You have an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad, you have a printer, and you want to print things—the only problem is your printer isn’t AirPrint compatible. No problem, read on as we show you how to print to older printers.

In the fall of 2010 Apple released the iOS 4.2 update that included a host of updated features including support for a new mobile/wireless printing protocol AirPrint. At the time there were barely a dozen HP printers that supported the service and even though the number has grown and includes a handful of offerings from the major printing companies there are still thousands upon thousands of printers—old and new—that do not support AirPrint. There’s absolutely no reason to go out and buy a new printer when you can easily tweak your existing printer to support printing from your iOS device.

There are actually two ways to go about achieving iOS-to-printer communication if you don’t have an AirPrint compatible printer. If you’re lucky the manufacturer of your printer has released an iOS helper app that allows iOS to communicate with your printer even if you don’t have a printer with native AirPrint support.

It’s important to note that this solution is only effective for people who have a Wi-Fi enabled printer that isn’t supported by AirPlay but is supported via the third-party iOS helper app released by the manufacturer of their printer.  We’re not going to focus on using the company-dependent apps in this tutorial but the apps are all free-as-in-beer and they might be just the solution you need. Be forewarned that many of the apps are limited (Canon’s app, for example, only prints photos). Here is a list of available applications by company.

If you luck out and the manufacturer-supplied helper app works awesome for your needs, that’s awesome. We tested several of the apps on various printers around the office and found them lacking in a variety of ways—the most obvious of which was the total lack of support for older wired printers—and not quite the just-like-AirPrint solution we were looking for. To that end we turned to a commercial (but inexpensive) solution.

What You Need

To follow along with our tutorial you’ll need the following things:

  • A Mac (OS X 10.5+) or Windows (XP SP3+) PC
  • An iOS device (iOS 4.2+)
  • A copy of FingerPrint ($9.99) for the appropriate desktop OS
  • A printer accessible to your desktop OS
  • A Wi-Fi Network (to link the iOS device to the host computer)

We tried quite a few third party apps and even some jailbreak-only tweaks but the FingerPrint was the only application that worked consistently across all our iOS devices, with all the printers on our network, and it sported the most features. In the time-equals-money equation the ten bucks you’ll drop on FingerPrint will have you coming out ahead. The application comes with a 7-day free trial so you can take it for a spin before pulling your wallet out.

For this tutorial we will be demonstrating how to install FingerPrint for Windows and how to print from an iPad.

Installing and Configuring FingerPrint

Installing and configuring FingerPrint is extremely simple. The only important choice you need to make while installing the application is which machine you’re going to install it on.

FingerPrint acts as a print server for iOS—it fakes out the AirPrint client included in iOS 4.2+. It is important you install FingerPrint on a computer that will be on when you wish to print—if you have a Windows or OS X based home server that has access to your networked printers, that would be an ideal location for the FingerPrint server. Barring that, install it on the PC that is on the most and that has access to the printers you wish to use.

Download the app here and run the installation executable. There are no tricky customization options in the initial installation process, just click Next until the process is complete. You will need to reboot your computer to finalize the installation.

Once you have rebooted, select FingerPrint from the Start Menu and run it for the first time. You’ll see a simple interface displaying all the printers available to the machine:

Uncheck all the printers that are either 1) not currently connected or that 2) you won’t be using. Leaving them checked will simply clutter up the print menu on your iOS device with printers you don’t need. We trimmed it down to just a PDF printer and the primary office printer.

Once you’ve select the printers you want, grab your iOS device. There is absolutely no configuration needed on the iOS device in order to access the printers. Simply open a program with printing capabilities, such as Safari, to test out the print functionality. Any application that can access AirPrint can access the printers on the host computer.

We visited How-To Geek and pulled up a recent article for our test print. From Safari simply tap on the arrow button right next to the address bar like so:

Click Print to pull up the AirPrint menu. If you tried this before you turned on the FingerPrint server it would have taken a moment to search your Wi-Fi network then given you a No Printers Available error. You won’t have to worry about that now, go ahead and click Print. You should see all the printers available to your host PC plus a little bonus:

Not only will FingerPrint send files to printers accessible to the host PC but, if Dropbox is installed, it will also send the print as a file to Dropbox or open the file you’re printing on the host PC. Even if your principle goal in following along with the tutorial was to get physical prints from your iOS device to the printer, the print to Dropbox and Open on  My PC features are a pretty sweet bonus feature. We’re going to try things out by sending a copy of the article to the Brother printer.

After you select a specific printer you’ll be prompted to select the number of copies and whether or not you want it double sided. Unless you have a printer that can automatically duplex printers we suggest turning double-sided printing off. If you send a double-sided print to a printer with manual duplexing you’ll most likely get a message on the host computer instructing you how to set up the manual duplex—which will delay your print from automatically rolling off the selected printer.

Let’s send it off and see what happens.

Success! By the time we finished snapping a screenshot of the Sending to Printer message seen in the screenshot above, we could already hear the laser printer spooling up on the other side of the office. The prints came out without a hitch and, for the first time since we’d started experimenting with AirPrint, we enjoyed hiccup free printing.

Have experienced enabling mobile printing on your iOS, Android, or other mobile device? Sound off in the comments with your tips and tricks.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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