It has been just two years since Apple added AirPrint printing functionality to iOS 4.2, and at launch AirPrint was only compatible with about a dozen HP printers. The arrival of AirPrint brought two notions to the forefront: You can print from an iPhone (or iPad), but the choices were meagre – AirPrint, if you were lucky enough that your printer supported it, and a selection of third-party apps, most of which required a Mac on your Wi-Fi network.
Much has changed since then. A much wider range of printers now support AirPrint, printer manufacturers have stepped in to release their own more fully featured iPhone printing apps, and third-party print apps have improved both in terms of functionality and the range of printers they support.
Though most iPhone printing requires that your iPhone be on the same Wi-Fi network as the printer, some printers now have their own email addresses, and will automatically print out documents and attachments you email to them from anywhere in the world. And a technology called Wi-Fi Direct promises to let you print directly from an iPhone to a wireless printer.
Printing with AirPrint
An easy way to print from your iPhone, provided that you have a compatible printer on your Wi-Fi network, is Apple's own AirPrint, built into recent versions of Apple's iOS operating system. iPhone models starting with the 3GS are AirPrint enabled, and many recent printers from major printer manufacturers such as Brother, Canon, Dell, HP, Lexmark, Ricoh, and Samsung, are AirPrint compatible. AirPrint printing functionality is the same, no matter which model iPhone you own (provided that it's 3GS or later); it will work with iPads and the iPod touch as well.
With AirPrint you can print documents from Apple programs such as Photos, Safari, Mail, and iPhoto, as well as many third-party apps. When you open a document in such a program, you can access the Share button through an icon (usually a forward arrow) at the top or bottom of the screen. It should reveal a print option (as well as social media sharing options). Press Print, and the Printer Options screen should appear. Press Select Printer, and the app will search for any AirPrint compatible printers on your Wi-Fi network.
If the printer is turned on and its Wi-Fi is enabled, your iPhone should automatically detect it. If not, make sure that the two devices are definitely on the same Wi-Fi network. (There may be multiple accessible networks in an office setting). Also, some AirPrint printers require that you enable AirPrint before you can use it, usually through the printer's Setup menu. (Check the printer's user manual for further details).
If you’re still having no joy, restart the printer, and make sure its firmware is up to date. If you still can't get your iPhone to find the printer, you'll need to contact the printer manufacturer and/or check with the relevant Apple Support Community.
AirPrint in action
Printing from AirPrint is a decidedly no-frills operation. It'll let you set the number of copies, and specify duplex printing (if your printer supports it), but little else, so you'll have to do any tweaking of the print setup through the printer. Be sure you've loaded the right type of paper for your job, and that you’ve enabled the proper settings for paper type and print quality through the printer's driver or software interface.
AirPrint via a Mac
Even if your printer isn't AirPrint compatible, if you have a Mac on your network, you can install a utility such as Printopia that will let you print to it from AirPrint. Once you install Printopia on your Mac (a simple double-click operation), it will identify all the printers on your network. Your iPhone should recognise them as well, and you'll have the additional option "Send to Mac" – which sends a PDF or JPEG of the document to your Mac – and, if you have DropBox installed, "Send to DropBox on Mac." Otherwise, printing is the same as it is directly through AirPrint.
Printing via iPhone print apps
A wide range of print apps are now available to enable people to print from iPhones and other iOS devices. Most printer makers have released apps so you can at least print from that manufacturer's recent Wi-Fi printers. The iPhone and printer must be on the same Wi-Fi network; if the printer is compatible, the app should readily detect it. Many companies now have their own print apps, including HP, Epson, Lexmark, and Samsung to name a few.
They're free, and more full-featured than AirPrint – in addition to having a greater range of printing options, some of them can scan as well. If your printer is compatible with your brand's app, it's well worth downloading and giving a try. Third-party apps such as PrintJinni frequently support a wider range of printers, though you'll usually have to pay to use them.
Printing with Wi-Fi Direct
A new technology called Wi-Fi Direct should greatly simplify the printer setup process, and let you print directly from an iPhone to a Wi-Fi printer, either via AirPrint or using a print app. At this point, relatively few printers support Wi-Fi Direct, but we expect it to have a great impact on the mobile printing world in the years to come.
Printing via email
Owners of many newer HP and Epson printers have another option for printing from their iPhone: They can send jobs for direct printout to their printer from anywhere in the world via email.
Epson Email Print and the email printing functionality in HP ePrint work in much the same way. In each case, when you enable this function on your printer, the printer itself is assigned an email address, which you can change to an address more to your liking. After that, you can send an email from your iPhone (or any smartphone, PC, or other device with an email client) to the printer and it will automatically print out the email and any documents attached to it, even if you're in Singapore and the printer is in Sheffield.
All the Epson Expression and WorkForce Pro printers, as well as most newer WorkForce models and a few in the Artisan and Stylus lines, are compatible with Epson Email Print. Most recent HP printers work with HP ePrint (which unfortunately has the same name as HP's mobile printing apps).