Printing in grayscale with AirPrint

Did you all think I was dead? Unfortunately for you, I am not. I’ve just been fairly busy with work and with my renewed interest in photography. Speaking of which, all of you should follow my Flickr photostream, which I update daily.

So, you’ve got the shiny new iOS 4.2 on your iPhone 4 and you have enabled AirPrint sharing on your Mac, using either the free Hacktivator or one of the commercial packages. You are very satisfied (albeit a bit doubtful about actually using it in the future), except for one thing: it prints in color, and you really wish it could print in grayscale, because toner is not cheap.

When printing on the Mac this is easy: in any application’s print dialog, you change the specific settings of your printer to convert to grayscale and save a new preset. Then you just select “use last selected preset” and you forget about it, limiting yourself to changing it to color whenever you feel like wasting money (or printing money, if you’re that kind of naughty boy.)

AirPrint, on the other hand, just doesn’t have any setting, aside from the number of copies. You can’t even choose which pages to print. It’s either all or nothing. And it prints in color. It all seems lost, but fear not! OS X’s print subsystem is based on — or rather, it actually is — CUPS, which stands for Common Unix Printing System. Therefore all you need to is fiddling with it to change the actual default settings. How do you do that? It’s very, very simple.

Go to http://localhost:631/ (the CUPS configuration runs via a pseudo-webserver on port 631; don’t worry, this only works on your own machine for your own machine), and click on Administration on top, then click on Manage Printers. Click on the name of the printer in question, and in the Administration pull-down menu choose Set Default Options. What you see now depends on the actual printer you have, but it should very closely resemble the options you get in the OS X print dialog. In my case, the General tab shows a setting called  Color Mode that lets me choose between Color and Grayscale. I set it to the latter, clicked the Set Default Options button, typed in my username and password, and off I went.

Note that you must have administrator rights, and you have use your short username, the one in lowercase with no spaces. It’s the same one that gives the name to your own home folder.

(Many thanks to Marco F. for the input.)

  • Isabel

    Hi! I read with interest your article… But I can’t run the web page you mention! … It says server not found. I’m trying to do this from my iPad… Is that the problem? Please help! I’m stuck only printing in colour… 🙁

  • Daniele Nicolucci

    Yes, you have to access the localhost address from the same computer that the printer is connected to. Due to security concerns, it cannot be accessed by default from other devices on the same network.

  • Helena

    Thanks for the tip but it didn’t work for me. I was able to follow all your instructions. I have an Epson so the setting in “General” is “Grayscale” and I set it to “on”. I saved the changes, but it continues to print in color from my iOS devices. Any thoughts? Thanks!

  • Daniele Nicolucci

    This is a bit weird. Perhaps it is reset to color when you print from the Mac itself? If you save, close your browser and go to that page again, is it still set to “on”?
    Make sure there is no other option about color printing that overrides the “Greyscale” setting. I’m afraid I can’t be more specific as I only have HP and Samsung printers, but I’m curious to know if/how you fix it.
    Good luck!

  • Karin M

    Many thanks for this! For a long time I’ve been puzzled by how difficult it is to set default print preferences on my macs. This has worked for me on my desktop and laptop but, like Helena, I’m still not able to print in greyscale from my iOS devices. On the plus side I’ve been able to add an on/off option for printing in duplex from the iphone/ipad. I’m using a Canon MG5320.