Postscript Printers and Mac OS 9. Newly rephrased Question

Posted on 2004-09-01
Last Modified: 2013-12-03
Per other posts, I am rephrasing a previous question in hopes of honing in on finding the right printer for the
job at hand.  Specifically, I have run Mac OS 8.6 for years with an HP Laserjet 4ML, creating and outputting
a variety of graphic intensive docs in Pagemaker (v 4 thru 6.5) that entailed Postscript fonts, and various
graphic elements. I do my own DTP for layouts of promotional pieces for my business...usually prepping a
layout that in turn goes to a print house.  

What I've found out the hard way is that an "upgrade" to an HP 1012 was not the best choice since it is not
a PS printer.  Guess i can save that one for another computer and use it for text.  

What I Need to know, is what a good replacement would be for the 4ML...that will allow me to still run at
least OS 9 (tho preferably 8.6...) and still create/printout Postscript docs in these apps, under Mac OS (as well
as my existing one).  Why do i want to switch?  This printer virtually seizes and stalls my entire system while
outputting a heavily graphic oriented document in say, Pagemaker or Freehand.  On stuff other than simple
docs without lots of fonts/graphics, it is intolerably too SLOW.  I did get Powerprint and tried using that on
it whereby, instead of using the apple printer-cable connection, i tried USB to the printer's parallel port. Somehow
postscript language got lost in the translation going that route.  Hence, I'm back to the same connection, via
regular printer cable...slow graphics printing....(but at least - accurate)

Not being a DTP fulltimer i'm out of my element with this and would be glad to get some specific advice on
alternatives that might give me significant speed improvement, while still allowing full postscript support for
older and, newly created docs on this G3... (a beige desktop, with upgraded OWC 533 MHz processor and
loaded RAM.... currently using OS 8.6. Willing to jump it to OS 9.22 if that's the only way to run a newer
faster PS printer.... Otherwise I have a G4/400 spare that could replace the G3 and is equpped with only USB,
no serial port... i don't know if any of my older docs could successfully be transferred to a G4 and a newer
PS printer, and still retain accurate formatting, fonts,


Question by:mikes425
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LVL 38

Expert Comment

ID: 11958828
Virtually any printer with PostScript and Ethertalk (Appletalk on Ethernet) will work with OS8, 9 and X. If you use the LaserWriter 8.6 (or later) driver you don't even need Appletalk - you can use TCP/IP instead but virtually every networked PostScript printer supports Appletalk.

PostScript printers use the LaserWriter driver as supplied by Apple with MacOS. However, you should point the driver at the printer's PPD (PostScript Printer Description) file that tells the driver about printer features (e.g. number of trays, duplexing, etc). If you are using Appletalk, the Chooser will find the printer on the network under OS8 and 9. With OSX you use the Print Center (now Network Printer Utility). For TCP/IP you will need to create a port. For OS8 and 9 the PPD file should be in the System>Extensions>Printer Descriptions folder. To use it, just select the printer in the Chooser and click on the Create button. With OSX the PPD can be anywhere but then you may need to point the Print Center at the PPD.

Your printer selection is determined mostly by cost and geographic location, but here are a couple of suggestions: Lexmark E330, HP 2300, Brother HL5150, Xerox Phaser 4400, Xerox DocuPrint 240A (with optional PostScript)

Author Comment

ID: 11958875
Addendum...I guess I failed to specify that I would prefer a LASER vs. Inkjet Postscript Printer with the same
specs in my original post
LVL 38

Expert Comment

ID: 11960384
The printers I mentioned are all monochrome lasers. PostScript inkjets are rare animals. They usually use a software PostScript RIP, designed to slow the Mac down (but the quality from those printers can be superb). Some large format inkjets have built-in PostScript.

