Printer profiles missing on macOS: A permanent solution

Many Mac users find that the ICC profiles for their printer stop appearing in applications such as Adobe Lightroom Classic and Adobe Photoshop. They’re often advised to delete and reinstall the printer, or to reset the macOS printing system, but in some cases the problem comes back and they have to delete and reinstall the printer again. That gets old fast, so I worked out a way to resolve this issue more permanently.

I’m most familiar with this problem on Epson photo inkjet printers, so I wrote this article from that point of view. If you find this problem is also happening with another printer brand such as Canon, the principles should be the same but the details might vary. This problem seems to happen in more recent versions of macOS, but not in Windows.

The solution that might not stick

The solution typically suggested by technical support and found on most forums are to go into System Preferences, open Printers and Scanners, and try one or both of these actions:

  • Delete the printer (select it in the list, click the plus sign [+] at the bottom of the list), and reinstall the printer.
  • Right-click the list, choose Reset Printing System, and reinstall the printer.

The problem with deleting the printer is that you lose printer-specific settings such as custom paper sizes, custom printer names, and macOS printing presets for that printer. If you have multiple printers and you reset the printing system, you lose all of that for all of your printers. This is not too bad if you always used built-in and default settings. But the more you’ve customized your printers, the more you have to lose, and the more time you’ll spend installing and setting up all of your printers again.

There are many reports of this solution working for a while, but then the profiles disappear again. I got tired of losing my custom printer settings every time I had to delete printers to fix this problem, so I started looking for a better way.

A permanent solution (short version)

If the printer driver installer stores its ICC profiles in its own hidden package in Library/Printers, as Epson printers tend to do, create an alias to that location. Put the alias in:

~/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/

If the printer driver fails to show those profiles to applications, having that alias present in the standard profile location becomes another way to direct applications to the profiles.

If you need more details about how to do that, keep reading…

A permanent solution (long version)

The way I came up with a more permanent solution was to think about how applications look for profiles in macOS, and use that to give applications another way to find the profiles that are “missing.” First, I wanted to answer a few questions:

  • Are the profiles really missing?
  • If not, where is Epson storing those profiles?
  • Can I redirect applications to where the profiles are actually stored?

Answering those questions led me to a solution, or at least a reliable workaround.

Find the profiles with Apple ColorSync Utility

Apple ColorSync Utility is installed with every Mac, but many Mac users don’t know about it. Among other useful things, it can list all ICC profiles found by macOS in standard locations:

  1. Open ColorSync Utility. You’ll find it in the Utilities folder.
  2. Set the profile list to Group By Location.
  3. Scroll until you see the profiles for your printer. I was looking for Epson 3880 profiles. I found them under the Other category.
  4. Open one of the profiles. You can do this by double-clicking it in the list, or by clicking the Open button at the end of the Path under Profile Information on the right, when the profile is selected.
  5. In the profile information window that opens, Command-click or Ctrl-click the filename heading in the title bar. This reveals the path to the profiles, which are buried deep in Library/Printers/Epson/.
  6. With the path menu open, choose ICCProfiles. The Mac switches to the Finder and opens that folder with that item open.

Create an alias to the profiles in a more standard profile location

Now that the profiles are located, it’s time to create an alias (shortcut) to them and put that alias in a standard macOS profile location for applications to find:

  1. Make sure a second Finder window is open to the location:
    ~/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/
  2. Hold down the Command and Option keys as you drag the file ending in .profiles, and drop it in the other Finder window that’s open to the Profiles folder. Dragging with those keys pressed creates an alias of the file in the folder where you drop it.

The alias in the Profiles folder should permanently direct applications to the profiles in Library/Printers/Epson/. In other words, the alias should make it possible for Photoshop and Lightroom Classic to find and list that printer’s profiles even if the printer driver itself fails to properly direct applications to their hidden location.

Since I started using this solution, my printer profiles have always appeared as expected.

Even more background

If you’re interested in the color management technical background behind the solution above, this section talks about that.

Mac applications look for ICC profiles in several standard locations. Profiles installed by non-Apple software or by the user should go here:

~/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/

The tilde (~) represents a specific user’s Home folder. In the Mac Finder (the desktop), if you don’t see a Library folder in your Home folder, hold down the Option key while you click the Go menu and choose Library.

Applications also look for profiles in the following places:

/System/Library/ColorSync/Profiles

/Library/ColorSync/Profiles

However, those two locations are typically reserved for the system, so non-Apple profiles are not supposed to go there. Old software versions may store profiles there, but the current guideline is to store those in the Library/ColorSync folder in a user account.

And, applications can install profiles in their own support folders in the system-wide /Library folder, such as in

/Library/Application Support/

How do you know where all these profiles are? Apple ColorSync Utility, which comes with every Mac, will show you if you set its list to Group by Location.

This view shows you that Epson professional photo printers may store their ICC profiles within the printer driver folder in Library/Printers. For my printer, they’re stored in something called pro3880.profiles. But if you double-click pro3880.profiles, it tells you no application can open it. What’s going on?

The file that ends in .profiles is actually a macOS package. A package is like a special kind of folder; you can’t open a package by double-clicking it, but you can open it by right-clicking it and choosing Show Package Contents.

Finding the profiles in ColorSync Utility shows two things:

  • The profiles were not actually missing, because ColorSync Utility lists them and shows where they are.
  • The profiles are stored not in the usual ColorSync profile folders, but buried deep within the printer driver package, where applications might not typically look.

I’m not sure how applications normally find their way to the profiles inside a printer driver package; I’m guessing it’s something the printer driver would do. If the printer profiles are present but not appearing in applications, then the printer driver might be failing to tell applications where they are, and applications will fail to list the profiles. But if that alias to the profile package is present in the standard profile location ~/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/, applications can find that alias and follow it down to where the profiles are actually buried, even when applications can no longer get the profile list as designed.

It’s still unclear to me whether applications lose the profile list because of a problem in the application printing code, the printer driver code, or the printing code in macOS. But at least the alias solution keeps it from failing.

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