Getting Around Apple’s AirPrint Restrictions

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New iPad ads show users effortlessly printing with the tap of a finger. Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t match the ads: AirPrint, introduced in iOS 4.2, only works with 16 printers, all from HP. If you don’t have one of these higher-end printers, you’re out of luck. Or you would be, if it weren’t for third-party solutions.

Enabling More Printers for AirPrint With Printopia

For those user who’ve upgraded to iOS 4.2, Ecamm Network provides an effective and reliable solution with Printopia. For $9.95, Printopia enables AirPrint on any printer your Mac can connect to and works with both Leopard and Snow Leopard (great for those still using PowerPC-based Macs). Not only does it allow printing, but it will also convert files to PDF or JPG for storage on your local Mac or on Dropbox.

Printopia has three key requirements: your iPad must be on the same network as your Mac, you must be running iOS 4.2 or higher, and the application you’re using must support AirPrint. If you don’t meet all those requirements, other options exist and I detail them below.

Pinnacle of Printing: Print Bureau

Eurosmartz has nine different printing apps ranging in price from $2.99 to $12.99. Print Bureau ($12.99) encompasses the features of all each in a single app and can print emails, contacts, calendars, pictures, clipboards and both local and cloud-based files. If it’s on your iPad or accessible via your iPad, Print Bureau should be able to print it. I was able to directly access iDisk, Google Docs, Dropbox, box.net, FTP, and WebDav with the app.

Printing directly from Print Bureau can produce inconsistent results, since it communicates directly with printers. Fortunately, Eurosmartz also offers an alternative method using a companion application called “WePrint.”

WePrint works on Macs running OS X Tiger and above, as well as on XP, Vista, and Windows 7. Instead of having Print Bureau (and any other Eurosmartz apps) print directly to the printer, WePrint intercepts the file and routes it through the desktop’s native printer software, ensuring near-perfect compatibility.

Moreover, WePrint will monitor an email address for you and print any files you send it via the iOS app, thereby enabling printing from outside your local area network. They call it “Printing Over 3G”, but you can be on any type of network to use it.

Other Alternatives

For basic photo printing, a majority of manufacturers have their own printing apps, which are usually free. I’ve tried both HP iPrint Photo 3 and Epson’s iPrint. Both print pictures very well (including screen shots from other iOS apps). Considering these manufacturer-based apps are free, having them all in case you happen to need them is probably a good idea.

Other apps I tested such as Wella’s Print MagicAvatron’s Air Sharing Pro, and Microtech’s ePrint weren’t always compatible with every printer in every situation. The key advantage of these apps is that they don’t require a “helper” application to be installed on a separate computer. In public environments like a computer lab or hotel, Wella’s ePrint was the most reliable. I was able to walk into a Wi-Fi network and simply print to an available printer. Great for printing a boarding pass at the last minute!

Developers Picking Up Where Apple Left Off

While we’ve come to expect the ability to print from any program on our Mac, it’s sadly still not fully baked in to the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Fortunately, programs like Printopia and Print Bureau are helping users bridge the gap between Apple’s printing hype and the iOS reality.

Any other solutions you’ve found that aren’t listed here?

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