As for specs, PostScript will cost you more than the hp 1012 did. Other specs will be at least as good or better.
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LVL 38

Expert Comment

ID: 11960712
Forgot to mention that the default location for PPDs under OSX10.2 or later is in

Author Comment

ID: 11966682
Thanks for that additional input... Sorry to drag this out further but for evaluation purposes, is there any
good objective reviews/opinion site that specifically addresses the Mac-Compatiable Postscript LaserPrinter
marketplace?  If i replace the 4ML i'm running, given the increased cost to get a PS one,  i hope to avoid
making the mistake i did in purchasing the 1012 (tho that was my fault not knowing that it was not P.S.
capable).  Normally I've gone to CNET and ConsumerGuide to comparison shop price and reviews, features...

I've always felt the HP was super reliable (still going strong) and would be inclined to think HP first...but
if there's anything cheaper that's reliable and durable i'll consider other brands.  It appears the LJ2300 you
mention is around 400-500 MSRP right now... Any ideas of Mac-compatible true PScript printers in the
"under $500" category that might fit the bill?

Thanks again

LVL 38

Expert Comment

ID: 11969192
Yes, those old hps were more reliable than anything else around - then or now. All current printers use far more plastic than the old 4m, and won't last as long (it's called built-in obsolescence). You may also notice that duty cycles have gone steadily higher, while the lifetime expected page count has not. to the point where current printers are only expected to last about 5 months when run at their duty cycle. And it won't be covered by warranty either - you need to read the fine print to find out.

The Brother HL5170 is under US$350 and includes duplexer. The Xerox Phaser 3450 only just gets in below $500 but has true Adobe PostScript (the Brother has a PS emulator)

For reviews, you can try

Note that they review all "compatible" printers, not just PostScript, so if you find one you like you may need to check the manufacturer's website for specifications.

Expert Comment

ID: 11970475
Just to recommend. I would consider a workhorse printer such as a HP Laserjet 5M for a replacement for your printer.  Then I would put the max of 48 megs into that printer (it has 4 72 pin slots, one taken up by the postscript dimm).  That sho0uld really help up the spoeed of the printer (having 52 megs of ram).   Plus its a 12 ppm printer compared to the 4ppm of the 4m.

It also has an ehternet port on the back which would make hooking it up to a network a relative
 breeze.  True networked printers are much nicer than just sharing a windows printer on a network.

The 5m is also a very very durable printer.  I have a 5n (same thing except mine doesn't have the postscript driver, i have to use ghostscript with my macintosh to print to it) and it was once rained on by a leak above it.  It literally was covered in water.  I let it dry for 2 days and had to replace the scanner motor assy (that did get water in it and rusted the bearing).  It then has worked perfectly ever since.

I love the old HP printers so much more than most new printers.  I even perfer the old HP inkjets like the deskjet 870s and what not.  Just more durable than a lot of crap made today.

The only drawback with the 5M is that you would have to get one used and its a larger printer but you will love it.

Heres some more info:

Expert Comment

ID: 11970480
Oh yeah, one more thing, the laserwriter driver from the old mac os 8.6 and 9 should work fine with it.  And the printer should release control back to the computer much faster than the 4mp with the 52 megs of ram compared to the 4 of the 4mp.  Only 4 megs of ram is going to clog any pritner espcially with large postscript documents.  More printer ram=speed.

LVL 38

Expert Comment

ID: 11970626
I agree with the comments on the 5m, but I'm afraid I have to disagree with the RAM issue. In general, adding extra RAM to a PostScript printer does not change the speed at all. Neither does it let the printer process more complex or larger documents.

A PS printer processes commands one at a time and cannot use more RAM to process that command faster. Once the command has been processed it is discarded, freeing up the RAM used.

PS printers use RAM for several things. On power-up it sets aside enough RAM for 1 or more bitmapped pages (at printer resolution). That uses up most of the RAM. More RAM is used as an input buffer. After power-up, any remaining RAM is used as a "scratchpad" called VM. The output from the PC/Mac usually starts by defining masses of additional PS commands, which are stored in VM. During command execution, VM is used as to store results. The final result of a command will be written into the bitmap. Then the printer receives a "showpage" command the bitmap is printed. After that the bitmap may be cleared or reprinted, or even kept for another page.

