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How to Turn a Raspberry Pi into a Google Cloud Print Server

Google Cloud Print is a fantastic way to link your printers to the cloud and enjoy print-from-anywhere access, but there’s a catch. If you don’t have one of the recent Cloud-Print-Ready printers, you need to leave your computer on to enable remote access. Read on as we configure  a tiny, energy-sipping Raspberry Pi for the task.

Why Do I Want to Do This?

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Currently there are two paths to Google Cloud Print access in your home: you can buy a Cloud Print enabled printer that links itself directly to your Google account and your Cloud Print service, or you can use a PC (that has access to the printers you wish to add to Cloud Print) to act as a Cloud Print server.

The first situation is ideal, as the printer itself connects directly to the cloud and there is no need for an intermediary. Barring that, however, it should be your goal to make sure the intermediary is wasting as few resources as possible. Leaving a desktop computer on 24/7 for the sole purpose of functioning as a Cloud Print server is a whole lot of resources for a job that requires very little horsepower.

In order to cut back on the resources wasted, we’ve opted to turn a tiny, low-power Raspberry Pi device into an ultra lightweight Cloud Print Server. The best part about this setup is that the Raspberry Pi can continue to perform other roles. For example, our Raspberry Pi Cloud Print Server is also the same device functioning as our Raspberry Pi Weather Indicator. It takes so few resources to do both jobs (spool up the occasional print job and run a simple script to check the weather and toggle an LED) that there’s no reason to not stack the tasks and get more out of our Raspberry Pi purchase. Here are some of the projects that you could easily stack with a Raspberry Pi Cloud Print Server:

What Do I Need?

For this tutorial, we are going to assume that you already have the following:

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If you haven’t configured your Raspberry Pi with Raspbian or added printers to it yet, definitely check out the two links above to get up to speed. It is critical that you’ve followed along with (or at least checked your own printer installation notes against) our Raspberry Pi printer guide. If your Pi doesn’t have access to printers (local or networked), you won’t have any success with this tutorial.

In addition, you’ll likely find it helpful to check out our guide to Google Cloud Print to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of the system.

Installing Chromium

The secret sauce in our Raspberry Pi as Cloud Print Server model is the open source browser Chromium. One of the official ways to add Cloud Print capability to a PC is to use Google’s Chrome web browser as a print server. Unfortunately, even though there is an official Chrome release for quite a few distributions of Linux, it only supports x86/x64 architecture and not the ARM-based architecture that powers the Raspberry Pi and Rasbian. This is where Chromium comes in, as we can still access the relevant features in Chromium that we need to link our Raspberry Pi to Google’s Cloud Printer system.

To get started, open up the terminal on your Raspberry Pi and enter the following command:

sudo apt-get install chromium-browser

When prompted, type Y and hit enter to continue the installation. The installation isn’t enormous, but it’s big enough; a ten minute trip to the break room to grab a cup of coffee is certainly a reasonable way to kill the installation time.

Once Chromium is installed, we need to launch it from the desktop environment. You can find it in Raspbian’s start menu under Internet -> Chromium Web Browser:

After launching Chromium, navigate to the menu icon in the upper right corner, click it, and then select “Settings”. Scroll down in the Settings window until you see “Advanced Settings” and, after clicking that, continue scrolling down through the expanded settings options until you see the entry for Google Cloud Print:

Click “Add Printers”. You’ll be kicked over to an authorization page like so:

Fill in the Google account credentials of the account you use to manage your Cloud Printers. Make sure “Stay signed in” is checked, since this is going to be a stand alone print server we don’t regularly interact with.

 

After authorizing your account, you’ll see the “Add printer(s)” button. Whichever printers the Raspberry Pi has access to (be they local or networked) will be added to your Google Cloud Print account. If those printers were previously added by some other means, you’ll want to visit your Cloud Print management page to remove the older entries.

After clicking the Add button, you’ll see a confirmation page indicating that the printers were added and you’re ready to start printing. Now is a perfect time to fire off a test print:

Roughly 10 seconds or so after we fired off the print job, it spooled up on the networked printer:

While we initially had concerns that the Cloud-to-Pi-to-Printer workflow would be slow (not that blistering speed is really that critical in most printing situations), those concerns have never been validated. Even with larger PDF files, the process is only marginally longer than your typically lengthy printing-a-big-PDF wait.

After running your test print, you can close Chromium on the Pi as the print server will continue to run in the background. Now you can enjoy print-from-anywhere convenience for around a quarter a month (the Raspberry Pi consumes so little energy that the average annual operating cost is around $3).

 

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/6/13

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