The iPad and Android tablets are wonderful devices for a great many pursuits, but printing can't be counted among a tablet's strengths, and for good reason. For most, a tablet is an entertainment device -- something you grab at the end of the work day to relax and not something you rely on during the workday. If, however, you are attempting to use a tablet not in addition-to but in-place-of a laptop, or you just need to print a boarding pass or coloring page -- one of the shortcomings you'll find is its ability to print a document, photo, Web page, and so on.
Now, I could have taken the easy way out here and recommended you get yourself a printer with AirPrint support. The problem is you likely already own a perfectly functional printer that predates AirPrint. At the present, there are only a few dozen printer models from five manufacturers -- Brother, Canon, Epson, Lexmark, HP -- with AirPrint support (Click here for an Apple support page that lists specific models).
I can't recommend you go out and buy a new printer when I refuse to make such a purchase myself. I own a Canon Pixma MP500 that?s about five or six years old, and I see no need to replace it. It prints photos reasonably well on the rare occasion I need to frame a photograph, and it cranks out text documents at a fairly respectable clip. Instead of searching for a new printer, I searched for ways to print to my old, non-networked printer from an iPad 2 and an Android tablet. After encountering the requisite networking woes (hint: resetting your router should be Step 1 of troubleshooting), I found a number of apps that will let you print to Wi-Fi or USB printers.
EuroSmartz offers a number of printing apps for the iPad and one app for Android. The $8.99 PrintCentral app for the iPad is outstanding (as is EuroSmartz support, which replied to an email in less than an hour with a number of troubleshooting tips, including the one I probably should have tried first: hitting the ol? reset button on my router). After installing a small application called "WePrint" from EuroSmartz on my MacBook and resetting my router, I opened the PrintCentral app and attempted to find my printer. To do so, you need to tap on the Files button in the lower-left corner, open the Getting Started document from the list, and follow its instructions, which tell you to tap the printer button in the upper-right corner and tap the blue Choose button in the printer field. My printer was listed on the Available list, so I tapped it and was off and printing all manner of documents, from Word and Excel files to PDFs, photos, and Web pages. You can print from other apps using the Open In functionality to open a file in the PrintCentral app for printing. I do have to keep my MacBook powered on and connected to my printer in order to print from my iPad, so this is probably a better solution if you have a desktop that remains stationary rather than a laptop.
There are also PC/Mac applications you can install to print from an iPad, which don?t require an iOS app. The first such app I came across is Printopia from Ecamm Network. The app costs $19.95, but you can try it free for seven days. It lets you print from an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch (running iOS 4.2 or later). On your Mac, you?ll need to be running Mac OS X 10.5 or later. There is no PC version of the app.
Printopia lives in your Mac?s System Preferences; you?ll find it listed at the bottom of the System Preferences window under 'Other'. On the Printopia window, an on/off button sits on the left and a list of available printers sits on the right. It should find your printer automatically, whether a printer is connected via USB to your Mac or via a wired or wireless connection to your Wi-Fi router as long as everything is connected to the same network. Also, your Mac will need to be running in order for Printopia to be able to make your old printer appear as an AirPrint printer for your iDevice.
With Printopia, I can print emails from my iPad 2?s Mail app, photos from the Photos app, Web pages in Safari, and documents using iWork apps Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. You can also use your Mac as a virtual printer. Instead of sending a job to the printer, you can send it as a PDF to your Mac. And by clicking on the plus-sign button below the printers pane in the Printopia window, you can add another virtual destination, such as a specific folder (say, Dropbox) or an application (say, iPhoto).
FingerPrint from Collobos Software is a similar app, but it costs only $9.99 and works with both Macs and PCs. And like Printopia, it offers a seven-day free trial. Unlike Printopia, it doesn?t reside in System Preferences but opens as a small window that lists your available printers. It also places a small icon in your Mac?s menu bar for quick access.
AirPrint Activator is another Mac app I tested. It won?t cost you a dime, although the developer, Netputing, has a donate button on its site. (Perhaps you?ll throw Netputing a couple bucks if the apps proves useful.) It looks very similar to Printopia, with an on/off switch on the left and a pane on the right showing the available printers. Unlike Printopia and FingerPrint, however, it does not feature virtual printing to your Mac.
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