Apple AirPrint Review: Easy Mobile Printing

by Matthew Elliott Reads (7,087)

Perhaps it’s a photo or two from your iPhone’s ever growing Camera Roll you’d like to frame, or a Web page in Safari you’d like to leave on someone’s desk. Or maybe you are using your iPad more and more for work, and you’ve come to rely on Pages or Numbers for large swaths of your workday. After owning an iPhone or an iPad for some period of time, you may begin to find a need to print from your iOS device or devices.

With no ports other than the docking connector, how does one go about printing from an iOS device? There is the indirect route of emailing yourself or syncing with iTunes and iPhoto to then print something on your iOS device from your computer. A better method is using Apple’s AirPrint technology. It cuts out the middleman — your computer — and lets you print directly from any iPad, the iPhone 4/ 4S or iPhone 3GS, and the third-generation (or later) iPod Touch.

Apple introduced AirPrint with iOS 4.2 in November 2010. AirPrint finds your printer on your local network and lets you wirelessly print text, photos, and graphics via Wi-Fi. The number of AirPrint-enabled printers has grown since AirPrint’s introduction, and there are also a number of ways to turn an older printer into an AirPrint printer. The major print vendors — Brother, Canon, Epson, HP, Lexmark, and Samsung — each offer a selection of AirPrint printers. At the present, Epson has the most with 60 AirPrint printers, and Samsung brings up the rear with six models. Click here for an Apple support page that lists specific models.

Setting up AirPrint

Setting up an AirPrint printer is a snap, though in my case, I needed to perform the extra step of updating my printer’s firmware before my iPhone 4 and iPad 2 were able to find the printer. For this story, I used one of Canon’s AirPrint-enable printers, the Pixma MX432. Setting up the printer on my home’s Wi-Fi network took no more than 30 minutes, and that time would be been halved if the firmware update was not required.

To set up the Canon PIXMA MX432, I plugged the printer into a wall outlet near my router and inserted the printer’s install CD in a Windows 7 desktop. The setup disc featured a wizard that stepped me through the process of navigating the printer’s onscreen menu. After hopping through a number of steps on the printer, it found and connected to my Wi-Fi network. I was up and running, or so I thought. I excitedly grabbed my iPhone and tried to print out a photo. Instead of a photo magically materializing from the printer, I was greeted with this message: No AirPrint Printers Found.

“Aaarrgh, networking!” I shouted, along with a few choice words I do not care to repeat here. I went back to the wizard and found that the problem might be outdated firmware. A print test confirmed that I did, indeed, need to update the printer’s firmware. I found the printer’s page on Canon’s Web site and after a couple clicks, I found the link for AirPrint firmware version 2.0. I connected the printer via USB to my Windows 7 PC and installed the update. I then disconnected the printer, turned it off and back on again, and have been easily AirPrinting ever since.

Not every app on your iPhone supports AirPrint, but it works with Safari, Mail, Photos, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, and dozens of third-party apps with built-in printing such as Allrecipes, Evernote, and Instapaper. It varies by app, but generally you tap the share button and then select the print option among the usual suspects that include email, Facebook, and Twitter. (If a print button isn’t one of the options, then the app does not support AirPrint.) After tapping the Print button, you’ll be taken to the Printer Options screen. Tap the Select Printer link and, if you properly set up your printer, it’ll find your printer. You need to find the printer only with your initial print job. With subsequent efforts, the printer will be listed on the Printer Options page. Then, you need only to select the number of copies, page range (if printing more than one page), double-sided printing (if your printer supports it), and tap the Print button to send a job to your printer.

One last note on the setup: you need to keep your AirPrint printer powered on in order for your iOS devices to see it. There is no wake-on-LAN feature, which would power on your printer before sending a job to it.

Performance

Many apps support AirPrint, but they don’t all produce prints as you might hope or expect, Apple’s own apps included. Print an article from Safari, and it fills the page and includes images and graphics as expected. You can also open an article in Reader before printing, if you want only the text. I had similar success with printing from the Mail, Pages, and Evernote apps; printed emails and documents scaled properly, filling an 8.5×11 page.

I had less luck, however, with the Photos app. Anything printed from the Photo app results in a 4×6 photo. That’s great for anything taken with the iPhone’s native Camera app, but it doesn’t work for square Instagram photos. Instagram itself does not support AirPrint, but it does save copies to your Camera Roll. When I printed an Instagram photo via AirPrint from my Camera Roll, however, the top and bottom of the photo were cut off. AirPrint does not let you select the paper size; it depends on the app you are using. It supports the following paper sizes: letter, legal, A4, 4×6 photo paper, and A6 photo paper.

I understand that the Photo app must print 4×6 photos, but I wish it would have printed Instagram photos in their entirety, just centered or on the edge of the 4×6 frame. I then looked and quickly found an app that did just that. PrintYourInsta lets you print out a 4×6 postcard centered around an Instagram shot. The app is free, but an in-app charge of 99 cents gets you five additional postcard templates and removes the watermark from your photos. The postcard designs aren’t all that inspired, but you can always cut out your Instagram photo from the postcard, leaving you with a 3.25-inch Instagram print that you printed straight from your iPhone.

I have been using the new Google Drive app for iOS on my iPad, and I was disappointed to find that Google Drive does not support AirPrint. It does support iOS’s Open In feature however, so I could open a Google doc in Evernote as a PDF and then print it. It takes an extra step, but it’s still a quick way to print from Google Drive on my iPad.

If you have a perfectly functional printer, you don’t need to replace it with an AirPrint-enabled model. There are a number of ways to turn your old printer into an AirPrint printer. The best that I have found is the $8.99 PrintCentral app from EuroSmartz. With PrintCentral, your computer acts as an AirPrint proxy for your old printer. After installing PrintCentral on your iOS device and a small PC or Mac app called WePrint on your computer, you can then print directly from your iOS device. After establishing a connection, you then use the Open In option to open a file or document in the PrintCentral app to print. PrintCentral forces you to take the extra step of opening files in the app before printing, but it handled everything I threw at it: photos, documents, spreadsheets, and PDFs.

There are other apps that let you take advantage of AirPrint that don’t require you to pass print jobs through a separate iOS app. Like PrintCentral, however, they let your computer act as an AirPrint proxy for an old printer. Printopia is a $19.95 Mac app that lets you send jobs to your printer through a Mac running Mac OS X 10.5 or later. It lets you print directly from many iOS apps, and it lets you use your Mac as a virtual printer that can receive PDFs. AirPrint Activator (free, though a donation is suggested) and FingerPrint 2 ($19.95) are similar apps that work on both PCs and Macs. With each, you can print from an iOS device to an old printer connected to a PC or Mac as long as everything is on the same network.

As you can see, there are many ways to take advantage of Apple’s AirPrint technology. The easiest, but by no means the cheapest method, would be to take a look at the list of AirPrint-enabled printers and buy one. After setting it up, you wouldn’t need to install any apps or drivers in order to send print jobs over your Wi-Fi network from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. Of course, if a new printer isn’t in the budget or you already own a perfectly good printer, there are a number of inexpensive or free apps that deliver AirPrint functionality to an old, non-networked printer. Once you start using AirPrint, you’ll chuckle at your previous methods that involved emailing yourself or syncing in order to print something from your iPhone.

Interested in even more of the hottest tech for this summer?  Check out the TechnologyGuide Summer Tech 2012 Special Report!


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