One of the business features the iPad needs to have in order to be considered by the corporate world is the printing ability. Since iOS version 4.2 all iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches can print wirelessly to compatible AirPrint printers. As you can imagine, in classic Apple style this functionality is very easy to use if you have all the necessary devices (iPad, AirPrinter and wireless router), but you won’t have access to all the settings and tweaks you’re used to from your Mac/PC.

    In this short guide I’ll try and show you how you can print from your iPad, the easy, the alternate and the complete way. Why so many options? Because sometime AirPrint doesn’t work, or doesn’t do everything you need it to do.

    Print to compatible AirPrinters

    This is probably the easiest scenario provided you have an AirPrint compatible printer (check Apple’s updated list here) connected to the same wireless network as your iPad. All you have to do is open the document/image you intend on printing, tap the Action icon (curved arrow in a box pointing to the right, present in AirPrint compatible apps) and select Print. There are basically two options: Select Printer and the number of copies. No option to select orientation, paper size, color/B&W printing and such. Told you it was simple….

    So native AirPrint is a very basic printing function. And the number of supported printers is very small. Also, you might have to update your printer’s firmware to the latest version just to be sure it will support AirPrint. But if you’re looking for simplicity it can’t get any easier than AirPrint.

    AirPrint: a simple printing process

    AirPrint: a simple printing process

    Update: As one reader pointed out, depending on the app you’re using you might get more options for printing via AirPlay. So Apple’s functionality can be extended further if app developers decide to dig deeper into the API and use all available options.

    Using a manufacturer specific printing app

    If you’re like me and don’t have an AiPrint enabled printer you still have a chance to print wirelessly from your iPad: get the free manufacturer app for your printer model. BrotherCanon,EpsonHPLexmark and Samsung have them and the work with many of the printers they sell. HP for example has an interesting technology called ePrint (not all printers are compatible), which basically assigns one unique email address to each of their printers. You just have to send an email with the document you want to print attached to it and it will be printed automatically.

    As you’ll discover, each manufacturer app for iOS has difference tweaks and settings supported, but as a general rule you get more options than you get with AirPrint. I can’t cover each of these apps in this post, but remember they exist and can be a good alternative to AirPrint.

    HP ePrint Home & Biz

    HP ePrint Home & Biz

    Print to all other printers

    If you’ve tried the two methods from above and you found they don’t work with your printer there are always third party apps that can turn your printer connected to your PC into an AirPrint like device. There are two ways this is achieved: 1) either an AirPrint server app is installed on your PC and each printer directly attached via Bluetooth, USB, or shared as a network printer is automatically ‘converted’ and seen by the iPad’s AirPrint function or 2) an iOS app is installed on your iDevice and a corresponding server app is installed on your Mac/PC.

    In the first case you’re opting once again for simplicity (since AirPrint doesn’t allow to chance the printer properties), while in the second case you’re usually getting a more complex settings menu, similar to what you get on your Mac/PC. In both cases you still need a Mac/PC to be On and the printer connected to it, which somehow defies the purpose of using an iPad for simple printing.

    Anyway, one of the best apps for this purpose is PrintCentral (paid app) that can even print via 3G, so you can print from a remote location. You can also print things like SMS messages, contacts, addresses, maps and various other types of documents. And on top of that you can tweak a lot of settings for your printer.

    PrintCentral

    PrintCentral

    As you can see, there are plenty of options if you really want to print with your iPad. You just need to try the three methods described above. All the third-party apps come with instructions that will guide you through the entire process, so you shouldn’t have any kind of problems.