Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Printing from your Android device (tablet or phone)

I know someone who recently purchased an Asus Transformer TF300T from MicroCenter in the store for a cool $350, which means that after tax it was still cheaper than it was selling for at Amazon ($384). Strangely, I can find no mention of the TF300T on MicroCenter's website (maybe local store was just clearing inventory and they don't plan on selling them in the long term?). Anyway, this is the first Android tablet this person has ever used, and they were interested in getting the ability to print from it to the printers in their home. Here's how I responded (text copied from an e-mail and then marked up a bit).
    Here are some tablet printing options that I've tried that appear to still be popular. I've put some footnotes at the bottom of this message that are tangential topics that may still be interesting to you. For example, the first footnote [*] is about a way to pick printers in the future that allow for cloud printing without the aid of a PC being on.

    The first two apps I currently have installed on my phone and am happy with. You would probably only need one of them. The third app is one I tried, but I gave up on because I thought the first two apps were just as good or better. I have not used the fourth app, but you should know it exists as it would be handy if on the go and you need a hard copy of something.
  1. First, here's "Cloud Print," which is a free app with no limitations but will display ads unless you donate to it:


    To give it the ability to print, you have to also install Google Chrome (Google's web browser) on one or all of your machines. You can get Google Chrome web browser [**] from:


    After you install it, complete these steps to connect your PC's printers to the web where "Cloud Print" can access them:


    Note that if Chrome is already installed on another computer in the house, and if that person has shared her printers with you, you should already be able to print to printers connected to her computer even if your computer isn't on (but hers has to be on). Once printers are connected to your Google account's Cloud Print, then you can use the "Share" button (it looks a little like a tree with two branches, typically) from any app to export whatever you're looking at to the "Cloud Print" app. That document will then get printed to the Cloud Print printer you choose. Note that "Print to PDF" is always available (and it will store that PDF on your Google Drive, I think, which you can access using the "Google Drive" app I just e-mailed you about). There are competing Android apps to Cloud Print, like "Easy Print:"


    but I don't think they're as well developed as Cloud Print.

  2. Next, there's "PrinterShare," which has limited printing for free, but unlimited printing if you're willing to buy their premium key for a pricey $12.95:


    PrinterShare's features largely overlap with Cloud Print. That is, Cloud Print does a couple of things PrinterShare doesn't, and PrinterShare does a couple of things that Cloud Print doesn't. For example, you can use Google Cloud Print with PrinterShare, and so any printer that you can use with Cloud Print, you can also use with PrinterShare. One major difference is that PrinterShare also supports WiFi printing to network-enabled printers (e.g., the HP LaserJet 2055dn) and some print servers. Initially, the support was spotty. However, I'm noticing more and more printers start to pop up on my WiFi list when I check. It's a solid app, but it's a little annoying that if you switch printers frequently, it has to re-download print drivers nearly every time. Downloading print drivers is very fast, and it's not much of an annoyance, but it's a little confusing why it can't keep these installed. Otherwise, it's a solid application that's a tough competitor, which is why it maintains such a high price for it's premium key.

  3. I have also used the "PrintBot" app, which allows for 3 printouts a month unless you pay $4.50 for the full version (which is unlimited). It supports printing directly to a print server (no Google Cloud Print required), but it is not as easy to setup as PrinterShare. So unless they've improved things a bit since I used it last, I don't recommend it. In theory, it may be the only tool that can print to the print server connected to the HP LaserJet 5 upstairs without using Google Cloud Print; however, PrinterShare may have improved to be able to do that natively anyway:


  4. Alternatively, HP and others(?) have apps like this one:


    that allow you to print to public printing locations, like FedEx Office stores, UPS Office stores, Walmart photo kiosks, hotels, and others. This is a neat idea if you're on the go and need a paper copy of something. The downside is that although the app is free, the place that prints your document may charge you per page.

    In summary, if you're OK with having a computer on and connecting your legacy printers to the Google "cloud print" service, then give the first free app ("Cloud Print") a shot. If you want the ability to print over WiFi directly without computers being on, then consider the second app ("PrinterShare", which is pretty expensive for an app if you want to print more than 3 things a month). Note that the WiFi option only works if you're on the same network as the printer. You cannot print from remote with PrinterShare unless you're using Google's cloud print service (and thus have a PC turned on).



[*]: If you find yourself buying a new printer in the near future (not likely), you can choose a "Cloud Ready" printer:


These printers connect to servers at HP, Kodak, Epson, or Canon that allow access to them from remote provided the correct username and password. Google Cloud print can print directly to these without the aid of a computer being on.

In general, any network-enabled printer will probably have good Android support even if it's not "cloud ready." In fact, some vendors release their own apps to make it simpler to print to them from Android, like Lexmark (but I think generic network printer apps will connect to these too, in most cases):


[**]: If you like Google Chrome as a web browser, you can use it instead of Firefox. If you have Firefox bookmarks, Chrome will import them. Also (and this might be interesting to you), you can share your Chrome bookmarks and tabs to your tablet and so you can easily go from one to the other. If you don't like Chrome but like the idea of getting your same bookmarks and tabs on your tablet as is on your Desktop, that's possible with Firefox too. Either way, we should probably install the "Chrome to Phone" app