In this section, I look at portable or mobile printers for your iPad or iPhone. (Sometimes, people call them travel printers). These are the kind of printers you can take with you in your truck or vehicle if you want to print whilst on the road. It includes a discussion of some typically larger (although still ‘portable’) AirPrint compatible printers and some of the small non-AirPrint compatible printers popular with road warriors and other mobile workers.
(I’ve written separately about portable or pocket printers for printing photos from your iPhone – as this is a different type of printer.)
This is the most technically complex article on this website and the one which the most misinformation abounds on the Internet. Therefore, I’ve linked liberally to others and included videos of people who have completed the workflows so that you can see that they actually can be done… even if they sometimes look a little messy.
To reiterate (for emphasis), there are numerous (incorrect) comments online saying that you cannot print from an iPad or iPhone to several of these models of portable printers. You’ll find these comments in support forums, on product pages on Amazon.com and even in support responses from printer manufacturers.
Its a reminder that you need to be careful about the information you find online and do your own research into your important workflows. This is because there are occasions where even people who own the product or are considered technical experts are not aware of all of the options that are available in a given situation. Another possibility is that the situation has changed since their original comments were made and the webpage has not been updated.
Whilst I wish it wasn’t the case, this is also possible for some of the information you find here on my website. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of living in a world of such rapid paced technological change. (If you find an error, please let me know so that I can update the website at hello AT howtoprintfromipad.com.)
Let’s return to the problem at hand.
In essence, the solutions for printing to portable printers from an iPad or iPhone are exactly the same as for any other printer I’ve discussed on this website. You have two additional challenges:
- Finding a printer that suits your needs and is portable.
- Powering everything.
Okay, strap yourself in. Let’s begin.
The Challenge of Mobile Printing
One of the essential issues for people looking for a portable or mobile printer to use with their iPad or iPhone is that there are currently no ultra-portable AirPrint printers. (In this sense I’m referring to printers small enough to fit in your briefcase or maybe just a little bit larger.)
And those few models of portable or mobile printers that do tend to appeal to consultants, tradespeople, salespeople, and so on are typically either Bluetooth or USB printers and not Wi-Fi printers.
Therefore you can’t directly connect to these printers from your iPad or iPhone without an additional hardware or software solution. And, some of the typical solutions you might use at home where you have a non-AirPrint compatible printer (i.e. those discussed in depth elsewhere on this website – see the home page for a summary) that allow you to print from almost any printer from your device involve connecting your printer to your Mac or PC. Clearly, most people would want to avoid this situation whilst they travel.
Although, as I’ve shown in other parts of this website, you can get most printer set-ups to work with the iPad and iPhone if you’re willing to spend some money on the solution and maybe make a compromise or two.
However, here’s the second major hurdle. Even after you find a printer that you like and you could set it up to overcome the lack of AirPrint compatibility as you would at home… how do you power the whole solution when you’re away from home? (That is how do you power the printer, the router (if needed), and print server such as the Lantronix xPrint Server (if needed).)
Surprisingly, and despite many claims and comments online to the contrary, there are several models of printer that are popular with consultants, tradespeople, and so on that can, and have, been made to work in a mobile way.
[I note here that its probably useful for you to read the article I’ve written on routers for printing with an iPad or iPhone because it supports some of the content in the following sections. For example, it explains, amongst other things, how you might be able to use your iPhone or iPad (3G model only) as a portable router.]
Printing from Portable AirPrint Printers
Let’s first consider the easiest option, which is if you have an AirPrint printer.
My understanding is that there are a few AirPrint printer models that are still attractive (size and feature wise) to some people that would use them as a mobile printer.
That is, there are some AirPrint printers that are smaller than a typical desktop printer but larger than an ultra-portable printer. One example is the HP Photosmart 5520e printer shown below. However, there are several others. Some people find these of an acceptable size for their truck or vehicle. However, for many others, they’re still too large, and they want something smaller. For a discussion of these smaller printers, continue reading below.