There are 2 cases where extra RAM can speed the printer up. First, some printers use "memory compression" to let them work with insufficient RAM. This reduces the size of the bitmap but causes the command execution to slow down. Secondly, with sufficient RAM a printer can set up multiple bitmaps, letting the printer print one bitmap while processing another. This speedup is usually too small to measure.

Expert Comment

ID: 11976558
So you are telling me that printing a huge postscript document made up of complex tiffs and eps images and whatnot will take just as long to print and it won't hog the computer's resources while its spooling when printed to the stock 4 megs of the 5M compared to printing to the same printer with 52 megs of ram?

That really doesn't seem to add up at all when it comes to spooling the job to the printer and releasing control back to the comptuer (which is what mike is complaining of).

I was always told that the more memory that you have in your printer, the less time the computer has to dedicate to keeping the job in memory and slowing down the comptuer since it can spool the whole thing to the printer.

Author Comment

ID: 11977671
Thanks for this added input - I'm curious as well about the memory handling question that bobo tech raises in the
prior Comment.  It's really at the heart of the reason I want to upgrade from the 4ML.  Also, re: the recommendation of the 5 series....i guess a follow-up question would be, is that the "last" of that particular
"generation" of HPs (i.e., the real 'workhorse' heavy duty cycle ones,) or otherwise, might it not be better to
go with a newer PS Laser, like, say the "6" series..  I only ask because, if in fact i were to replace this with
a "Used" one i'd rather go with as "new" a used one as possible from a performance and reliabilty standpoint...
or is the "5" series pretty much where things shifted and the mechanics began getting more cheaply constructed,

Thanks,  Mike

Expert Comment

ID: 11978348
I really don't think that the 5-5n-5m series are cheaply constructed at all.  They are what I consider to be the last of the "personal" workhorse printers.  Its small enough to be used in a personal enviroment but it has a duty cycle more in line with a office network printer since that was it was designed to be.  

I really don't care for the newer personal laser printers that are out today only because they really do seem cheaply constructed compared to the old HP printers.

I really think it was with the 5L-6L series of printers (the 5L is a COMPLETELY different and unrelated printer than the 5m) is where the construction started to become cheaper.  I could stand on top of a 5m but I don't think I would do that with any newer personal laser printer (other than the true higher end workgroup printers).

I'm curious though, what size are these complex postscript documents that you are printing?   The actual file size of the documents.  That might give us some better idea of how we should recommend the memory sizes to you.
LVL 38

Expert Comment

ID: 11979689
Hi bobo_tech

Yes, what I am saying is that "a huge postscript document made up of complex tiffs and eps images and whatnot will take just as long to print and it won't hog the computer's resources while its spooling". It really is as simple as that. Note that, if you are using PCL (HP's printer language) there are reasons for adding extra memory; but with PostScript, once you have enough, any more is overkill.

First of all, the spooling is done by your PC (and/or the server). When you click on "Print", the application creates a print file. Once that is done, the PC is free to do whatever it wants. Spooling that file onwards takes a negligeable amount of processor power.

The print file is then sent to the next station. That can be the printer if you use a direct connection (parallel, usb or ethernet) or it can be a server if you choose to go that way. If the job is sent to a server, the server creates a copy of the print file, and then creates a *second* copy of it. That copy is finally sent to the printer. In both cases, the time the printer takes to process the job does not affect the original PC or the application.

The only time printer processing slows down the PC is when (using a direct connection) you disable spooling by selecting "Print directly to the printer" in the driver. That way your PC is forced to wait until the printer is finished. But adding extra memory still does not let the printer take the data faster. One caveat here is that some printers allow you to specify the size of the input buffer. A larger buffer would allow the printer to take the data somewhat faster, but I doubt very much you'd ever be able to tell.

Note that some applications like Word and Powerpoint have their own "background print spooling" which adds yet another spool file to the process. My recommendation is to turn that off altogether. It really does not help having Word spool to the Windows print spooler, which then spools to the server, etc.

