In this section, I discuss the relatively inexpensive software solutions (including handyPrint, Printopia, Presto, O’Print, and others) that enable you to print to almost any printer if you don’t have an AirPrint printer. With this solution you can use the native print menus of an app and are not forced to use a third-party printing app.
Separately, I’ve written a guide on all you need to know about AirPrint and the website homepage outlines all of your options for printing from an iPad or iPhone.)
This ‘software’ class of printing solution works by installing a third-party program on your Mac or PC. Its function is to make your printer appear as an AirPrint printer on your iPad or iPhone and to translate the printing from your iDevice to your printer. Because the printer drivers are installed on your Mac or PC and not your iPad or iPhone, this solution will work with pretty much any USB, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth printer that you can connect to your computer.
The workflow looks like this:
This category of printing solution has several benefits:
- Its inexpensive. The software typically costs in the range of $5-$20. This is much less than the cost of a new AirPrint compatible printer.
- Software options are available for either Mac or PC.
- The software is easy to install and operate.
- You can print to almost all printers that can be connected to a Mac or PC. It doesn’t matter if the connection is by USB, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. This means older models of printers can be supported.
- Print quality is usually better than if you use third-party apps on your iPad or iPhone because the printer drivers for your specific model of printer are installed on your computer. Third-party printing apps, by contrast, use generic print drivers in their app.
- You can still print from the native print menus of any apps that support printing. There’s no need to install another app on your iPad or iPhone and do ‘workarounds’ to print through that third-party printing app. Your iPad will see your printer exactly the same way as it would if it was a native AirPrint printer.
- You can keep your existing printer. Your existing printer might be serving you really well in terms of cost, features, weight, speed, print quality, and so on. Using this solution, you don’t need to risk changing to another model of printer.
The downside is primarily that that you need to have your Mac or PC switched on, awake, and have the software running in the background. If you are using this solution on your laptop, and, for example, someone in your family takes the laptop in to work or university, everyone at home can no longer print directly from their iPad or iPhone to the printer.
In summary, this solution is best suited for those who have an existing printer that is working well as a part of their current workflow but the printer is not AirPrint compatible. People that rarely print from their iPad or iPhone will probably be attracted to this low-cost and relatively simple solution.
It is a cheaper solution than a hardware solution like the Lantronix xPrintServer ($100) and more convenient than the solution where you have to print through third-party printing apps installed on your iPad or iPhone. However, if you want to travel with your printer, you’ll need to bring your along laptop and have it open as you print. If this is an issue for you then consider a print server such as the Lantronix xPrintServer.
Third-Party iPad Printing Software for Mac
If you have a Mac your software options include:
First, there’s handyPrint (formerly called AirPrint Activator) by Netputing (Donationware, $5+ donation). handyPrint is easy to install and just as easy to use. There’s also a hack you can use where you can print things from your iPad to a PDF in Dropbox, OneDrive or other cloud services which automatically upload from a specific folder on your Mac or PC.
An alternative for Mac users to handyPrint is Printopia by Ecamm Network ($19.95, includes lifetime updates). Similar to handyPrint you can print a file directly to your Mac and have it upload to various cloud services like Dropbox.
With Printopia, you can also send files to Evernote and Mac Apps on your computer. While you can send files to your computer using handyPrint, it converts these files to a PDF file. Printopia allows you to send an original file wirelessly to your Mac or PC. So, for example, you can send an image(s) directly from your Camera Roll to Photoshop for editing by ‘printing’ it to a virtual printer that you setup on your laptop. And so, you will likely find this process a lot easier than transferring photos or files by AirDrop or iTunes or most of the other third-party file transfer solutions.
Using Printopia you can create several virtual printers with different purposes that your iPad can ‘print’ to using the standard print menu within apps. So, for example, one could be to send files in the PDF format from your iPad to your computer and another could be for colleagues to send documents directly to a specific folder on your hard drive. Similarly, you could set up a virtual printer to send receipts to your Evernote account. Virtual printers can also be password protected.
Both handyPrint and Printopia come with a free trial period so you can make sure they meet your expectations before plunking down your cash.
Next, there’s Presto (formerly known as Fingerprint) by Collobos ($19.95 per year, per install). Its a similar software solution to handyPrint and Printopia.
Collobos have changed the name of their product and their pricing structure several times in the last few years. Given the pricing, its hard to see it as being an attractive option for an individual.
A similar solution to these, but free for those that have a compatible Netgear modem is the Netgear Genie software. It works with either Mac or PC.
Third-Party iPad Printing Software for PCs
If you have a PC your options include:
First, there’s O’Print ‘AirPrint Activator’ for Windows ($19.80).
Be careful not to confuse O’Print with the software program for Mac by Netputing that was originally called ‘AirPrint Activator’. Netputing renamed their product to handyPrint in order to avoid any potential trademark issues. ‘O’Print’, seems to be the name for this software, although in their promotion the developer also uses the words ‘AirPrint Activator’. (Presumably this is for SEO purposes). On this website I’ll refer to it as O’Print.
O’Print works similarly to the Mac software options discussed above. That is, you install the O’Print software on your Windows computer. O’Print then grabs a list of all of the printers installed on your PC. Next, you choose which printer(s) you want to share on your local network and then you can connect to that printer directly from any app that supports printing on your iPad or iPhone. Similar to the software options discussed above for the Mac, you can print to a folder on your desktop, including Dropbox.
O’Print comes with a 30 day trial so you can try before you buy.
Next, there’s Presto (formerly known as Fingerprint) by Collobos ($19.95 per install, per year). Collobos have changed the name of their product and their pricing structure several times in the last few years. Given its yearly cost, its still relatively expensive for individuals.
Other Options for PC Users
A similar solution to the software solutions for PC, but free for those that have a compatible Netgear modem is the Netgear Genie software. It works with either Mac or PC. (See the video above in the section on Mac software.)
Online Hack for PCs
Finally, I note that there is a free hack available online for printing from an iPad via software installed on a PC. This hack requires you to download and configure a software program similar to those discussed above.
My understanding is that Apple requested the program be removed from the website that was hosting it and it is no longer being supported or updated by the original developer. Therefore I cannot endorse this solution.