Printing From Scratch

Ulrich Fahrenberg uli at
Sat Jul 5 06:44:38 PDT 2003

On Sat, 5 Jul 2003, Ulrich Fahrenberg wrote:

> Another update of my PFS hint, including Jeroen's recent comments
> on Epson printers.

I promise, next time I'll check the mail before I send it. Here is the

> uli

Uli Fahrenberg --
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TITLE:		Printing From Scratch

LFS VERSION:	anything with a kernel >=2.2

AUTHOR:		Uli Fahrenberg <uli at math dot auc dot dk>

	A very simplistic, yet usable printing setup. Spooler-less. Doesn't
	get more simple than this. Formerly known as the Printing Minority


Setting up a Linux box for printing can be very easy. If you your setup is
simple: One computer and one printer which you want to communicate, and that's
about it, this hint is for you. If you want to share your printer between
several computers or anything fancy like this, I cannot help you.


Required:	Ghostscript
			AFPL, GNU, ESP, whatever; see BLFS book for details.

Optional:	a2ps
			Again: See BLFS book for how to install these.


This is version 2 of the Printing Minority Report, a printing hint originally
written by Declan Moriarty. When I used it (the original hint) to get my
printer working, I cooked up a script to replace the usual-on-unix lpr
command. I submitted the script to Declan, and the next thing I knew was that
Declan handed over the hint to me.

Thanks to Declan for the original hint, and to Bill Maltby for clearing up
some issues on how to echo stuff to printers the GoodWay[TM].


Check that you have printer support in your kernel, either compiled-in or as a
module. My config is as follows; you might not need the last two PARPORT_*
options enabled:



Check if your printer is working and connected:

	echo -en "blah\f\r" > /dev/lp0

(substitute lp0 with the port your printer is connected to)

If your printer spits out a piece of paper with the word `blah' on it,
good. If it doesn't, worry.

If your printer is an Epson, the above command most probably will not work. In
this case, the following info contributed by Jeroen Coumans might help:

	Epson printers don't work without first being given a special
	character. The gimp-print util escputil is commonly used for that
	(it's probably possible to do this without first installing
	gimp-print, but I don't know how). This is the command which works for
	me (Stylus C80):

		escputil -r /dev/usb/lp0 -i

You might want to install gimp-print anyway (i won't tell you how, though (but
it appears to be a piece of cake)), as Epson printers are poorly supported by
Ghostscript. Otherwise, to build just escputil,

	./configure && make -C lib && make -C src/escputil

worked for me.


Install your favourite version of Ghostscript.


Type gs -h at a prompt and select your printer from the pageful of drivers
that it gives up. If your driver is not shown, go back to step 3 and install
another version of Ghostscript. AFPL and ESP Ghostscript differ in what
printers are supported. (Hint: some kind of package management comes in handy

If you don't know what driver to select to get your printer working, go to

and search their database for your printer. You might be told that you need
some additional software; HPIJS, pnm2ppa, or others. If you do need some extra
software, you're on your own. Here we only deal with Ghostscript-supported
printers. (But read on, the hint might still be of use for you.)


Test your setup. Get yourself a ps file (pdf will do, too), and run

	gs -q -dBATCH -dNOPAUSE -dSAFER -sDEVICE=<your-printer-driver> \
	-sOutputFile=/tmp/testit <your-file>

You'll find some ps files in the Ghostscript examples directory; with me this
is /usr/share/ghostscript/8.00/examples/. This command should give you a
(probably rather large) binary file /tmp/testit; if you're lucky (I was),

	file /tmp/testit

will identify it as printer data. It may also tell you that the paper size does
not fit what you have in your printer; if this is the case, adding
-sPAPERSIZE=<your-papersize> to the gs command above will help. The other
options above mean:

	-q	tells gs not to display anything & saves it looking for X.
   -dBATCH	tells gs to quit after processing - always a good idea.
 -dNOPAUSE	gs will not wait for a key-press after each page.
   -dSAFER	stops gs from  deleting or zapping anything.
 -sDEVICE=	your printer driver. Be exact and case sensitive. gs is
		stupid. Use the spelling on the info at 'gs -h'.
-sOutputFile=	write to this output file (congratulations for guessing!)

If everything looks OK, you can

	cat /tmp/testit > /dev/lp0

(again, replace lp0 with the port your printer is connected to). This should
get <your-file> out to <your-printer>.

Both the commands above might give you some trouble with permissions if you do
them as an ordinary user. If the gs one does, execute

	chmod 4777 /tmp 

and kick yourself for running a machine unusable for ordinary users. If the
cat command bails out with some 'Cannot write to /dev/lp0' blah, you can
either decide that only root should be allowed to access your printer, or you
can be a little lax on some (minor) security issues and do a

	chmod a+rw /dev/lp0

If you want to use the lpr script below for printing, you should do the

STEP 6 (optional):

If you got here, you have your printer working. You can leave it at this; what
you did in step 5 was printing after all. If you want to be slightly more
fancy, the script below will provide you with an lpr command, to be used
either by calling

	lpr <some-file>

or by having lpr as (the last) part of a pipe. This should let you use most of
your favorite application's `Print' buttons/commands directly.

Another advantage of the script below is that it does not make use of
temporary files, thus avoiding a) cluttering /tmp with all kinda crap, and b)
some security hazards. On the other hand, if you want ordinary users to print,
you have to give them access to /dev/lp0 (or whatever port your printer is
connected to), see above.

Here we have the script; as you can see, there's some adjusting to do for
you. I have yet to encounter applications that won't print with this script;
if you do, please notify me.

cat > /usr/bin/lpr << "EOF"

####################  Adjust to your needs/desires.
####################  End Adjust

# Prints file to printer $DEVICE connected at /dev/$LP, 
# using paper size $PAPER.
# Usage: lpr <ps or pdf file> ( or cat <ps or pdf file> | lpr )

# Uli Fahrenberg, early 2003. This file is in the public domain.

if [ -e $LOCKFILE ] ; then
	echo "Error: printer is locked  ($LOCKFILE exists)"
	exit 1

if ! [ X$FILE = X ] ; then ### We have a filename as an argument.
	if ! [ -r $FILE ] ; then
		echo "Error: Cannot read file $FILE"
		exit 1

	FTYPE=$(file -bL $FILE | awk '{print $1}')
	if ! [ $FTYPE = 'PDF' ] && ! [ $FTYPE = 'PostScript' ] ; then
		echo "Error: $FILE is not a PS or PDF file."
		exit 1

	### Comment this out if you want lpr to be quiet:
	echo -n "Printing $FILE... "

	(touch $LOCKFILE ; \
	trap 'rm -f $LOCKFILE' EXIT ; \
	    -sPAPERSIZE=$PAPER -sOutputFile=- $FILE \
	> /dev/$LP ) &

	### Without the sleep, some apps delete $FILE
	###    faster than gs can read it:
	sleep 1
	### Comment this out if you want lpr to be quiet:
	echo "Done."

else ### We have no filename argument, so we try stdin
	(touch $LOCKFILE ; \
	trap 'rm -f $LOCKFILE' EXIT ; \
	echo "$DATA" \
	    -sPAPERSIZE=$PAPER -sOutputFile=- - \
	> /dev/$LP ) &
chmod 755 /usr/bin/lpr

STEP 7 (even more optional):

So now you can print postscript and pdf files on your printer. If you want to
print other kinds of files (plain text files, say, e.g. LFS hints...), you
might find the a2ps (AnyToPS) package handy. Also, for manipulating postscript
files, the psutils package is a good thing to have installed. Both packages
are covered in the BLFS book.

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