How to print instantly on OS X

One day, we will have paperless offices. One day, we will never need to print a document and hand it to someone for a signature or — ugh — mail it like cave people. Until that day arrives, we still have and need printers.

Printing is easy, of course. In any Mac application, you have to merely select Print from the File menu or even hit Command-P, and your document will emerge more or less as it should.

But what if you’re not in an application? What if you just want to print a document, and you don’t even necessarily know what application created it?

Well, that’s easy.

If you select a file in the Finder and then go to the Finder’s File > Print command (or press Command-P), the file’s default application (or whatever application you have on your computer that is set to open that kind of file, if you didn’t create it) will open and print the application. Pretty nifty.

But it gets niftier.

Printers and ScannersOpen System Preferences and select the Printers & Scanners pane.

You should see your printer (or printers) listed in the left-hand column with small icons. Grab the icon for the printer you want to use and drag it to the Desktop.

The icon will appear with a small arrow next to it, indicating it is an alias. Actually, it’s a specific type of alias called a proxy.

To print a file, simply drag it and drop it onto this proxy. Without even opening up an application, the Mac will attempt to print the file. Presuming you have an application installed that can handle the file, the Mac will take advantage of the application’s printing resources without opening it.

Desktop PrinterIf you want to view the print queue to pause or delete jobs, just double-click on the proxy. You can also drag the proxy to the Dock to save clutter on the Desktop if you wish.

This kind of desktop printing was possible in the later versions of Classic Mac OS as well, but for whatever reason, it’s been largely forgotten in the OS X era. A pity, because it’s a great timesaver.

But wait there’s more. There is in fact another way to print instantly within OS X — one that you couldn’t do in Classic Mac OS — and this one’s even niftierer.

Open up a Finder window — any Finder window — by double-clicking on your hard drive icon or whatever. Then right-click in the Toolbar at the top of the window — the part where Search bar and navigation buttons are.

You should see a drop-down menu, one option on which is ‘Customize Toolbar…’ Click on that, and you’ll see a range of options for tools that you can drag to or from the Toolbar to make it work how you want it to. (It’s actually a thing well worth poking around in, as the Toolbar can become quite powerful when you’ve bent it to your will. But we’re not interested in that right now.)

Without closing your Finder window, open up System Preferences and the Printers & Scanners pane again. Then grab the icon representing your printer and, instead of dragging it to the Desktop or the Dock, drag it into the Toolbar of the Finder window you’ve got open and customisable.

Toolbar PrintingYou should see the existing tools slide out of the way to make room for the printer icon. Position it wherever you want, and then click Done. (One side note: to the left of the Done button, you’l see a drop-down menu labelled Show. This has three options: Text Only, Icon & Text, and Icon Only. Since printer names can be quite long and unwieldy, it’s advisable to use Icon Only if you’re adding a printer to the Toolbar.)

After that, any window you open in the Finder will have a printer icon in the Toolbar. Drag files from windows directly to that icon to print them.

What if you have one printer for text documents and another for photographs? Or an inkjet for drafts and a laser for final copy? No problem — you can set up as many of these proxy printers as you need and have the space for on your Desktop, Dock or Toolbar.

Of course, with either of these proxy methods, you don’t get the full advantages of a Print Setup dialogue in case you want to change settings, print in Draft mode or anything fancy like that.

These tips are only useful for quick-and-dirty standard printing with all of your defaults.