The Complete Guide to AirPrint and AirPrint Printers for iPad and iPhone

AirPrint

What is AirPrint?

AirPrint is a technology that enables you to wirelessly print from your iPad or iPhone direct to a compatible printer without downloading or installing any print drivers.

Not all printers are AirPrint compatible.

For a printer to be AirPrint compatible, the technology must be built in to the specific printer hardware and firmware. This means that printers more than a few years old are unlikely to be AirPrint compatible. You may find that some more recent printers though can be made AirPrint compatible by an upgrade to their firmware. (Check your printer manufacturer’s website.)

AirPrint was a technology developed by Apple and Hewlett Packard (‘HP’) in 2010. When first released, the number of AirPrint compatible printers was just twelve, all manufactured by Hewlett Packard.

Today however, nearly all of the major printer manufacturers have released AirPrint compatible printers. These include: Brother, Canon, Epson, Fuji Xerox, Hewlett Packard, Lexmark, Samsung, and others. Now, with more than seven hundred printers to choose from, it is much easier to find a model that suits your specific needs.

What’s great about the AirPrint technology is that your iPad or iPhone doesn’t need to have thousands of printer drivers installed to cover every model of printer. Nor do you have to try to install drivers on your iPad or iPhone. The whole process just works. So, for example, if you go to your friend’s home or a client’s office, and they have an AirPrint compatible printer, you can print directly to it.

A current list of AirPrint compatible printers can be found on the Apple support website. Note that occasionally printers that are actually AirPrint compatible are not on this list maintained by Apple. This seems to be the case particularly with newer models of printer. If in doubt, check with your printer manufacturer.

This website’s Amazon Store (see the header bar above) includes many of the most popular and highest-rated AirPrint printers for all types of printing from laser printers to photo printers.

Advantages of Using an AirPrint Printer

Printing from your iPad or iPhone to an AirPrint printer offers several advantages:

  1. You can print directly from within all apps on your iPad that allow printing. Some other solutions require you to execute all of your printing from inside their own third-party printing app. This means you that can’t use the native print menus of apps that support printing. For example, to print an email you might need to copy and paste the body of your email into a third-party app in order to print it. Also, if the email includes an attachment you’d have to use the ‘Open in’ function to transfer the attachment into the printing app before printing. Clearly, these extra steps are not convenient.
  2. There is no need to buy additional hardware or to install software on your Mac or PC.
  3. There is no need to install third party apps on your iPad or iPhone to enable communication with your printer.
  4. Some other solutions require you to print through a printer connected to your Mac or PC. Your computer must be turned on, awake and connected to a Wi-Fi network every time you want to print.

In summary, by using an AirPrint compatible printer you avoid additional cost, set-up complexity and inconvenience when printing. You also likely get better quality prints.

Printing from your iPad or iPhone to an AirPrint printer is easy and (usually) stress free.

Why wouldn’t everybody want to use an AirPrint printer then?

Good question.

The primary reason people do not use an AirPrint printer is that they have an existing printer(s) and don’t want to replace it. Sometimes the printer they want to buy isn’t AirPrint compatible. An example might include a tradesperson or consultant who wants a really compact, battery operated, mobile printer to keep in their vehicle. Or, alternatively, someone that needs an expensive, high-speed, colour laser printer and their preferred printer models don’t have AirPrint compatibility.

In these cases, they can still buy the printer they want and use a hardware, software or app-based solution to be able to print from their iPad or iPhone. All of these options for how you can print from an iPad are outlined on the home page.

Requirements for Using AirPrint

The requirements to print in iOS from your iPad or iPhone are:

  • iPad (all models)
  • iPhone 3GS or later
  • iPod Touch (3rd generation or later)
  • iOS 4.2 or later (preferably the latest version)

To print using AirPrint, both the iPad (or iPhone) need to be on the same wireless network as the printer. Therefore an AirPrint printer needs to be connected to a Wi-Fi router (like an Airport Express, Time Capsule or an iPhone using its Portable Hotspot feature) but it does not need to be connected to the Internet.

How to Print from an iPad or iPhone Using AirPrint

Here are the basic steps you need to follow to print to an AirPrint compatible printer from your iPad or iPhone:

In this example, a photo was printed, however, the process is similar for other types of content.