If you have one of those models of AirPrint printers you just need something to power the printer and the router such as an inverter (with a sufficient power rating).
However, if your printer model is one that uses a technology called Wi-Fi Direct, HP’s similar technology called Wireless Direct (for HP printers) or the printer has the ability to create its own ad-hoc Wi-Fi network then you wont need a router… you can connect the printer to your iPad or iPhone directly by Wi-Fi and print your heart away. Here’s an example of how this works using the HP Photosmart 5520 e-All-in-One Printer:
Here’s a video showing the entire process of setting up a mobile printer to work with your iPhone or iPad if it isn’t wireless direct and you need to carry a router with you:
Note that in this video Joe was using the HP Photosmart D110A Wireless Printer. This printer model has since become AirPrint compatible with a firmware upgrade. Also note, that it is not essential to have a router that you strap onto the computer. An AirPort Express will work just fine. Importantly, the example in the video shows how you can achieve the workflow with a very inexpensive router – there’s no need for something fancy, unless you want.
If you don’t have a router, you can create a Wi-Fi network using the Portable Hotspot feature of your iPhone or iPad (3G/4G models only) as a router. However, this will only work IF your phone carrier allows you to use the Portable Hotspot feature as a part of your phone contract. (Some phone carriers block the Portable Hotspot feature. If you don’t have access to it on your phone (check in Settings > Personal Hotspot) you’ll need to contact your phone carrier.)
Battery Operated Portable or Mobile Printers
In this section I look at some of the few smaller, lightweight, and battery operated models of mobile printers that are available.
At the moment, I’m not aware of any printers that are AirPrint compatible out of the box that are in this category of printer.
And the few popular models of printer in this class tend to have inbuilt Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi connections. Unfortunately, you can’t print from the iPhone or iPad directly to the printer using a Bluetooth connection.
Printer models popular with road warriors and mobile professionals seem to be the HP Officejet 100 Mobile Printer, HP Officejet 150 Mobile Wireless Color Printer and the Canon PIXMA iP100 Mobile Photo Printer.
While the printers listed above are USB or Bluetooth connected printers, even if the printer model did have inbuilt Wi-Fi, the iPad or iPhone still wouldn’t necessarily recognise the device as a compatible printer without the use of a manufacturer or a third-party printing app or a solution like the Lantronix xPrintServer.
Fortunately there are still some solutions in the portable battery operated mobile printer category. This includes setups for the two popular HP portable mobile printers listed above. First, I’ll start with a thermal printer from Brother.
The Brother PJ673-K printer is a portable, battery operated thermal printer that weighs in at 480g and is 1.5 inches wide. Most importantly, it works with the iPad or iPhone. While it is not AirPrint compatible, the PJ673-K model does have inbuilt Wi-Fi and can operate in ad-hoc mode (i.e. you can connect it directly to the iPad or iPhone). Moreover, it is compatible with PrintCentral Pro for iPhone/iPod Touch – EuroSmartz Ltd or its own special purpose printing app: PJ-673 Print – Brother Mobile Solutions, Inc..
Its important to note that it is only the model ‘K’ in this series that has inbuilt Wi-Fi and the other Brother printers in the Pocket Jet 6 series are Bluetooth printers. Also, only the ‘K’ model ships with the associated gear like the power cord and battery.
If you haven’t seen a thermal printer like the Brother PocketJet in action, here’s another video that shows one of the other models from the PocketJet 6 series in more depth. (Note though, that the specific model shown in the video (i.e. the Brother PocketJet 663) is not directly compatible with the iPad or iPhone):
HP Officejet 100 Mobile Printer and HP Officejet 150 Mobile Wireless Colour Printer
There is at least one gentleman that has created an iPad printing solution that runs entirely from batteries using the HP Officejet 100 Mobile Printer, a small travel router and the Lantronix xPrintServer.
Basically, you are using the hardware solution (i.e. the Lantronix xPrintServer) to make a non-AirPrint printer appear and behave with your iPad as an AirPrint printer does.
