Possibly Painless Network Printing from your Raspberry Pi

Printing from computers goes through waves of being difficult to being easy, then back to difficult again. This is likely due to the cycles of technology, complexity and user demand flow in and out of sync. I think we’re at peak annoyance right now.

It’s even harder with Raspberry Pis, as when printer drivers support Linux, 90% of them are for x86 or x86_64 computers only. ARM doesn’t get a look in. But one technology does actually seem to help: network printers that support IPP — Internet Printing Protocol.

We had an old Brother laser printer that just got slower and crankier and less useful as a printer, so yesterday I got a new Brother DCP-L2550DW to replace it. It says it supports Linux in the spec, but I knew not to be too optimistic with my Raspberry Pis. And indeed, it was seen on the network but no driver was found. I had a sad.

What turned my frown upside down was finding out about Raspbian’s cups-ipp-utils package. For desktop use, install it this way:

sudo apt install cups-ipp-utils system-config-printer

(leave off system-config-printer if you’re running from the terminal.)

On the desktop, open up Preferences → Print Settings and add a new printer. Yes, it prompts for your user password which you may have forgotten. I’ll wait while you try to remember it …

Now under Network Printers, you should see a device you recognize. Pick the one that says IPP network printer somewhere:

IPP network printer

Here’s where the magic happens: you actually want to pick the generic driver for once:

Select Generic (recommended) manufacturer

And again, the IPP utilities package will have picked the right driver for you:

Just go with what the driver suggests

Changing the name and location is optional:

Your new printer’s almost ready to go!

Hit Apply, and you should be printing!

(Hey, printer manufacturers have been known to be evil and make good, working stuff suddenly not work. IPP is supposed to make everything sparkly again, but I can’t guarantee that something wicked won’t come this way.)

Thermal Printer driver for CUPS, Linux, and Raspberry Pi: zj-58

Update:slightly cleaned up for Raspbian Stretch, 2017-11.

This might be my last post on mini-printers, as I’ve found a driver that just works with CUPS on Raspberry Pi. It also works on Ubuntu on my laptop, and should work (though untried) on Mac OS. You’ll have to build it from source, but it’s not too hard.

The hard part is working out if your thermal printer will work or not. There are many out there, and they’re all slightly different. If they support the ESC/POS bitmap command GS v 0 on 58 mm wide paper, they should work. The ones I’ve tested are:

  1. Catex POS5890U — USB, cheap, fast.
  2. “701” control board panel printer — fairly generic, decent quality printer with serial input. A bit slow for daily use at 9600 baud.
  3. Xiamen Embedded Printer DP-EH600 — as above.

The following should also work, but haven’t been tried:

  • Adafruit Mini Thermal Receipt Printer — again, serial, so not super fast.
  • Sparkfun thermal printer — which now appears to be identical to the Adafruit unit, and is referred to as the “A1 (or A2) micro panel printer” in the documentation.

Known not to work:

  • BTHT-V6 printer — which uses a completely different command set. (Roughly that of an Epson FX-80 for image commands, if you care.)

If you have a manual for your printer, check it to see if it prints bitmaps by sending a three byte header of 29 118 48 (or 1D 76 30 in hexadecimal). If you’re not sure, try it with a small test image, and be ready by the power switch …

Getting and building the driver

The driver is meant for a ZiJiang ZJ-58 printer, and lives here on Github: klirichek/zj-58.

Building it is fairly easy, though it has some package requirements you’ll need to meet. On Raspbian, do something like:

sudo apt-get install libcups2-dev libcupsimage2-dev git build-essential cups system-config-printer

This new command may take a long time to run.

Now you can download the driver code:

git clone https://github.com/klirichek/zj-58.git

Building it is straightforward:

cd zj-58/

and installing takes all of:

sudo ./install

You’ll still have to set up the printer to accept jobs, but now you have the driver installed.

Setting up the printer

This bit is much more graphical. Open up the printer settings window (Preferences → Print Settings):

2015-07-11-220946_452x281_scrotSelect the Add icon, and the New Printer window opens:

2015-07-11-221141_602x592_scrotThe POS5890U shows up as “Unknown” on my USB port, as Linux doesn’t know the name of this device from its USB ID.

Update (for the slightly desperate): In the land of “Things have changed!”, my Catex printer isn’t showing up at all. I had to resort to this in the Enter URI option:

thermal printer usb lp uri
(hey, this image doesn’t quite match the flow. Look only at the the “Device URI” bit please)

parallel:/dev/usb/lp0 seems to work. Another option might be looking at the output of

sudo /usr/lib/cups/backend/usb

which suggests that usb://Unknown/Printer might work too. (All of this might need to have been preceded by

sudo usermod -a -G lp pi

and a logout or reboot; I did say this was for the slightly desperate …)

If the above doesn’t apply, your printer might have an known ID, or show up as a serial port. Select the right one, and click Forward:

2015-07-11-221221_602x592_scrotHere, I’m really pleased that the driver is for a Zijiang unit, as it’s conveniently at the end of the list. Click Forward

2015-07-11-221240_602x592_scrotNo options here, so again, Forward

2015-07-11-221311_602x592_scrotI changed the name from the default ZJ-58 to the more unixly zj58. You don’t have to, but either way, Apply the changes.

2015-07-11-222030_452x281_scrotAnd there it is, registered as a printer!

Printer Options

Most printers expect paper wider than 58 mm, but mini-printers can’t do that. To tell the system about paper sizes, right click on the printer’s icon, and change the printer settings:

2015-07-11-222225_570x560_scrotA test page might print properly now, but you should probably go into Printer Options first:

2015-07-11-222239_570x560_scrotYou do want to set the media size to at least 58 × 210 mm. This is just the longest strip it will print in one ‘page’; if your print is shorter, it won’t waste extra paper. You can choose longer prints, but not wider. The default assume your local standard paper size which —be it A4, Letter, or whatever — will not be what you want here. Hit OK.

Printing something

You could print the self test page, but it’s long and boring. If you’re fairly sure your printer will be supported, try this scaled PDF version of the Raspberry Pi Logo: raspberry-pi-logo.  Printed and scanned, it came out like this:

raspberry-pi-logo-miniprinterNot the best rendition, but not bad for a $30 receipt printer. My test image came out like this (iffy scan, sorry):

zj58-driver-testI haven’t covered the intricacies of setting up serial port connections here; maybe another time. Also, there’s a short delay (maybe 10–20 s) between selecting Print and the printer coming to life. CUPS is pretty complex, and is doing things in the background while you wait.

(Seeing as I use their logo prominently up there, I should totes acknowledge that “Raspberry Pi is a trademark of the Raspberry Pi Foundation”. Also, I couldn’t have done all this without the support of Reed Zhao. Though Reed has moved on to bigger things and doesn’t sell printers any more, his help — not to mention the generous loan of a couple of printers — was very welcome.)

→ you might also be interested in my notes on mini-printers and Linux – it has some manuals too.