Skip to main content

What does printer spooling mean, and how to fix it on Windows and Mac

The computing industry is flooded with obscure technical terms like printer spooling. Spooling happens automatically in the background, and you might never notice this feature as long as it keeps working properly. But since you’re reading this article, something has probably gone wrong with printing on your machine, and you need to fix this mysterious spooler problem.

What does printer spooling mean?

Printer spooling has been around for decades and is a bit like thread spooling or cable spooling. If you have more than you can easily handle at once, you wind it on a spool and remove only what’s needed for the job at hand.

Since most printers can only receive one document at a time, your computer’s operating system uses a print spooler to arrange documents in a queue. Printers have a limited amount of memory, so a single long document might require spooling. In that case, it will be split into two or more documents in the printer queue.

Both Windows and macOS include printer spooling features designed to prevent printer problems. The term originates from when computers stored and retrieved information from magnetic tape drives. The drive physically wound and unwound tape around spools as it read and wrote data.

Printer spooling vs. printer queue

Printer spooling might sound like the same thing as a printer queue, and the two are related. The difference is that a print spooler is a service or system app that runs in the background and handles any print jobs you send. A printer queue is a list of print jobs, and there is one for every printer or print service you have installed on your computer.

It’s easy to clear the print queue on Windows and Mac when a document gets stuck. Clearing the queue is a quick fix to many printer problems, but it doesn’t always work.

Sometimes the print spooler can malfunction also. It may stop running due to system instability, or the printer drivers may be outdated or corrupted. These issues cause printer spooler errors that interfere with printing.

How to fix printer spooling on Windows

To fix printer spooling on Windows, you need to restart the system service that handles that task. It’s easy to do from the Task Manager.

First, use the Windows + S keyboard shortcut or select the search box in the taskbar to open the search window, then begin typing “task manager” and select the app when it appears in the search results. The Task Manager shows a list of all processes running on your computer. You can find the spooler service here, but it’s better to go to the Services tab.

Here's how you open the Windows Task Manager.
Digital Trends

Next, select the three horizontal lines at the top left to open the sidebar, then choose the Services tab. You’ll see a long list of services.

Here's how you find Services in Windows Task Manager.
Digital Trends

You can narrow the list down by beginning to type “spooler.” Right-click the Spooler service and choose Restart to stop and restart it. That should solve any printer spooling errors on Windows.

Here's how you restart the Spooler Service in Windows Task Manager
Digital Trends

How to fix printer spooling on a Mac

To fix printer spooling on a Mac, you can reset the macOS printing system to give it a fresh start. It’s easy to do this, but be aware that macOS deletes your printers, so you must add your printer again.

First, open the Apple menu at the top left of the screen and select System Settings, then type “printer” in the search box or find Printers & Scanners in the left sidebar.

Here's how to find printers in Mac System Settings.
Digital Trends

Next, in the Printers & Scanners tab, right-click the printers list, then choose Reset Printing System from the pop-up menu, and confirm by selecting Reset from the pop-up window. Note that this will delete any printers you’ve added.

Here's how to reset the Mac printing system.
Digital Trends

Then add your printer by selecting the Add Printer, Scanner, or Fax button at the bottom, then choosing your device from the printer list, and selecting the Add button.

Here's how to add a printer in Mac System Settings.
Digital Trends

If you need more help restoring a printer, check out our complete guide to adding a printer to your Mac.

Other printer problems

Trouble with printer spooling isn’t the only issue that can halt printing. If the solutions mentioned above don’t help, our guide to solving the most common printer problems can restore your productivity.

If you’ve accidentally chosen an old printer that you no longer use, you can set a new default printer so this problem won’t happen again.

Better printing

With printer spooling problems resolved, you should be able to continue your document printing without any trouble. If you wish you could print faster or with higher quality, you might want to check out the best printers on the market to help find a better solution.

If you need a printer that can also scan and make copies, you should review our list of the best all-in-one printers to find something that fits your budget while meeting your requirements.

Editors' Recommendations

Alan Truly
Computing Writer
Alan is a Computing Writer living in Nova Scotia, Canada. A tech-enthusiast since his youth, Alan stays current on what is…
You can finally run Windows 11 natively on an Apple silicon Mac
parallels desktop 18 mac gaming

Apple and Microsoft may be eternal rivals, but that doesn’t mean they never work together. Yet Microsoft has never officially supported the idea of running Windows 11 on an Apple silicon Mac, leaving the practice in something of a gray area -- until now.

Installing Windows on a Mac has been pretty straightforward over the years, but the introduction of Apple silicon chips in Apple’s Macs complicated matters a little. Sure, there were ways to do it, but without Microsoft’s official approval, they required workarounds.

Read more
How to fix audio issues in macOS
Apple MacBook Gold 2015 speaker grill

If you have been particularly bugged by sound problems ever since upgrading to the latest version of macOS, this is the place to be. Let's go through the most common macOS audio problems and show you how a little tinkering with settings can typically set things right.


Read more
Common macOS Ventura problems and how to fix them
A MacBook Pro M2 sits on a wooden table with a nice bokeh background.

Apple released macOS Ventura in late October of 2022 bringing several interesting features as well as a few new problems. If you're having trouble after upgrading from macOS Monterey to Ventura, here are some solutions that could help.
AirDrop isn't working

AirDrop is a fantastic feature when it works and incredibly frustrating when it doesn't. A macOS update sometimes leads to AirDrop problems. Luckily a few simple tips can usually correct the problem. The easiest solution is to open the Control Center and toggle AirDrop off and on again. You can also try switching between Contacts Only and Everyone.

Read more