Its the same solution you might use for a non-AirPrint compatible printer at home or in the office but making the whole thing ‘mobile’. In this case the printer, router, and xPrintServer all run from battery power so you can print whilst on the road. (You could, of course, use an inverter to power the printer, router and xPrintServer.)
The solution works by hooking up the printer, xPrintServer and router to the printer’s battery… but its not pretty! (I expect that you could also power the Lantronix xPrintServer and router with the type of external portable battery you use to recharge your iPad.)
Next, you need to get the printer communicating with the iPad through the Lantronix xPrintServer. This requires configuring the settings of the iPad, router, and Lantronix xPrintServer. It is quite an involved process and I suspect a few people might require some form of technical assistance to get it working.
The whole process is outlined in this blog post and shown in depth in this video:
‘Hat tip’ to him for devising it!
In theory, this solution should be able to work with any printer that can work with the Lantronix xPrintServer. (See the full list of xPrintServer compatible printers here.) It might also be worth contacting Lantronix to confirm its possible to get your printer to work with this mobile solution if its something you’re thinking of doing. Lantronix also suggest you contact them if you want compatibility added for your model of printer.
In practice though, I have only seen this strategy completed with the HP Officejet 100 and HP Officejet 150 models.
Australian Business Traveller wrote a detailed review of the HP Officejet 100 for business travellers and you can find it here.
Before closing this section, I should point out here that Lantronix advise me that the Canon PIXMA iP100 Mobile Photo Printer (a very popular printer with mobile workers) is not currently compatible with the Lantronix xPrintServer because of a proprietary printing language they use. Lantronix, who have been trying to work with Canon to resolve this issue have not been able to do so and advise that the print experience is less than optimal. Therefore it is not considered to be a supported printer of the xPrintServer. (This means that if you wanted to use the PIXMA iP100 printer as a mobile printer, you’d have to connect to it through your Mac or PC.)
If running the whole set-up from a battery isn’t so important to you, then there is an alternative solution, which I’ll turn to now.
Power Operated Portable or Mobile Printers
Hewlett Packard Printers
First, if you’re using one of a select few Hewlett Packard models of printer such as the HP Officejet 100 Mobile Printer or HP Officejet 150 Mobile Wireless Color Printer or any of the other models listed below, you can purchase an accessory, 1200w NFC/Wireless Mobile Print Accessory, to securely connect your iPad or iPhone directly to that printer without using a router.
Few people seem to be aware of this accessory. It supports a few dozen HP printers including these two printer models that are very popular with mobile workers. At July 2014, the accessory supports the following printer models:
HP Color LaserJet Printer series: CP1025, CP1215, CP1515, CP1525, CP2025; HP Mono LaserJet Printer series: P1000, P1102, P1566, P1606, P2035, P2055; HP Color Multifunctional LaserJet Printer series: Pro 100 MFP, Pro M175 MFP, Pro M176 MFP, Pro M177 MFP, Pro M251 MFP, Pro M276 MFP, Pro M451 MFP, Pro M475 MFP, CM1312 MFP, CM1415 MFP, CM2320 MFP; HP Mono Multifunction LaserJet Printer series: Pro M401 MFP, Pro M425 MFP, M1120 MFP, M1132 MFP, M1212 MFP, M1319 MFP, M1536 MFP; HP Officejet Printer series: Officejet 100, Officejet 150.
While the printer (and particularly the compact Officejet 100 and Officejet 150 that I’ve talked about in detail above) can operate from its battery, the accessory needs to be powered so you will still need either an inverter to use in your vehicle or access to a wall socket.
The result of this setup is that you can then print through the native print menus in your desired app on your iPhone or iPad as if you were printing to an AirPrint printer. Alternatively, you can use HPs special e-Print app that you download from the App Store. In either case the printer you select in your app from the Printer Options is the HP 1200w Accessory. Here’s a video of the accessory:
You can find an up-to-date list of supported printers on the HP website. More details on the HP 1200w NFC/Wireless Mobile Print Accessory are here on the HP product support page.