When AirPrint was first announced by Apple, there was much anticipation in the world of iOS. Along with copy and paste, printing was one of of the core functions that had never been given love and attention by Apple software engineers when developing early builds of iOS. We were made to wait until iOS 3.0 before copy and paste was finally available – it was more than a year later in late 2010 before iOS 4.2 allowed us to finally print from iOS devices.
Then there was controversy when the feature was finally released to the general populous – while beta versions of the iOS update encompassing AirPrint had allowed printing to any printer shared on your WiFi network (via Bonjour), the final release only supported a handful of new “AirPrint enabled” Hewlett-Packard printers. Some accused Apple of a broken promise, with a post-mortem revealing that perhaps Apple’s ambiguous statements concerning AirPrint hadn’t actually explicitly promised printing from any printer after all.
18 months later and AirPrint still remains available only to the select few prepared to drop coin on a brand new “AirPrint enabled” HP printer, and the premium attached to them. However, as with most things in the iOS world, “there’s an App for that”.
Printopia is a name which promises a perfect world of printing, and while there are some limitations it is as damned near perfect as one could wish for in an App which costs a fraction of the cost of a new printer, and in fact less than most ink cartridges on the market. It requires Mac OS X 10.5 or later (both PowerPC Macs and Lion 10.7 are supported), and currently does not have a Windows version. Printopia 2 only needs to be installed on your host Mac. No software needs to be installed on your iOS devices, which will natively support AirPrint as long as it is a supported device running iOS 4.2 or later (iPhone 3GS and later, iPod Touch 3rd generation and later, iPad).
Installation is a breeze and literally takes seconds. Even the tiny 1.7Mb download is quick. Printopia 2 will install itself as a pane in your System Preferences, and as soon as it is installed all your installed printers will be added and by default shared to Printopia. ANY printer you can print to on your Mac is then available to print to from any iOS device, as long as both are connected to the same WiFi network. This includes locally attached printers or network/IP printers, whether they are set up to be shared or not.
No drivers are needed because the printing is handled by the host Mac that you install the software on. This does mean that this Mac needs to be powered on any time you want to AirPrint, but this is the only significant limitation of the application. If your WiFi network is hosted by an Apple router, you may be able to use Apple’s “Wake on Demand” feature to wake your Mac from sleep when using AirPrint (this worked flawlessly on my supported setup).
Once setup has been completed, you are ready to go in minutes. On your iPhone or iPad, simply tap the “arrow” icon in any supported application and choose the “Print” option. Instead of seeing the familiar “No Printers Found” dialog, you will be able to choose any Printer that has been installed on your host Mac. Tap to increase the number of copies of the printout if you want, hit “Print”, and your job will immediately be sent to your printer.
Printopia 2 promises to let you “AirPrint to any printer from iPad and iPhone” and it certainly delivered on that promise. I was able to print to some very old legacy printers, and printing worked every time as advertised. The whole experience was quite liberating, and the fact that this all took a simple download and only a minute to install only made it all the more magical, to borrow from Apple’s own marketing department.
There are other AirPrint hacks around, but Printopia 2 boasts that it does not make any modification to system files like other solutions. Furthermore it is the only AirPrint workaround that also allows you to print to PDF from your iOS device and send it straight to a folder on your Mac, Dropbox, or even directly to Evernote. The options don’t end there – you can send images to supported applications such as iPhoto and Photoshop, or send PDFs to iTunes. In further proof that the developers have put a huge amount of thought into Printopia, advanced users can set up Automater workflows to control what happens after files are sent to their Mac. Every one of these options or shared printers can be password protected to prevent other users from dropping files accidentally or without authority.
Printopia 2 has been described as “AirPrint on steroids”, and the description is apt. It is remarkably simple to install and set up, it is fully loaded with options that “Power Users” will love, and is backed by a development team who has a good track record of regular updates. Customer support was very responsive to my enquiries, but there are isolated online complaints about non-responsiveness to requests for help.
As is the nature of any software that works around artificial limitations imposed by a manufacturer, ecamm cannot guarantee future functionality and compatibility if Apple decides to “break” it with iOS or OS X updates. But for now Printopia 2 is definitely the most feature-packed AirPrint workaround on the market and I cannot recommend it highly enough. A 7 day trial is available to download, and the full version is priced at a very reasonable $19.95 USD.