Fixing the AirPrint Conundrum

I own two printers and neither of them support AirPrint. Which means even though iOS supports printing, I haven’t been able to print to any of the printers in my house.

However, there are some 3rd-party applications which you can install on your Mac to enable printing from your iPhone or iPad. These apps work by sharing the printers it has access to and tricking iOS into seeing those printers as being AirPrint enabled.

If you don’t own an AirPrint-enabled printer, yet you want to print from your iPhone or iPad, you will need to install a 3rd-party app. But, which one? I found that with certain 3rd-party apps you get additional functionality and benefits beyond just being able to print from your iPhone.

Here is a quick look at some of those 3rd-party apps:

Fingerprint

Fingerprint was the first app I came across that could solve the AirPrint conundrum. And the reason I came across this application is because initially I was helping a friend set up AirPrint with his Windows-equipped office. We were searching for AirPrint enablers that worked on Windows.

Fingerprint has both a Mac and a Windows version, and so if you’re on Windows this may be the ideal solution for you.

It costs $10 and not only does it allow you to print to your printers, but it also lets you set up folders and print to a folder on your computer.

But there was one critical deal breaker for me: Fingerprint runs in the Menu Bar. I am ardent about having as few icons in my Menu Bar as possible, and therefore I kept searching for alternatives.

AirPrint Activator

If all you want to do is print, then AirPrint Activator may be the app for you. It is a free application (donations are encouraged) that does just one thing: take the printers your Mac is connected to and share them as AirPrint enabled printers.

The latest version — 1.1.3 — requires that the application be open and running in the Dock in order to work. Background utility apps like this should not require being run in the Dock. It’s even more of a deal breaker for me than being run in the Menu Bar.

The developer is currently in active development on version 2, and there is a public beta available. I gave the latest beta version a try (2.1b7 as of this writing) and it seems that AirPrint Activator can now run in the background without showing it’s Dock or Menu Bar icon.

However, this latest beta of AirPrint Activator seems finicky for me. I could get it to work a few times, but not every time. If you’re looking for the least expensive and simplest way to enable AirPrint for your iOS devices, then I would keep an eye on AirPrint Activator.

Printopia

Printopia is the app I ended up going with, for several reasons:

  • Lives in System Preferences;
  • runs in the background with no Menu Bar or Dock icon;
  • allows me to print to my home printers;
  • prints to any folder on my Mac;
  • allows me to “print” directly to an application (such as Yojimbo or PDFpen);
  • and it works very well, very quickly, and very consistently.

Printing to a folder is just like the “Save as PDF…” options in your Mac’s print dialog box. Using Printopia to print to a folder means that whatever it is your printing gets saved as a PDF to that folder on your Mac. You can save it to a standard folder, a Dropbox folder, or send the file to an application (such as iPhoto, Yojimbo, Evernote, etc.)

If my Mac is running, I can now send an email or a photo or a SimpleNote note directly to my computer. I’ve set up a few folders with Folder Actions that will allow me to import directly into Yojimbo and assign tags for those imports.

Though I mostly use Printopia for actually printing out documents, it’s helpful to have its additional features. If you want to read more, Dan Frakes wrote a review for Macworld last November.

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