The iPad is more than a games machine. Pair it with a keyboard and office suite and you’ve got a fully-fledged laptop replacement. The same is true of the iPhone – particularly now that Office365 subscribers can use it to edit native files in mobile editions of Excel and Word.
The trouble is, without a USB port – and with no way to install any drivers – printing looks like the missing link. It’s all very well being able to create and edit documents, but what about those times you need a hard copy of a vital email, printed directions for a forthcoming journey or a paper based recipe so you don’t have to tap and swipe your screen with pastry chef fingers?
It’s a problem that's easy to work around, as we’ll show you here, with four different ways to print your documents from an iPad or iPhone.
How to print from an iPhone or iPad: AirPrint
AirPrint is Apple's officially authorised means of printing from its mobile devices. It was introduced with the iOS 4.2 update, and adds a print function to a wide variety of applications. In Pages, Numbers and Keynote you'll find Print under Tools | Share and Print. In Mail, tap the reply button and pick Print from the menu. In Safari, tap the shortcut button to the left of the address bar and then tap Print.
AirPrint adds native printing features to a wide range of applications, including Pages, Numbers and Keynote.
AirPrint is compatible with all iPads, the iPhone 3G and later, and the third generation iPod touch onwards. You'll also need a compatible AirPrint printer. These were originally only produced by Canon, but each of the leading manufacturers now has a selection of compatible devices in its range.
They aren't expensive, either. Shop around and you can pick up an HP Deskjet 3520 for around £45, and an all-in-one multifunction device such as the Canon Pixma MG3250 for £50.
Setting it up is easy, and quite literally a two-tap process. The first time you send a document to print, iOS opens the Printer Options dialogue. Tap Select Printer and it scans your network for compatible devices. When it finds one, tap the printer name to return to the Printer Options dialog and complete the process.
You can now specify how many copies you need (and whether to print double-sided if your printer has a built-in duplexer) and tap the Print button to output your file.
Setting up AirPrint is a two-tap process, after which you’ll have access to your printer’s specific built-in features.
Here we continue our comprehensive guide to printing from an iPad or iPhone
How to print from an iPhone or iPad: add AirPrint to an old printer
Unless you bought your printer in the last few years, it’s unlikely it will have AirPrint built in. Even if it’s fairly new, there’s still no guarantee it supports the service, as it doesn’t feature on every device. Don't immediately rush out and buy a new printer if yours isn't compatible, though, as there are two work-arounds that let you add AirPrint features to any regular printer.
The first is a hardware add-on. The Lantronix xPrintServer will transform over 4000 USB and network printers into AirPrint compatible devices, and lets you install up to eight at a time on your iOS device, courtesy of a USB hub. That means you can send word processed letters to a laser printer, photos to a high-quality inkjet, and drafts to a budget device with cheaper ink and a stack of low-grade paper. Lantronix maintains a list of compatible printers.
You can pick up the xPrintServer Home Edition for about £95 from Amazon, and add in remote management and user profiles with the network edition, which also removes the two-device cap on networked printers, for £150.
Setup is as simple as it can get: connect it to your printer using USB, and use a regular network cable to hook it up to your wireless router. Plug it in and you’re ready to go.
You don't need to install any apps or drivers on your iOS device, as from that point on you follow the regular instructions, as above, for printing to an AirPrint device.
How to print from an iPhone or iPad: Printing via a PC or Mac
There is a cheaper option than buying an AirPrint printer or a hardware add-on for your current printer, but it requires that you leave your desktop PC or laptop running whenever you want to print, since the documents are routed via your computer out to the printer.
The process varies slightly depending on whether you have a PC or Mac, but the theory behind it is the same on either platform.
Windows users need to download FingerPrint from Collobos. There's a free trial, at the end of which you'll need to pay $20 to register. It requires iOS 4.2 to 6.0.1 on your iPad or iPhone, and Windows XP SP3 to Windows 8 on your PC.
Install it in the usual manner, and it will list each of the printers currently installed on your PC. Make sure the one to which you want to print is checked, and use the options in the main pane to set up additional features like duplexing and colour management. Your PC effectively takes on the role of an AirPrint device from this point forward, allowing you to print from your iOS device as normal.
If you can't see it on your iPad or iPhone's print dialogues, check that the printer is shared on your PC by opening Control Panel | View devices and printers, double clicking your printer name, followed by Customize your printer. Switch to the Sharing tab and check the box beside Share this printer.
