Getting started with mobile printing

Printing from your smartphone or tablet while on the move is easy with a little preparation.

The right app makes printing from your smartphone a breeze. Image: iStock

Printing from a home or office computer is pretty straightforward, especially with the advent of wi-fi enabled printers where, in most cases, all you need is a printer driver and you're good to go. When you're out and about, however, or need to print from a smartphone or tablet, life can get a lot more complicated.

It's not too bad if you're using a Windows laptop or an Apple MacBook, as wi-fi and feature-rich printing support are both built into the operating system. You will still need a compatible driver though, and a log-on for the network to which the printer is attached, although printer vendors are increasingly adding in support for peer-to-peer technologies, such as Wi-Fi Direct, doing away with the need for wider network access.

Unfortunately, when it comes to smartphones and tablets, there are a few more issues to deal with, many of them device-specific.

Users of iPhones and iPads, for example, have the option of printing built-in (at least on the latest models) and without the need for extra software or drivers. But this only works with printers that support Apple's own AirPrint technology, and then only when connected via a wi-fi network. The latest Android devices, on the other hand, can use Wi-Fi Direct to print without a network, but only to printers that support this technology.

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Wider printing support beyond what's currently available is coming - but, for now, the best way of printing from a mobile is to install an app. Install one either for the make of printer you want to use or a more universal printing app able to handle a mix, although compatibility can be an issue with universal apps, especially when it comes to anything other than basic printing options.

The good news is that free printing apps are available from all the leading printer vendors and compatibility is guaranteed. Moreover, while they may or may not let you print to other vendor's hardware, manufacturer-specific apps offer rich printing feature sets across built-in and add-on user apps. They also let you take advantage of extra facilities on their devices, such as the ability to scan and fax documents using a multifunction printer, for example.

There is still the little matter of connectivity and although most apps support USB printing, carrying a cable around and plugging your tablet or smartphone into a strange device is far from ideal. It may not even be allowed, making wi-fi the preferred option.

Some apps also let you print using other communication technologies such as Bluetooth, similarly available on most mobile devices, or NFC contactless technology where you tap your phone on the printer to print. Unfortunately support for these technologies is far from universal, on either printers or mobile devices, particularly NFC which on iPhones, for example, is locked down for use with Apple Pay.

And lastly, if a printer simply isn't available or accessible, you can always send documents to a home or office printer via the Cloud. However, you will have to make provision for this in advance.

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