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How to Set Up Your Mac to Allow AirPrinting From iOS

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:

AirPrint is a great feature of iOS that provides a simple way of printing documents from your iPhone or iPad directly to an AirPrint-compatible printer with no setup or installation needed. That’s all well and good but the number of AirPrint-compatible printers is pretty small, chances are many of us have a great printer at home that isn’t compatible. In this tutorial, we’ll explore a couple of ways to provide AirPrint to your iOS device using your Mac as well as how we can make AirPrint work even better!


How AirPrint Works

AirPrint was introduced in iOS 4.2 and is designed as a simple, no setup required, method of printing from an iOS device. It’s a feature that has to be adopted by printer manufacturers so whilst there are a good number of printers out there that support AirPrint, many of us with printers that are a few years old (which work perfectly fine) probably aren’t compatible.

AirPrint-compatible printers are available from manufacturers such as HP
AirPrint-compatible printers are available from manufacturers such as HP

Tip: If you are in the market for a new printer then take a look at this Apple Support document that contains a comprehensive list of AirPrint-compatible printers. It won’t be fully up-to-date, so always check if AirPrint is an advertised feature.

Rather than deal with the expense of purchasing a new printer, we can actually use some clever pieces of software to provide an AirPrint solution using a Mac that turns any Mac-compatible printer into one that can be used with AirPrint.

The following software packages work by creating a “virtual” AirPrint printer, meaning your iOS device will see the printers your Mac has set up as though they themselves were AirPrint-compatible. Once you print something, your Mac simply takes the document and passes it along to the correct printer.


1. Printopia

Printopia ($19.95) supports OS X Leopard and above, and is the first app we’ll go through. It’s available as a fully working 7-day trial so if you’ve never used it before, you can give it a whirl and see if it’s something you want to keep using.

Step 1

Installing Printopia is really easy, just download the demo and launch the installer once finished. Printopia isn’t actually an app, rather it’s a preference pane that resides in System Preferences. This is really useful as it means Printopia is always running and accessing it is via the same app as you’d access your printers from.

Step 2

Printopia is accessible from System Preferences
Printopia is accessible from System Preferences

After installation, open System Preferences and select Printopia which will likely be in the bottom row. You’ll see a simple off/on switch on the left side of the pane along with the current list of printers that your Mac is currently set up to use. These will be the printers that Printopia provides access to for iOS devices. As long as Printopia is running then we don’t need to make any changes at this stage. As long as your Mac has a printer installed and is on the same network as your iOS device, you should now be able to print from it.

Step 3

Provided everything is working ok, you should now see some printer options on your iOS device, the printer or printers you have set up on your Mac as well as a “Send to Mac” option. Unlike a traditional AirPrint printer, we’re able to do much more than just print a document.

Your iOS device will see all the printers and folders you've set up on your Mac as though they're AirPrint devices
Your iOS device will see all the printers and folders you've set up on your Mac as though they're AirPrint devices

Printopia supports converting incoming documents to PDF. If you select Send to Mac as the printer in iOS, your Mac will automatically save a PDF version of any document you’re trying to print in your Documents folder, under a sub-folder called Printopia. If you’d prefer a digital copy of something like a receipt or webpage, you can do so using Printopia.

Step 4

We can add additional printers to the list that will also save documents in PDF format to different locations. Click on the + icon and select Save to Folder on Mac…, then select another folder to save to. Once you’ve done this, you’ll then see another computer icon with the name of the folder displayed.

You can specify custom folders to send PDF copies of iOS documents that were otherwise destined to be printed
You can specify custom folders to send PDF copies of iOS documents that were otherwise destined to be printed

If you’re often sending yourself emails with links for, or bookmarking, web pages to re-visit on your Mac just so you can save a PDF copy, or you decide to place an order and need to go back to your Mac just to save a copy of it, you can instead set up as many printers as you’d like that each point to a different folder. Additionally, you can also password protect folders and printers, preventing anyone who shouldn’t be using them.

You can password protect printers to prevent just anyone using them
You can password protect printers to prevent just anyone using them

If you want to rename any on these “Save To” printers to something else, simply double-click the printer and it will give you an option to rename it.

Step 5

If you've set up a password, take your iOS device and attempt to print a document again. You should now see that as you attempt to print, you'll be asked for a password.

With Printopia, you can specify a password and iOS will require it
With Printopia, you can specify a password and iOS will require it

Tip: Before continuing onto the next package, I recommend removing Printopia so it’s easier to distinguish the difference between each package.


2. handyPrint

The next software package we’ll take a look at is handyPrint (donationware). It works in a very similar way to Printopia so setting it up as just as straightforward. Their latest version, 4.1.1, requires OS X Lion or above but a previous version with fewer features is still available if you’re running Snow Leopard.

Step 1

Just like Printopia, you can download a trial version to try out. Once you’ve downloaded it, run the installer and it will put a preference pane in System Preferences.

handyPrint includes an installer that sets up the software in System Preferences
handyPrint includes an installer that sets up the software in System Preferences

Step 2

Open System Preferences and select handyPrint. Again, it’ll be in the bottom row of icons.

Step 3

Unlike Printopia, you have to enable the service before use. Turn on handyPrint using the switch on the left of the pane and any installed printers will appear in the list. Once you do this, you’ll then be able to print directly from iOS.

Once you enable handyPrint, any attached printers will be displayed for iOS devices to use
Once you enable handyPrint, any attached printers will be displayed for iOS devices to use

Step 4

Just like Printopia, you can add folders to save a PDF copy of the document you’re wanting to print, here this feature is called Virtual Printers. To add a new virtual printer, select the named option and you can specify a folder to save PDFs to as well as an option to just launch them directly in an app. This is useful if you’re using something like iTunes or Evernote that can automatically import a copy of the PDF and doesn’t need a saved copy first.

Folders are set up as "virtual printers" within handyPrint
Folders are set up as "virtual printers" within handyPrint

Go ahead and add another PDF folder.

You can rename any virtual printer by right-clicking the desired printer and selected Rename virtual printer…. This will make it easier to identify when printing.

Step 5

Now that you have a virtual printer set up, it’s time to test it again. Grab your iOS device and attempt to print a document. Just like with Printopia, you’ll see any printers you have set up as well as the virtual printers that represent folders to save a PDF copy to.

Similar to Printopia, handyPrint also displays folders as printers in iOS
Similar to Printopia, handyPrint also displays folders as printers in iOS

Wrapping Up

Both of these applications provide not only the ability to print from an iOS device to printers that would be otherwise incompatible, but they add to this by providing features such as saving as PDF and opening in applications. If you’re wanting to take advantage of AirPrint on your iOS device but don’t want to buy a new printer just to use it then using one of these apps may be for you.

Even if you don’t want to print from your iOS device, using one of these apps provides a great solution to creating PDFs from documents on your iOS device. Should you find something you’d like to save as a PDF, you don’t need to head to your Mac after emailing the link to yourself just to do it.

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