Apple has made printing from iOS devices really simple. The problem is that what is perfect for a home network generally doesn’t scale well to a school or college network. If you want to support printing from iPads within your current Windows infrastructure, this is how you do it.
How Printing on iOS Works
Before deciding how to configure your iPads to print it’s important to understand how iOS manages printing. iOS supports printing via an Apple service called Bonjour which is a protocol that allows networked devices to communicate without the need for configuration. Like most Apple services this works really well in a small home network, but scale it up to a larger network and we start to run into problems of management and security.
AirPrint is simply a brand which signifies that a printer is supported by iOS and will “plug and play” with any iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. AirPrint supported printers use the Bonjour service to advertise printers on the network and make themselves known to iOS devices.
Pick Your Method
There are three primary ways to facilitate printing from iOS devices. The one you choose will depend on your organisation, but for me option 3 is by far the most successful if you are working within a Windows or Mac environment with a signifiant number of printers already in use. Take a look:
Option 1: Purchase an AirPrint Supported Printer
Purchasing an AirPrint supported printer is the simplest way to enable printing from your iPad, however, there are a number of issues that are not immediately clear when using these devices on a large network. Many new printers now support AirPrint — a list can be found here on the Apple website.
- AirPrint supported printers are simple to set up. In general you simply connect your printer to the network and give it a name.
- There is no printer queue involved so you don’t have to — all though it’s still a good idea to — reserve IP addresses
- There’s no print logging or central management
- The range of supported printers is limited and many are not suitable for heavy use
- You are unable to restrict anonymous printing from any device without significant admin overhead
- Jobs are queued directly on the printer
Option 2: iOS apps that allow direct connection to printers
There are a number of iOS apps available for both iPad and iPhone from companies such as HP and Epson which allow iOS to print to devices unsupported by AirPrint.
- You don’t have to purchase new printers
- No print logging or central management
- Unable to restrict printing from any devices without significant admin overhead
- Jobs are queued directly on the printer
- Apps are often limited to specific manufacturers so if you have an HP printer you’ll need the HP app but if you switch to an Epson you’ll need a separate app
- Apps can be complicated for staff and students
- An app install is required on each device
In my experience these applications can cause significant security problems and this is something you will need to address regardless of the printing method you choose. In Windows it is reletively complicated to add a non-shared printer and print directly to it, with the iOS apps listed above every unsecured printer on your network is able to be anonymously sent print jobs.
Install the HP Print application, for example, and it will immediately list all available printers attached to the network and allow you to print bypassing any security and print queues. This effectively opens all networked printers to any iOS devices. As an example, a student connected to the same wireless network as a printer using their iPhone can print anonymously and unrestricted from any where they have a WiFi connection. The most effective way to prevent this is to enable a whitelist on the printer. Most network printers allow you to configure a list of devices that are permitted to print to it. Whitelist your print server and only print jobs sent via the server will be permitted.
Option 3: Broadcast Windows or Mac shared printers with application
The third, and my preferred method, is cheap, easy to set up and, more importantly, makes use of the infrastructure you already likely have in place.
A number of applications are available which allow you to use Bonjour to broadcast your Windows or Mac shared printers to iOS devices. The iPad is then able to print using iOS’s built in printing features without any additional configuration.
Take Fingerprint as an example; you simply install the Fingerprint application on your Windows print server, tick the printers you want to make available, and immediately they will be available through the normal iOS printing function — no additional app needed.
At $19.95 (about £13) for unlimited printers Fingerprint is a light weight, simple application to share your Windows or Mac printers.
By using Fingerprint print jobs are logged and queued along with your other printer use in the normal way.
- Allows you to share your current Windows or Mac printer queues
- No need to purchase additional printers
- Works with the security you already have in place
- No configuration of iOS is needed
- For the user already familiar with printing from iPads no additional support is required
- Small software cost
Don’t waste time with “hacks”
I’ve spent significant time testing the numerous hacks available on-line to force Windows to share printers with iOS, these include “AirPrint Activator” among others. Most are a struggle to get work, if they work at all, and are simply unreliable. The single major reason not to use a hack is that as iOS is upgraded support of these hacks is not guaranteed.