
The Canon Selphy CP720 has also been caught wasting ink, or dye in this case. I now unravel each roll of membrane when it runs out and invariable find 2-3 sections that have been discarded unused. Bastards!!


HP laser printers have always been excellent, although speed/pricing seem lagging the last few years. HP inkjets, especially AIOs, are such a disaster. I kept buying them figuring they have to have figured it out this time. No they didn’t. Scanning software so obtuse and fractured that I never failed to wonder what the hell were they thinking.
We finally just bought a nice 35ppm used Konica-Minolta color copier with scanner/ADF. Works great. Still have BW HP laser jets on the desks, but I’ll never buy another inkjet or AIO again.

Peter Cohen

At about the same time John was discovering problems with his HP printer I was in the market for a new multifunction device, and after shopping around for a bit, I relied on a friend’s suggestion and bought a Brother MFC-7840W, a laser printer with fax and scan capabilities. I’ve actually been quite happy with it.

I scan over the network using either Image Capture or Preview, printing is done using CUPS drivers, and on the infrequent occasions I have to use it, faxing is built in to the print driver as well.

The only functionality I miss as a Mac user is fax to PC (sending inbound faxes to a computer), but that’s not a problem, as this device is used to send fax documents only, not to receive.

I’m aware that I’m depending on the capricious nature of Apple’s print driver development team for support in Lion and beyond, but this was an eye-opener for me. My first Brother device, and so far so good.


Vuescan is $40/year now?  Correction, it’s $40 for the standard free-upgrades-for-one-year version.  The pro edition at $80 gives you unlimited free updates.


Our Canon MP530 has served us well for many years, and we have been able to buy 3rd party refill cartridges to hold down the cost of ink. 

But we have some dedicated peripherals that work even better.  The Dell 3100cn color laser printer is outstanding, and works with Linux, MacOS X, and various flavors of Windows.  We’ve gone through multiple scanners, and are very pleased with the results from the Epson Perfection v500. For photos, we have a Canon PIXMA ip6600d, but we rarely print photos anymore since it is so cheap to send them to the nearby drugstore and walk down to pick them up.  Both the Epson and the Canon work with both MacOS and Windows.

So the MFP now serves mostly as our home copier, plus 1-2 faxen per year.  Fortunately, we have space for all of these things….


Damn. a lot of whining here. All-in-ones were never supposed to replace separates if you are a pro graphics person. I’ve used separates forever until recently (about 1.5 years ago) I got an HP all-in-one as a gift. I’ve beat the crap out of it-scanning, printing, faxing…with not one problem. I am using Tiger.
Now, if a device works on a given OS, and then the OS is upgraded rendering the device or part of it useless, it seems to me it is NOT the devices fault but clearly Apple’s fault for screwing up the OS upgrade vis a vis the printer drivers. It’s not as if the OS was changing from like an OS 9 to X.  Paying yearly fees for drivers etc. is beyond dumb, Vuescan?? Give me a break. You’d be better off buying a used G5 for $75, run Tiger and use it as your dedicated print/scan server - for FREE.


Have to say, I’ve given up on HP - scanner driver never worked properly with one HP AIO we owned, and then ceased to work at all. Final blow came when a 5? plastic part broke, making the whole thing unusable. Do I need to mention that cost of repair came to more than a cost of a new printer?

Now on a Canon AIO, which is not perfect, but it all works as it’s meant to (for now).

George Krompacky

Good points. I don’t have a multifunction at home but at work I have one at work for quick check of layouts and convenient scanning. It’s a Pixma 600 (can’t remember if that’s Epson or Canon LOL) and someone asked me to install the software for scanning on the office’s new 13” MBP. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the compatibility grid in Snow Leopard that showed I could print but not scan. WTF the thing is only like 3 years old? And I have to echo your complaints about HP and obtuse instructions. I have an HP wireless inkjet at home (NOT a multifunction) and getting it installed before Snow Leopard was a multi-hour nightmare.


I would recommend using the Canon PIXMA MX922, as mentioned on this site.
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