Modern smartphones and tablets can help you go without printers, but they can also help you print. You could even start print jobs from anywhere and pick up the document when you arrive at home or the office.
If you still haven’t found the elusive paperless office, here’s everything you need to know about printing from your Android phone or tablet. It’s surprisingly easy — certainly easier than setting up Windows networked printers in the past.
Google Cloud Print
Google Cloud Print is Google’s official solution for printing from more limited devices — whether it’s an Android phone, Android tablet, or Chromebook laptop. This previously required using a third-party Cloud Print app on Android, but Google now provides an official Cloud Print app.
First, make your printer available via Google Cloud Print. You can do this with a new Google Cloud Print-enabled printer, or by connecting the printer to a computer and activating Cloud Print support in Google Chrome. Your printer is then associated with your Google account and can be printed to from anywhere else.
Next, install the Google Cloud Print app for Android. Open a web page or document you want to print in any app, then tap the Share button and share the document to the Cloud Print app. You’ll be able to print from the printer. Note that you will need to be using the same Google account in Chrome and with the Cloud Print app — if you are, your printer should just appear in the app.
Because Cloud Print works over the Internet, you can use this feature to print to a printer at your home or office even if you’re elsewhere. You can also use Cloud Print from elsewhere — Google Chrome on the desktop has integrated support for Printing to Cloud Print printers, for example. Cloud Print has other neat features too — you can share printers with other Google accounts and give other people the ability to print to your printers.
Print to PDF
Printing to PDF isn’t just useful on your computer. On your Android phone or tablet, you may want to print a web page or other document to a PDF file that you can archive and access later, even if you don’t have an Internet connection. However, there’s no “print” option in Android apps, so the way to do this isn’t obvious.
To print to PDF, you would have to use Android’s Share feature. Tap the Share button — or Share menu option — in whatever application you’re using (for example, tap it while viewing a web page in the Google Chrome app) and select the app you would like to share the content with. You’ll just need an app that will convert the web page to a PDF file.
The Cloud Print app also allows you to save your document as a PDF file. Just tap the Share button, tap Cloud Print, and use the Save to Google Drive option. Google Drive will save a copy of the web page as a PDF file in your Google Drive storage. You can then use the Drive app to access it later or make it available offline, giving you the ability to access it when you don’t have an Internet connection. Other apps may also have the ability to save shared documents as PDF files.
Print to Specific Brands of Printer
Many modern printers are wireless printers that allow computers to connect to them over the wireless network. This means that your Android smartphone or tablet could theoretically connect to the wireless printer and print to it — no physical connection required.
To do this, you would need a wireless printer and an Android app that supports printing to it. For example, HP offers printing to “all HP ePrint-enabled printers and over 200 HP networkable legacy printer models” via the free HP ePrint Android app. Epson offers the Epson iPrint app for printing to a variety of modern Epson printers. Canon offers a Canon Easy-PhotoPrint app that can print photos — but not documents — to Canon PIXMA printers. Samsung offers Samsung Mobile Print for printing, scanning, and faxing via Samsung laser printers. There’s no real standard here — manufacturers have to make their own apps to support their own printers.
If you have a wireless printer, search Google Play for the printer’s manufacturer and download their app to see if it will work with your printer. If this feature is important to you, be sure that future printers you buy are supported by such apps. Note that the apps have differences in what they support — for example, Canon’s app is so limited that it doesn’t even allow you to print documents, while Samsung’s app even includes scanning and faxing features.
Print Directly to USB, Bluetooth, or Networked Printer
So let’s say you have an old networked printer that is shared on a Windows network. Alternately, you may have a printer you want to physically connect to your Android phone or tablet via a USB OTG cable. Or, you may have a wireless printer that connects over Bluetooth.
All of these types of printers — USB, Bluetooth, and Windows network — are unsupported by Android. Google recommends setting up Cloud Print on a PC connected to such a printer. Android doesn’t include any support at all for these types of printers.
If you want to print to such a printer directly, you will have to use a third-party app. Unfortunately, there aren’t any available high-quality apps that do this for free. PrinterShare is a well-reviewed app that can print to Windows network share printers, Bluetooth printers, and even USB printers via a USB OTG cable. Unfortunately, if you want to use these advanced features you’ll have to pay about $13 for PrinterShare premium. Luckily, you can print test documents with the free app to test if your printer configuration is supported. This isn’t the ideal solution — Google Cloud Print is — but if you really need this feature, you’ll have to pay for the privilege.
Your best bet when printing from Android is using Google Cloud Print — ideally with a Google Cloud Print-enabled printer so you don’t have to keep your printer connected directly to a powered-on computer. Printing to other types of printers is possible, but isn’t as well supported — it will involve using manufacturer-specific apps that may not work perfectly or third-party, paid apps.
Image Credit: Sarah Kolb-Williams on Flickr