One other thing. The file size of a document does not bear any relation to the size of the print job. First of all, when a job includes images, in many cases the print job is double the size of the original (because many PostScript drivers are set to send images as ASCII rather than binary). Secondly, many applications (even Word, but you need to change settings buried in the menus) do not include images as part of the document - instead the document includes a link to the image. That way the document does not balloon out as you add images that are already on the disk anyway. PostScript also includes an overhead (the additional commands mentioned in my earlier post) of some 30-50kB. Hence, even a one character print job will be around 50kB in size. On the other hand, complex PS jobs are often smaller (and print faster) than PCL jobs.

Author Comment

ID: 11980308
This is an interesting comment you make...
>>First of all, the spooling is done by your PC (and/or the server). When you click on "Print", the application creates a print file. Once that is done, the PC is free to do whatever it wants.<<

In my experience, even with the aforementioned HP1012, USB-connected to a G4 running OS 9.22 with HPs latest driver, set for 'background printing...'  when I choose Print for anything...even a simple text-
only document....  there is a good :05-:10 seconds of time where I have NO control of any computer activity
(no cursor ability to navigate around and do any other activity whatsoever) while the
doc is being 'handled' in the 'background.' -'s a relatively brief interlude, but in my experience,
while the PC may be free to do whatever it wants in that period of time, I myself am not able to.

This is a dual G4 1.25  maxed-out RAM Mac and yet there is this definite 'lag time.' -
As for the other question
>>I'm curious though, what size are these complex postscript documents that you are printing?   The actual file size of the documents.  That might give us some better idea of how we should recommend the memory sizes to you<<.
OK, this goes back to the 4ML  on the older beige G3 desktop with OS 8.6 and LONG processing time....
Typically  the docs can be anywhere from half a meg. to 3MB total- and incorporate multiple fonts,
sometimes several EPS graphic elements.. and customized font tracking/style settings, for things like dual page postcard layouts, fliers  
Largely these are created in Pagemaker 6 and 6.5. There is a long list  of PS font downloading that takes place prior to the print job commencing and of course on older things that need to be updated, I'll often get a "font-
missing" message due to one font or another having been long since removed or what not.

I think some of these things have as many as 20 unique fonts but more often it's 4-5 and the biggest hang
seems to be over graphic elements (logos saved as tiff or EPS or whatever format).  

The wait can be 10 minutes on a complex-content piece.... maybe longer!  I usually just walk away and do
something else.  Since it's typically a one-off thing where I'm  just doing some copy updating on a promo
piece that was maybe, originally created 10 years ago... thats okay - I just need a master printout to take to a printer....(but one that hasn't substituted a PS font with "Courier" somewhere, or not bitmap-printed a PS
graphic for some reason, of course).


Author Comment

ID: 11980322
Addendum to my previous answer.  With the 4ML, I get cursor and system sluggishness and slowdown even
printing a 50K, one page MS-Word text doc!  If I had Real Player running an audio stream at the same time,
for example, the audio drags and or breaks up while it's processing the job!  On the other hand, it actually
"releases" the mouse/cursor at least for me to do other stuff immediately while it's processing..  but like
i said about the new 1012, that thing on a G4 has a momentary period where nothing can be done til it
"releases" back control!  a 5-10 sec. period where i can't even move the cursor!

Expert Comment

ID: 11980712

So what is the advantage of having more memory in a laser printer excluding multiple jobs.

I also went and tried something, i took out the 2 simms i have in my 5N (i have i thnk 26 megs of ram in it) so that it was down to the default 4 (or 6, can't remember which).  

I then went and printed a large pdf document to the printer.  It seemed that the print icon on my system tray stayed there a lot longer than when I printed that same document to my 5N when the memory was installed.

You make some valid points but I am not convinced that having the base amount of memory is going to allow the computer to totally release itself of the print job so that the computer no longer is handleing it at all (no more printer icon on the system tray) is going to be the same amount of time as if you had more than base memory.

