How to turn your Mac into an internet printer, and print from anywhere

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Epson Expression Home XP-430 multifunction printer
It's surprisingly easy to print a file remotely on a Mac.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

Picture this scenario: You’ve multiple computers at your office and only one of them (which is a Mac) is connected to the printer. Every time you need to print a document stored on these “other” computers, you have to manually transfer the file to the Mac and start the printing process from there. Wouldn’t it be super-convenient if you could just send a document wirelessly and instantly initiate the process of printing files remotely?

Today, I’ll show you how to break apart from this hassle and easily print files remotely from any computer using a combination of Dropbox and Automator.

Set up remote printing

Essentially, we’ll be using a Dropbox folder where anybody can copy files to be printed and then have the Mac sync this folder. Next, we’ll be using an Automator workflow to print out all the documents found in this folder in real-time. Here’s how to get started:

set-up-remote-print
This Automator workflow monitors for files in the specified Dropbox folder and prints them out.
Photo: Cult of Mac
  • First of all, create a folder called Print inside your Dropbox.
  • Open Automator, select Folder Action and click Choose.
  • Under Folder Action receives files and folders added to, select the Print folder.
  • In the left-hand sidebar, search for Print Finder items and drag the selection onto the right-hand side window to start building your workflow. Here, select a printer from the drop-down menu. If you’ve multiple printers connected to the Mac, select the appropriate one from the drop-down menu.
  • Save the workflow as “Print files.”

Once you’ve set up the workflow, let’s see how you can start using this remote print service.

How to Print From Windows, macOS, Linux, Android

Print Files Remotely on a Mac
Simply drag and drop the files to be printed into the Dropbox folder.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Initiating a print job is fairly straightforward on these aforementioned platforms as they provide direct access to the file system. To initiate the printing process, you can just copy the file to the Print Dropbox folder and Automator will automatically print out that document as soon as the Dropbox folder is synced with your Mac.

You can copy the files to the Dropbox folder pretty much on any platform — as long as it provides access to the file system.

How to Print From an iPhone/iPad

The iDevices don’t ship with a native interface to access the file system, so how do you copy the files to the Dropbox folder from an iPhone/iPad? Luckily, there are a number of workarounds you can use to get around this:

1. Using a File Manager

Import to Dropbox
Import the file to Dropbox using the share extension
Photo: Cult of Mac

 

The first workaround is to download a free file manager app like File Manager. Using a file manager app, you can browse through the local storage and easily export the required file to Dropbox using the iOS share extension. Of course, you’ll need the Dropbox app to be installed on your iPhone/iPad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Upload to iCloud Drive

Import to iCloud Drive
Import the file to iCloud Drive
Photo: Cult of Mac

The second workaround you can use is to upload the file to iCloud Drive. For the uninitiated, iCloud Drive is Apple’s take on cloud storage that offers 5 GB of free storage. To upload the file, simply open Dropbox on your iPhone/iPad, tap on the upload icon and select the file to upload. Alternatively, you can also upload the file directly from the iCloud Drive app.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Upload to Dropbox Using Email

Upload to Dropbox Using Email
Connect Your Dropbox Account to Send to Dropbox to Upload via Email
Photo: Cult of Mac

The last workaround is to upload files to Dropbox using email. While Dropbox doesn’t officially support uploading files via email, there are certain third-party services that can help accomplish this.

One such free service I’ve used personally is Send to Dropbox. Once you connect your Dropbox account to the service, it’ll assign you a unique email address. It goes without saying that you should keep this email address private. Here on, you can upload the file as an attachment and send it to your secret email address.

The file should be automatically added by default to the apps/attachments inside the main Dropbox folder within a few seconds. While this service has had some hiccups in the past, the developer has been quite prompt in fixing the issues. Also, if you’re using this workaround, make sure to update the folder location in the Automator workflow.

Using these simple steps, you can print files remotely from a printer connected to the Mac using any computer or a mobile device. Perhaps the best part is that you can start a print job from any remote device, without requiring them to be on the same network.

Of course, we’re only scratching the surface of automation and we will be covering a lot more of such automation tricks in the future. Meanwhile, If you’ve got another cool Automator workflows that help you save time and stay productive, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.