Printing Directly to Your Printer: AirPrint Printers With Ad-Hoc Mode

Some AirPrint printers have their own in-built Wi-Fi and can also create their own ‘ad-hoc’ Wi-Fi network. An ad-hoc network is simply one where two devices can communicate with each other directly, rather than through a wireless router. That is, this type of AirPrint printer can connect directly to another device such as an iPhone or iPad without the need for an external router or wireless access point. Refer to Figure 1.

Figure 1

As you can see, its a clear advantage to purchase an AirPrint printer that can operate in ad-hoc mode. If that’s of interest to you, look for AirPrint printers that offer ‘Wi-Fi Direct‘ (Hewlett Packard called their similar technology ‘Wireless Direct’). (Note that the Wi-Fi Direct technology is a more secure form of connecting two devices together than a simple ad-hoc network.)

With Wi-Fi direct, you can take your printer with you without needing to bring along a router. (See this article for more information on routers for printing from an iPad.)

Here’s an example of the process for printing from an iPad to a Hewlett Packard printer (HP LaserJet Pro M275) that has inbuilt Wireless Direct:

And whilst the iPad in this video is running iOS 6, it gives you a sense of how a direct wireless connection between your iPad and printer works.

To set it up, you first create the Wi-Fi network from the control panel of your AirPrint enabled printer. Then you connect your iPhone or iPad directly to the printer. You do this by searching for the Wi-Fi network in your iPhone or iPad settings the same way you would connect to any other Wi-Fi network. Once you enter the printer Wi-Fi password your iPhone or iPad will be connected to the printer. Now you can print directly from any apps that support printing.

Not all AirPrint printers with inbuilt Wi-Fi can create their own ad-hoc wireless network. In those cases, the inbuilt Wi-Fi is used to connect to a router or wireless access point. These devices cannot connect to other devices directly and they must do so via a router or wireless access point. (See Figure 2.) To determine if you can create an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network you’ll need to check your printer manual, or with the retailer or manufacturer of your printer.

AirPrint with Router

Figure 2

Getting More from Your AirPrint Printer

If you want to extend the capability of your AirPrint printer, consider using a third-party printing app from the App Store. Many third-party printing apps provide functions that you can’t find in the native print menus on your iPad. For example, they allow you to print in portrait or landscape, print multiple pages of a document like a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation onto one page, configure exactly which pages you want to print and even use a print preview function. These apps work with both AirPrint and non-AirPrint printers. I’ve written a separate detailed post about third-party printing apps.

Buying AirPrint Printers

For most people, the best and most convenient way to print from an iPad or iPhone is going to be to an AirPrint compatible printer. Since there are now several hundred such printer models available it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one that suits your specific needs and budget.

Amazon.com maintains a useful resource for its Top 100 most popular Amazon Computer Printers. This page includes lists of the Best Selling, Top Rated, Hot New Releases, and Most Wished For printers. Many of these printers will be AirPrint compatible – just check the individual product description. Its a great place to start your research.

When searching for AirPrint printers, if the product description does not say that its AirPrint compatible you can either check to see if it is listed on the Apple support website as an AirPrint compatible printer or check directly with the manufacturer. Its important to note that newly manufactured printers or those that have recently had a firmware upgrade to make them AirPrint compatible may not yet be listed in the Apple website support article. While the Apple support list is extensive, there are a few models of printers that are AirPrint compatible that are not on the list. 

Likewise you can search on Amazon.com for AirPrint printers. Note, however, that (currently) a search on Amazon.com for AirPrint printers does not yield a full or even comprehensive list of AirPrint printers. I have also included a broad selection of the highest rated and most popular AirPrint printers in this website’s Amazon store.

Or, alternatively, ask your favourite retailer. Go into the store and get a walk-through of the printer models you’re interested in and have all of your printing questions answered. Don’t forget to check out the warranty and return policy and ask if they’ve seen any problems with that model of printer.

Remember though, that if you find a printer that totally fits your needs but is not AirPrint compatible you don’t have to avoid buying it. There are many good hardware, software, and app-based solutions that will enable you to use your printer in just the same way as printer that has AirPrint. (See the homepage of this website for a summary of all of your iPad printing options.)