Remote printing doesn’t have to be hard, whether you want to print to a printer down the hall or half-way around the world. We’ll cover some simple ways you can print without being directly connected to your printer.
We’re going to focus on the easiest options here. We’re won’t cover setting up the Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) or JetDirect and allowing it through your firewall or complicated Windows networking configurations, as these are options best-suited for the IT Professional.
Get a Wireless Printer
Even if you still print, you don’t need a separate printer connected to every computer in your house. Many new printers are network printers that can connect to your network via Wi-Fi. Once connected, you install the appropriate driver software on each computer and all the computers can print to that printer over the network.
Unlike sharing a local printer with Windows, you don’t have to leave the main computer on — as long as the printer is on, you can print directly to it.
These printers only allow you to print to them over the local network, so you’ll need some other tricks if you want to print to them over the Internet.
Share a Printer on Your Local Network
Windows makes it easy to share printers between computers on your local network. This is ideal if you have local printer that connects to your computer via USB. Once you set up printer sharing, the printer will function almost like a networked printer. As long as the computer the printer is connected to is powered on, any other authorized computer on the network can print to it.
The easiest way to do this on Windows 7 or Windows 8 is with the Homegroup feature. Simply set up a Homegroup and check the Printers option to share your connected printers. Join your other computers to the Homegroup and they’ll see the networked printer appear in their list of available printers, assuming the computer sharing the printer is online.
As with standard networked printers, this only works over the local network. You can share printers between computers that aren’t on the same Homegroup, but it’s easier to just use a Homegroup.
Access Remote Printers With Google Cloud Print
Update: Google Cloud Print was discontinued at the end of 2020.
Google Cloud Print is Google’s remote-printing solution. Many new printers include built-in support for Google Cloud Print. If a printer doesn’t include Cloud Print support, you can make it available via Google Cloud Print by setting up Google Cloud Print in Google Chrome.
Once a printer is configured to work with Google Cloud Print, it’s associated with your Google account. You can then remotely access the printer with your Google account credentials. You can also share one of your printers with another Google account, so you can allow other people to remotely print to your computer as easily as if you were sharing a file with them via Google Drive.
Up until recently, Google Cloud Print has been a bit of a novelty. Google Chrome includes support for Cloud Print, and you can use Cloud Print apps on iOS and Android to remotely print to Cloud Print printers. However, Google recently launched a Google Cloud Printer service for the Windows desktop. Install it and Google Cloud Print will be available in the standard print dialog, so you can remotely print to Cloud Print printers from Microsoft Office or any other desktop app.
For printing over the Internet, Google Cloud Print offers the most polished experience and easiest setup experience for average users.
Use a VPN to Access Printers on Remote Networks
If you want to access standard network printers or printers shared via Windows networking when you’re away from the local network, you can use a virtual private network, or VPN. Connect to a VPN and your computer will create a secure tunnel to the VPN server on the remote network. All your traffic will be sent over this tunnel, so your computer will behave as if it were connected to the remote network. This means that locally shared printers, as well as other network resources like Windows file shares, will be accessible.
Once your computer is connected to the VPN, the printer will be available and you can print to it just as if you were on the same local network. Many businesses networks set up VPNs so their employees can remotely connect to the business network, so you may already be able to do this with your existing VPN connection.
Setting up your own VPN is more complicated than using Google Cloud Print, but it can be done. Windows includes hidden support for setting up a VPN server. Hosting your own VPN server isn’t ideal for security — it’s easier to just use Google Cloud Print if you don’t want to worry as much about security.
There are a wide variety of other different ways to print remotely. For example, some networked printers may be able to accept documents at an email address and automatically print all documents that arrive at that address. Some may work with Bluetooth or Apple’s AirPrint to accept print jobs wirelessly.
Image Credit: Jemimus on Flickr
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