I'm still doing more research on this topic elsewhere because you have brought up these points, hdhondt.  But what you say goes against everything that people have always said about having more printer memory.  I have been told since the early 90's when i first started working on laser printers, that having more memory allows faster spooling since the computer doesn't need to process the job after its been spooled to the printer (since you can spool more to the printer with more memory) and that adding more memory allows the printer to print complex documents without having the printer run out of memory.

You are saying in a sense that the first generalization (adding more memory helps) is false and thats what I still just don't see.    Its like taking a windows xp comptuer on a 3 ghz processor with 512 megs of ram and opening up internet explorer and comparing it to the exact same windows xp comptuer with only 64 megs of ram and opening that same internet explorer window.  Its going to take a LOT longer time to process and regain control of the comptuer because of the lack of memory.  That is my analogy of adding printer memory.  Its going to take longer for the comptuer to regain complete control and no longer be processing the job when sending it to a printer with minimum memory.

If what you are saying is true, then why add more memory to any postscript laserprinter?

Assisted Solution

bobo_tech earned 200 total points
ID: 11980732
One more thing, i think that MIke's issue is that once he creates that document file after he clicks print, is that the file then starts to spool to his 4ml is what is clogging his computer.  Thats why i am suggesting more memory than base.  Since once his computer creates the file and starts spooling it to the printer, its hogging his comptuer while spooling it to the printer and the bigger/more compelx the job, the larger the spool file and the longer it takes to his computer to  regain control.

LVL 38

Accepted Solution

hdhondt earned 300 total points
ID: 11983710
Hi mikes425

I kind of forgot you are using Macs, and referred to PCs in my comments. However, they are still valid.

First you have to remember that the hp 1012 is a GDI printer with Mac drivers. GDI means that the PC or Mac has to do absolutely everything. The only thing the printer does is move the carriage and put dots on the page. That requires a lot more cpu power than what's needed for driving a printer with a proper page desciption language like PostScript or PCL. During the time when you can't do anything, I guess the Mac is creating the output print file. Once that is done, you get control back while the file is being spooled to the printer (but I have no experience with Mac-driven GDI printers). Why your Mac has problems even with audio while processing the job I do not know. But once the processing is finished, background printing should not affect what you do.

With  Pagemaker large graphic files are "linked" by default, rather than being placed in the document. That is the biggest reason why the document size is not directly related to the output size. Note that, for a GDI printer, the output file size will not depend very much on the document complexity: as it consists of commands to place dots, a page of text may generate as large a print file as a page of graphics. BTW, under OS 9 you can check the size of the print file: double-click on the printer icon; in the printer window select the printing document and press Command-I (Get Info). This does not work under OSX.

Fonts are one of the things that use up memory in PostScript printers. If the printer does not have a font, it is downloaded as part of the print file. Each font typically takes 50 kB so 20 fonts can take 1 MB. Hence 4MB may not be enough. However, if those fonts made the printer run out of memory, one of PostScript's "features" kicks in. PostScript is designed to produce *correct* output and any (ANY) error causes the job to stop immediately, without even printing the current page. Running out of memory is one type of error. If it happens, the Mac will display a message that there is a PostScript error (or, with PageMaker or Quark, you can select to have the printer print an error message instead; on PCs the driver does this by default). It does not, however, affect the print speed.


Remember that my comments about memory and speed relate to PostScript printers, not GDI or even PCL. You compare a printer with a PC running XP, but that is a false analogy. The PC's (or Mac's) operating system is designed to let it does several tasks at once. Adding more memory means that it can keep more of those tasks in memory, instead of having to swap them out to disk. The processor in the printer on the other hand can only do one thing: processing incoming commands (if we ignore such things as handling multiple ports, front panel controls, etc). It can process only one command at a time, and that command takes as much memory as it needs, no more and no less. So, yes adding memory to a PC is valid, but a PostScript printer either has enough RAM to do the print job or it doesn't.

