Printing PDF’s in Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Mint

Nobody likes that sinking feeling when your favourite OS lets you down, but the truth of the matter is Linux, Printing and PDF’s don’t get on.  A vanilla install of Linux Mint on a Dell XPS laptop and Xubuntu on a hp desktop confirms that out of the box you could well find yourself having problems printing – especially PDF’s.  What really annoys me is that I specifically bought an hp Laserjet printer for it’s simplicity and supposed compatibility with Ubuntu (albeit via the hplip – HP Linux Printing Libraries package conveniently available in the Ubuntu Repositories).

hplip on it’s own isn’t enough though.  You’ll get your test page out but thats about it.  Anything else is a lottery and with PDF’s you’re out of luck.  This frustration will be accentuated by the reasons for printing a PDF in the first place – in this day and age of electronic communication, its usually a rare requirement in order to sign a form prior to scanning it and sending it back to someone.  Yep, printing pdf’s is usually for something really important and thats exactly when “favourite OS” will let you down.  Grr.

So, this is how to sort it (if you find yourself having problems).

sudo apt-get install hplip hplip-gui

sudo apt-get install cups-pdf

sudo hp-plugin









Note that the cups-pdf package isn’t actually for printing PDF’s via CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) as such.  It’s actually for printing a file to a PDF (as opposed to paper).  Irrespective of this, I can assure you that printing PDF’s (PDF files to paper) did not work until this package was installed.  Being able to print to a PDF file instead of paper is also a great feature to add to your linux desktop.  It should be installed as part of the base install.  Folks shouldn’t be expected to figure this stuff out.  It’s the sort of non-functionality that drives people away from Linux, sadly sending them running back to Windows with their tails between their legs.

hp-plugin provides a convenient GUI to download a mysterious binary package from HP that once installed, everything works beautifully.

Be aware of this apparent bug in Xubuntu though whereby any users other than the first user cannot run sudo hp-plugin to fix their own printing woes, even if they appear to be an admin user according to the Settings Manager, Users and Groups utility.

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6 Replies to “Printing PDF’s in Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Mint”

  1. LOL, I wish I understood what I’m supposed to do. I’ve recently installed Linux Mint on my laptop. I’ve been super happy with it except for one thing, this darned HP PDF printing issue. I understand that it has something to do with CUPS, but so far cups have only served for coffee. I wish I knew where to dl this cups package and how to install it. I’d suggest adding instructions for dummies to your post. 😉

  2. Workaround to get pdfs to print correctly. In my case, some pdfs printed ok, but trying to print other pdfs had dozens of pages of paper come out, with one line of garbled odd charcters on top of each page.

    My work-around is to print the problem pdf to the cups-pdf printer, and then that newly created pdf always prints ok for me. That is:

    (1.) Install the “cups-pdf” software, which adds a virtual printer named “PDF”. One way to do this is:

    sudo apt-get install cups-pdf

    (2.) Open the pdf that will not print correctly.
    File -> Print then select as the printer the “PDF” cups-pdf printer.

    This will create a new pdf file in the ~/PDF/ folder
    (or whatever folder cups-pdf uses to write pdfs for each user.

    (3.) Open the newly created pdf, and in my case it always printed correctly.

    Laserprinter (dell) via usb, added to Ubuntu 14.04 using recommended PCL drivers.

  3. You are absolutely right. I can print everything but PDF files on my Canon MG6150, It took a while but it works. I am getting close to buying Win7 after two months struggling with some of the Linux shortcomings. It is a pity – it is so stable, I like Linux, but with no PDF output to the paper world it is hopeless. I have yet to get my EasyCap going and to burn a DVD. It is difficult, over complicated. ‘Been doing that for years on horrible windows.

    1. Ultimately, computers are just tools and peripherals such as printers originally designed to work with Windows and proprietary formats such as PDF are a moving target for the open source community to keep up with. We all have personal aspirations or preferences but in reality, having two computers, one running Windows and one running a Linux distribution is pretty much the norm nowadays. They each have their strengths and weaknesses and the OS is ultimately dictated by the apps you need to run to do work.

      That said, Linux will do anything – it just won’t necessarily do it “out of the box”, but there is a package out there that will give you the functionality you need to fill the gaps and help you do the things you need to do. When it comes to burning optical discs, my preferred program is k3b, although I used xfburn the other day with no issues. k3b has been the nearest thing to Nero Burning ROM – the program I cut my CD burning teeth on back in the day on Windows. Familiarity/Intuitiveness it scored high, even though it was part of a different desktop environment (kde) than I use (xfce), not that it really matters in the end.

      At the risk of going off topic a bit, I also like the dolphin file manager (kde) as it provides the option of pausing in flight IO, so works nicely when running multiple, simultaneous copies of lots of large files to a USB storage device. By queuing up all the copies, you can pause and un-pause them to ultimately get them written to disk more sequentially and thus much faster.

      Point being, don’t go running back to Windows over something that has a fix or workaround. Like Windows, Linux distributions are rarely perfect right after installation (Mint comes closest IMO). As you fix your issues, keep notes or even better, update your own blog so others can benefit.

      Most importantly, enjoy the journey, the challenges and the buzz associated with getting something working. Just don’t get bogged down in it if you have a deadline to meet. Do what I do – make sure nobody’s looking and pull out the works windows laptop and just get the job done.

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