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Printtool process taking up resources in OS X Lion

A few people using OS X Lion have found a process called "printtool" that seems to take up a large amount of system resources.

When printing documents, a problem has been occurring for some OS X users where a background process called "printtool" begins taking up large amounts of system resources.

Printtool is a component of the PrintCore framework, which is a system library that is responsible for managing printing interfaces (faxes, printers, etc.). Within this framework is a small tool called printtool, which is a background process that checks your specified printer to determine if it is available, if it is ready to print, or has errors such as low supply levels, and then quits.

This tool requires interaction with the PrintCore framework and the drivers necessary for your specific printer, so if there is an error with how it gets its requested information through the driver, then it may hang, crash, or show other problems. It seems that in the case of some printer drivers, notably those for some Samsung printers, the tool appears to run into some sort of problem where it starts using up system resources. In some cases it takes up large amounts of RAM, and in other cases it causes high CPU usage.

printtool process in activity monitor
The printtool process might take up large amounts of system resources in some systems. Screenshot by Topher Kessler

While printers still function properly during these problems, the tool's high system usage may cause slowdowns or low battery life for laptop systems.

To fix this problem in the short term, you can force-quit the printtool process using Activity Monitor in order to free up system resources. Unlike some system processes, this tool should not automatically launch again until you decide to print again.

For a more complete solution, you might try one or several of the following approaches:

  1. Disable print-sharing services
    One feature that might influence this tool is Apple's printer-sharing service, which can be enabled or disabled in the Sharing system preferences. Even if you are not printing and causing the printtool process to launch, having printer-sharing enabled might result in it activating on network activity to broadcast the system's print capabilities to other devices on the network.

  2. Reinstall or update the driver
    The problem here is very likely an issue with the printer driver, so the first recommended step is to try reinstalling or updating the printer driver. Apple offers a number of drivers built off of the CUPS driver framework, so you can delete the printer from the Print & Scan system preferences and try reinstalling it using Apple's supplied drivers to see if the problem goes away.

    If the problem persists, then try downloading the drivers for your system from the printer manufacturer's Web site. Many people with this problem seem to be using Samsung drivers, so try going to the Samsung support site, selecting the printer section, and downloading the driver for your specific printer model. While some manufacturers rely on Apple to supply printer drivers, Samsung offers a downloadable driver package for OS X.

  3. Reset printing system...
    Right-clicking the printer list will bring up the option to reset the print system. Screenshot by Topher Kessler
  4. Reset the print system
    In addition to the driver itself, the print system in OS X might be experiencing some problems leading to this issue. Therefore, try resetting the print system to not only uninstall the drivers but also start with a completely new print configuration to see if the problem goes away. To do this, go to the Print & Scan system preferences, right-click the printer list, and select "Reset Print System." Then try reinstalling your drivers and printing to see if the problem continues.

  5. Reinstall latest Combo updater for OS X
    If none of the first two options fixes the problem, try downloading the latest combo update for OS X Lion and applying it. This will reinstall all of the changed files since the initial Lion release, which might help the situation if it's a matter of a specific file not being accessible. In addition to the combo update, you can try repairing permissions on the boot drive with Disk Utility (open the tool, select your boot volume, and click the Repair Permissions button) to ensure system files have proper permissions access.

Beyond these three approaches, one user had success in fixing the problem by running a home folder permissions repair routine, which ensures your home folder and resources your account uses such as those in the user Library folder are properly accessible. To do this, reboot to the Lion Recovery HD partition by holding down Command-R at startup. Select your language when the system prompts you for it, and then choose the Terminal from the Utilities menu. Type "resetpassword" (all one word) and in the resulting utility select the hard drive, select your account, and click the Reset button at the bottom of the window where it says "Reset Home Directory Permissions and ACLs."

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