The CPU power required to send the job to the printer after the spool file has been created does depend on the port used. With parallel ports (i.e. not on Macs) the CPU has to process each and every output character that goes to the printer (that's how DOS was designed and all PCs remain DOS compatible, even though XP puts drastic limits on that compatibility.). With usb or ethernet ports, that task is passed on to the port processor, leaving the CPU available for more important things.
LVL 16

Expert Comment

ID: 11983730
I don't know the answer to 'how much RAM?' question, but I would have thought that the available RAM is used for several items:
    Page bitmap (possibly the largest requirement)
    Downloaded soft font storage
    Downloaded macro (PCL) or function (PS) storage
    Multiple input page buffers
and that provided there is sufficient memory to cater for the first three of these, it is only the later item which then suffers, meaning that it takes longer for the print stream to be buffered in the printer; but the processing (in both the PC and the printer) would still take the same amount of time.
Where there might be additional processing required is the case where the printer memory is not sufficient for the first three items, and less then optimal mechanisms are then brought into play in an attempt to circumvent this.

Expert Comment

ID: 11984430
So how much memory do you recommend for Mike?  In this day, my logic is "ram is so cheap, why skimp?" so I just upgrade to as much ram as I can afford.  

I used to print postscript documents to my hp laserjet IIIp with 4 megs of ram and the postscript cartridge b ut it would take FOREVER to print (20 minutes for a couple of pages).  On the other hand printing to the laserjet 4N at work takes fairly quickly and they have 16 or 24 megs of ram or somethingl like that.

So just how much ram is recommneded when printing mutiple  large 3 meg pdf documents and why not max out the memory, its cheap enough these days.  Better to have too much than too little.

Author Comment

ID: 11984501
Re, Comment from hdhondt

>> hp 1012 is a GDI printer with Mac drivers. GDI means that the PC or Mac has to do absolutely everything. The only thing the printer does is move the carriage and put dots on the page. That requires a lot more cpu power than what's needed for driving a printer with a proper page desciption language like PostScript or PCL. During the time when you can't do anything, I guess the Mac is creating the output print file. Once that is done, you get control back while the file is being spooled to the printer (but I have no experience with Mac-driven GDI printers). Why your Mac has problems even with audio while processing the job I do not know. But once the processing is finished, background printing should not affect what you do.<<

Hm. Anyone looking for a hardly used HP1012 GDI Printer?  .... Kidding. Err..well maybe not.  
this 1012 was put on a machine in a recording studio where I have to keep working while it prints, (Ideally)....
cranking out mostly Text documents (scripts).  Somewhat inconvenient if it must always go thru this
seizure cycle.

This actually isn't even the original issue (that being, replacement of my old 4ML on a different machine) but as long as you've described the GDI process, what laser printer type, for, say a G4 with OS 9, (in light of the previous recommendations, would NOT temporarily hog total control of the system to do true background
printing.  I would gather, a PS or PCL?  I now have a collection of..lets see...a Canon i560, Canon S300
inkjets HP Deskwriter....(inkjets)...the 4ML...and just added to the pile...this 1012!  

As far as the discussion of replacing the 4ML for PS docs on the "office" machine for graphic intensive docs,
I appreciate your previous recommendations for possible substitutions and the discussion of the memory
issues re: HP successors, etc.

LVL 38

Expert Comment

ID: 11986611
My earlier printer suggestions still stand. Bothe the Brother & the Xerox are decent machines. I don't think hp have anything in the price range you're after. Unfortunately, PostScript networked printers are never cheap - just more satisfying in the long run!

You may notice that DansDadUK agrees with my comments about memory when he says "the processing (in both the PC and the printer) would still take the same amount of time."

I don't see how you can compare print times between a Laserjet IIIP and 4N. The main difference will be the speed of the printer's processor, but other factors may be involved as well. As for "enough RAM", 4MB may be a little too low, but most current PostScript printers come with 16MB or more, which should be plenty.
LVL 38

Expert Comment

ID: 11986686
I overlooked the Lexmark range when I suggested printers. Lexmark printers are well built and well priced. The E332n should be below US$500. It comes with PostScript, built-in networking and with 32MB you won't have to worry about memory.

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