FingerPrint shares any printers you have installed on your PC with iOS devices, and gives you access to their built-in functions.
FingerPrint is also available for the Mac, but handyPrint (which you might have come across under its previous name, AirPrint Activator) is potentially cheaper as it only requires a donation of whatever you consider it to be worth. It's an OS X application that enables printing via the Mac, which you can download from here. It's compatible with iOS 4.3 and later on the iPad and iPhone, and OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and later on a 64-bit Mac
If you're using OS X 10.6 you'll first need to share your printer (this isn't necessary on OS X 10.7 and later). Open System Preferences and click Print & Scan. Select your printer and check the box beside Share this printer on the network.
Installing handyPrint adds a new pane to System Preferences, which is automatically opened at the end of the installation routine. Click the switch in the sidebar to turn it on and it will immediately share all of the available printers installed on your Mac, again acting as though it were an AirPrint device. In theory that should be all you need to do, but in our tests we found that it was also necessary to reboot our Mac.
Selecting the print option from an application on your iPad will then search your wireless network for a compatible AirPrint device, see the handyPrint driver and give you the option to print to your regular USB printer.
handyPrint shares printers installed on Macs running OS X so that they are also available to iPad and iPhone users running iOS 4.3 and later.
Here we continue our comprehensive guide to printing from an iPad or iPhone
How to print from an iPhone or iPad: Using Google Cloud Print
None of the methods mentioned above will work if you’re away from your local network, as your iPad won’t be able to see your printer. However, Google Cloud Print lets you print to any network-connected printer anywhere in the world from a variety of applications on Windows, Mac, Android and iOS devices, which means you can print just as easily from home as you can from the bus on your morning commute.
It's well supported by leading manufacturers, who have produced Cloud Print-ready devices, in much the same way that many are pushing out AirPrint devices. You can find a list of compatible printers on Google's website.
If your printer isn't listed you needn't replace it right away, as you can set up what Google calls a 'classic' printer to work with the service.
You'll need to install the free Google Chrome browser on your PC or Mac if you're not already running it. Sign in to your Google Account by clicking the link on the Google homepage, then click the configuration button, which you'll find on the right of the address bar. Click Settings, followed by the Show advanced settings... link. Scroll down to Google Cloud Print and click Add printers.
As you're already logged in, Google knows which account you’re using, so click the Add printer(s) button to authorise it to add your installed printers to the cloud. That's the end of the setup process. Clicking the link to manage your printers will now let you see each of the installed devices and manage the jobs being sent to each one.
Google Cloud Print lets you access multiple remote printers from connected devices right around the world.
So long as your printer is turned on and connected to the Internet you can now print to it remotely from any PC or Mac, and from selected applications on your Android and iOS device. Note that if you're printing to a a 'classic' printer, you'll need to leave your laptop or PC running and have the Google Cloud Print connector installed as well.
On the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch you can immediately use it from the latest update to the iOS Chrome browser (which is free in the App Store). Tap the options button to the right of the address bar, followed by Settings. Select the option to Sign in to Chrome and use the same details as you did when setting up Cloud Print so that the iPad can see your registered printers.
Visit the page you want to print, tap the options button again and select Print... Choose Google Cloud Print as the output option and then tap on the printer to which you want to send the page.
With Google Cloud Print set up you can print from Chrome on the iPad and iPhone without any further configuration.
To print from other apps you'll first need to install an intermediary third-party application such as PrintCentral Pro (£5.49 for iPad; £2.99 for iPhone and iPod touch).
This lets you print to any wireless printer on your local network and any Google Cloud Print device over the Internet using the native Open With... feature in applications such as Mail and Dropbox, or by sending your work to an external application – in this case PrintCentral Pro – from tools like Pages, Keynote and Numbers.
After choosing the appropriate option, choose PrintCentral Pro from the list of available applications to handle the file. Your iPad will switch apps, and PrintCentral Pro will display its native print dialog. From here you can immediately print to any AirPrint already installed on your local network.
To print to a Google Cloud Print device, tap the Choose button on the dialog’s Printers line, and then the '+' at the foot of the screen. Tap Google Cloud Printing and enter your Google Account login credentials. PrintCentral Pro logs in and displays a list of your authorised devices. Tapping the one you want returns you to the print dialog, from which you can complete the process of printing the file.
PrintCentral Pro bridges the gap between regular iOS applications and your Google Cloud Print devices, so you can print from any app to any remote printer with ease.