In this section, I look at apps that you can purchase for your iPad or iPhone that enable you to print directly from your device to either AirPrint or non AirPrint printers.
Third-party printing apps come in two ‘flavours’.
First, are the all-purpose printing apps made by third-party developers designed to print directly from your iPad or iPhone to a wide range of printer models and brands. These third-party printing apps can be a good choice even if you own an AirPrint compatible printer. I’ll discuss that below.
Next, are apps developed by printer manufacturers that are designed to work with specific (usually non-AirPrint) models of their printers. I’ll refer to these as ‘manufacturers printing apps’ and discuss them second.
How Third Party Printing Apps Work
Third-party printing apps make it possible to print directly from your iPad or iPhone to a non-AirPrint printer through their special-purpose printing app. These can be wireless or USB printers. (If you have a Bluetooth printer, you can still use the app, you’ll just need to connect the printer to your computer and print via the computer.)
The workflow looks like this:
There’s a catch (or two) with these apps.
First, you need to execute your printing from within the print app. You cannot print from the native print menus of any app on your device that supports printing. For many people this will be a big deal.
It means, for example, that you need to use the ‘Share’ function (it is the square box with the upward facing arrow in any app) to transfer documents and files that you want to print into the printing app before you can print them. And, if you want to print an email, you’ll either need to configure your email account within the printing app or copy and paste the content of the email from the Mail app and into the printing app in order to print it. Likewise if you want to print a web page, you’ll have to use the browser within the printing app or a special shortcut in the Safari browser. This adds extra steps to your workflow.
Second, while third-party printing apps can sometimes support printing to a large number of printers, they can’t support direct printing to all printers. This is simply because the app would need to have drivers installed inside it to communicate with thousands of different types of printers.
Many printing app developers address this issue by providing free companion software to install on your Mac or PC. This software enables you to print from almost any printer attached to your Mac or PC which is connected to a wireless network. The printer can be connected to the network by Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB. You will usually get a better quality print using this method because the specific drivers for your model of printer are installed directly on your computer. By contrast, using the first method and printing directly from the third-party printing app to a networked printer, you’re using generic drivers inside the printing app.
How it works, is that free third-party companion software on your computer communicates directly with the third-party printing app on your iPad or iPhone. However, the problem this creates is that your Mac or PC must be switched on, awake, and the free software must be running in the background. If you don’t print very often from your iPad or iPhone then you may be okay with this inconvenience. However, if this situation isn’t attractive, you may want to consider another (in this case, hardware-based) method of printing such as using the Lantronix xPrintServer.
If third-party printing apps have these seemingly significant shortcomings, why would you want to use them?
I’ll discuss that next, including why you may benefit from a third-party printing app even if you have an AirPrint compatible printer.
Advantages of Third Party Printing Apps
Third-party printing apps are attractive to a lot people for several reasons:
- They’re inexpensive. Its a low cost solution, typically $0 – $10.
- No need to buy a new AirPrint compatible printer.
- Some printing apps support many printers. So, if you’re going to your friend’s place you may be able to print directly from your iPad or iPhone just using your app and connecting to their printer over Wi-Fi. (Many developers offer a free ‘lite’ version of their app so you can check to see if it works with your particular printer model.)
- Can facilitate mobile printing. If you have a non-AirPrint mobile printer that works with the third-party printing app and a portable router (such as Airport Express or something battery powered) then you can take your printer with you in your vehicle. This is great for tradespeople, consultants, salespeople, and others who travel.
- In many cases you can print direct to non-AirPrint printers. If the printer model is compatible with the printing app, there’s no need to have your Mac or PC switched on for you to print.
- Many apps offer additional printing capabilities not found in iOS. Sometimes these apps have extra features like the ability to print your iOS Calendar or Contacts (which you cannot do from the Calendar or Contacts app) and PDF conversion.
- Enhanced print management. Many third-party printing apps offer ways to manage your print job that are not available in the native print menu of iOS. For example, you can print in portrait or landscape, print multiple pages of a document or presentation onto one page, and adjust your page scaling amongst other features. Some even offer print preview.
- Cloud printing. Many apps offer value added services like the ability to print via 3G, 4G, print files directly from cloud storage or via Google Cloud Print. This means you can easily print documents or files you would not otherwise be able to print.
