It's a fair, and common, question: How do you print from an iPad? Unfortunately, the answer isn't so simple. Out-of-the-box, you don't.
Many users are surprised to learn that you can't just print directly from within the iPad. Like seemingly everything else within Apple's popular lineup of iPods, iPhones, and iPads, there's an app for that.
I have to buy an app to print?
The short answer is yes, users must purchase a third-party application to print using an iPad. There's no Print & Fax menu within the iPad's Settings screen as there is within Mac OS X's System Preferences console.
Before shouting foul, consider the reality of printing today. It's becoming increasingly less necessary. So many tasks and services are turning paperless. Lest you think I've become an Apple apologist, know I used my iPad, day in and day out, for six full months before encountering the need to print directly from the handheld tablet. But occasions are going to arise in which it is inconvenient to transfer a file via e-mail or the cloud to a laptop or desktop system, or in which another computer is simply unavailable, when needing to print a plane ticket, e-mail message, Web page or even a map or driving directions.
The question, then, becomes which application works best? While there are several options, two leap to the forefront. Interestingly, both come from EuroSmartz Ltd.
PrintCentral for iPad
Weighing in at just 5.5MB, the $9.99 application, is currently in version 1.6.0. The app, which is among the highest-rated of any iPad printing software, provides the ability to print directly from an iPad to most Wi-Fi or shared printers. Free print software (WePrint) makes short work of connecting to other printers using printers installed on Macs or PCs. The application also enables printing remotely via 3G/EDGEPrint to printers used by your Mac or PC using USB, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, shared or network printers.
I've personally used PrintCentral. My iPad had no trouble connecting and printing to a Wi-Fi HP printer at my house. Better yet, I was up and running, from application purchase and installation to printing, via my iPad in less than two minutes. However, PrintCentral was unable to connect to a networked Brother multifunction printer linked via wired Ethernet to the LAN.
Fortunately, resolution was easy and required less than five minutes. I followed the simple instructions included with the app to download and install free WePrint software on one of my home systems. The iPad then immediately found the Brother printer and printed with no issues.
For less than ten bucks, PrintCentral includes a boatload of additional features. Using the application, you can access shared files on other computers, share files from the iPad with other computers, move files between devices using iDisk or WebDAV, print photos, open attachments from Apple Mail and print them, open documents within PrintCentral directly into iWork and open and print files within PrintCentral from any other application that supports the "Open In" feature common to many apps.
PrintCentral also enables iPad users to print shipping labels. One other feature that separates PrintCentral from other printing apps is its ability to print or move the contents of multiple clipboard files.
Print n Share for iPad
Print n Share is just 8.6MB and costs $8.99. Currently in version 4.2.4, the software enables printing directly to most Wi-Fi or shared printers. As with PrintCentral, USB and Bluetooth printers can be used by leveraging free corresponding printing software. 3G/EDGEPrint, meanwhile, enables printing remotely to all printers used by a Mac or a PC.
Print n Share also supports email features, including printing email messages and attachments and accessing multiple email accounts. Document support includes viewing and printing Office and iWork files and navigating a computer's folders to locate specific files.
As with PrintCentral, Print n Share enables mounting an iPad (or iPhone or iPod) as a network disk from a Mac or PC computer, moving or printing documents via iDisk, printing contacts, printing photos and more.
While other options exist, I believe these two apps will serve most business users best. Free or lesser-priced apps are often designed to print only to a single make of printer or might only print one format, such as photos. When you're on the road or working remotely within other offices, the likelihood you'll find a friendly shared printer or Wi-Fi network is pretty high. That means, for less than ten dollars, printing from the iPad can prove just a few clicks away.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.