Creating a Virtual Printer and Saving Postscript Files


I don't own a postscript printer but need to create postscript files to send to my printing service and to create PDF? Files using Distiller or PStill . How do I do that?


Minimum: Any version of Mac OS? X
Recommended: Mac OX Tiger or newer


A Virtual Printer is what you're looking for. In essence, a Virtual Printer fakes out your Macintosh to think it actually has the printer connected. In POX days (Pre OS X) you used an application called Desktop Printer Utility (free from Apple) to make the Virtual Printer. Well, in OS X it's pretty much the same thing only we us an application called Print Center (Jaguar OS 10.2) or Printer Setup Utility (choose Applications > Utlities > Printer Setup Utility) in Panther and Tiger.

In addition to letting you create Postscript files, a Virtual Printer can be a great way to gain access to larger sheet sizes or full bleed sheets sizes such as 8.5x11, 11x17 or 36x48 inches or larger (see our related article here ). Remember, every printer has a different printable area (hard clipping limit) . So, even if you don't need to make Postscript files, but just want access to different sheet sizes, full bleed or large sheets, creating a virtual printer with those properties is a cheap (free) way to get those features.

What To Do

We'll use a simple example and create a Virtual Printer for an Apple LaserWriter. However, the same steps may be used to create a Virtual Printer for large format printers and plotters such as an HP5500 or HP1055.

We've provided all the verbose steps here along with demonstration movies. However, Apple also provides this summary article XTNL URL and additional information may also be found in your Mac OS help files.

To create the Virtual Printer, do this:

  1. Launch the Printer Setup Utility application (located on your hard drive -> Applications folder -> Utilities folder )
  2. Click once on the ADD button
  3. Choose IP Printing from the pop up (or LPD/LPR)
  4. Choose Internet Printing Protocol from the Printer Type pop up
  5. Type localhost in the Printer Address field (localhost is all one word)
  6. Leave the Queue Name field blank
  7. Choose a printer type from the Printer Model pop up (e.g. Apple)
  8. Choose a postscript printer model name from the scrolling list and press the ADD button
  9. A new item named localhost is added to your list of printers
  10. Click once on localhost in the printer list
  11. Click once on the Show Info button
  12. Enter a new, meaningful, name in the Printer Name field
  13. Press the Apply Changes button
  14. Close the Printer Info dialog

You're done! You may now use the printer to make a Postscript file.

quicktime Here is an example of these steps in live action (1.7MB QuickTime Movie). (Need Movie Help?)

Note: In step eight when you choose a printer from the list, what your are actually choosing is the PPD? (Postscript Printer Description) file for that particular brand of printer. The PPD contains the information your Mac needs to describe all the features of a particular printer such as sheet size, full bleed, color options, etc.. Mac OS X ships with hundreds of PPD files for a wide range of printers. If you don't see a particular printer description in the list, you can also download PPD files from various printer manufacture's or have one sent to you from a printing service bureau. Mac OS X keeps the PPD files here: YourComputerHardDrive/Library/Printers/PPDs/Contents/Resources/en.lproj folder (note en.lproj contains the English files, if you're working in another select the language folder of your choice).

To use the Virtual Printer to create a Postscript File, do this:

  1. Open the document to be printed
  2. Choose File menu > Page Setup
  3. Select your Virtual Printer from the list of printers
  4. Choose a page size, orientation and press OK
  5. Choose File menu > Print...
  6. Choose your virtual printer from the list of printers
  7. Choose Output Options from the pop up menu
  8. Click to check the Save File As check box
  9. Choose Postscript from the pop up menu
  10. Press SAVE

The postscript file is saved to the location you specify. The postscript file may be sent to a printer or used to create a PDF file using Adobe Acrobat Distiller , PStill or other Postscript to PDF conversion applications.

quicktime Here is an example of these steps in live action (1.1MB QuickTime Movie). (Need Movie Help?)


Now that you're finished, you can use this new virtual printer as if it was connected to your computer. Just remember when you're printing to pick this printer from the Printer pop down menu. And don't forget to choose to save the file as a Postscript or PDF using the Output Options pop down menu (other wise you'll be waiting an awfully long time for your computer to somehow try and find the specified printer, or perhaps it can grow one?)

This Apple Knowledge Base article XTNL URL also contains helpful information and related links which discuss which printer PPD's and print drivers are installed with Mac OS X (Panther or Jaguar)

If all of the above steps seem rather long, don't forget it only take a few minutes to setup and you're away to the races. The beauty of this technique is you change the Virtual Printer at any time or create as many as you like. With a Virtual Printer you can have a HP2500 today, an HP5000ps tomorrow or an Epson the week after that.

We hope that helps

If you found this article or the website in general to be helpful, educational or a time and money saver you can show your support. Thank you ~ Brian (huc) Huculak

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does not apply to Leopard

Please note these steps don't apply to Mac OS? X Leopard. We're working on a new video tutorial to address the changes.

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