- Can be used with AirPrint printers. So, for example, you can enhance the print jobs sent to your AirPrint printer using the print formatting features of the printing app. Hence, these third-party printing apps still may be an attractive option for people that own AirPrint compatible printers.
Choosing a Third Party Printing App
Printer App Pricing and How to Nab a Bargain
You’re probably aware there are some relatively expensive printing apps on the App Store. So, let’s talk about printing apps, pricing, what you get for your dollar, and how to save some money on your purchase.
There are lots of printing apps on the App Store. Some are free, however, the better ones are nearly always the paid ones. This is because they tend to have more features, are designed to work with many different models of printers, and have better customer support.
You might find its possible to spend a lot of time messing around with a free or cheap printing apps that don’t meet your expectations.
In terms of pricing, some developers also offer free ‘lite’ versions so you can test them out before you buy. Others work on a ‘freemium’ model where basic features are free (e.g. printing photos) and you pay for all of the other features you want. These apps can end up costing more than just buying outright a quality, full-priced printing app.
And, unfortunately, many developers still offer separate version for the iPad and iPhone. Therefore it can be worth paying a little extra to get a universal version that works on either device.
If money is an issue, and it is for some people, check out AppZapp By ConIT AG.
Apps sometimes go on sale at major holidays like Christmas, New Year, Thanksgiving Day and events such as MacWorld. Sometimes they go on sale at key anniversary dates for the developer like one year after an app launch.
Also, certain apps go on sale with a degree of regularity like every few months (or less) while others are never discounted. Using AppZapp, you can view the price history of any app you’re interested in to see how often it goes on sale (if at all).
AppZapp can alert you via email or push alert on your device when the price of your desired app drops or goes free. AppZapp also has a host of other useful features such as apps related to your chosen app, user reviews, and the update history of the app. This feature can give you an indication of how active the developers are in improving the app.
Popular Printing Apps
Some popular printing apps (iPhone versions are linked to below) include:
- Print Utility – Darsoft Inc.
- Printer Pro for iPhone – Readdle
- Print n Share – EuroSmartz Ltd
- PrintCentral Pro for iPhone/iPod Touch – EuroSmartz Ltd
Video reviews of some of these apps follow.
Printer Pro for iPhone by Readdle:
Print n Share by EuroSmartz (iPhone version):
PrintCentral Pro by EuroSmartz
I’ve tried several printing apps.
The free printing apps tend to get deleted almost as quickly as they were installed.
You’ll find that some of the mid-range (featured/priced) printing apps like Printer Pro, Print Utility, and others can be a sound choice for many people. This is particularly the case if you don’t want all of the features offered by the premium apps or you don’t print very often from your iPad or iPhone.
My personal preference has been with the full-featured printing apps and I’ve written a separate app review of Print n Share by EuroSmartz which I use.
Manufacturer’s Printing Apps
Many printer manufacturers offer their own printing apps, most of which are free. Some of these apps are full-featured and get very positive reviews on the App Store. Others, are not so popular with users. Manufacturer’s apps are designed to connect directly by Wi-Fi with certain models of their printers.
Manufacturer apps offer some similar functionality to third party apps (although usually not as many features as the best third-party apps). Features typically include printing your documents, photos, web pages, email and sometimes even from cloud services (including Evernote).
In practice, you also likely need to do all of your printing from inside the manufacturers printing app and not through the native print menus of apps on your iPad or iPhone.
Examples of manufacturers printing apps (iPhone versions) include:
- Brother iPrint&Scan – Brother Industries, LTD.
- Canon Mobile Printing – Canon Inc. or Canon Easy-PhotoPrint – Canon Inc.
- Epson iPrint – EPSON
- HP ePrint – Hewlett Packard
- KYOCERA Mobile Print – Kyocera Document Solutions Inc.
- Lexmark Mobile Printing – Lexmark International, Inc.
- RICOH Smart Device Print&Scan – Ricoh Co., Ltd.
- Samsung Mobile Print – Samsung Electronics CO.LTD.
- Xerox PrintBack – Xerox Corporation or Xerox Print Portal – Xerox Corporation
You can check to see if your particular printer manufacturer has a printing app by searching in the App Store.
Also, remember to check the App Store description or the manufacturer’s website for your model of printer to ensure compatibility with the app.
Since this is a free solution and specifically designed by your printer manufacturer to work with their brand of printers (and one would therefore expect a slightly better print quality than from a generic printing app), its worth giving them a try if you have fairly simple printing needs.