How to print from your iPhone using AirPrint


AirPrint is how printers should always have worked.
AirPrint is how printers should always have worked.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

There’s still something kinda magical-feeling about printing documents from your iPhone. Maybe someone sends you a long Word or Pages document that you prefer to read on paper. Or maybe you must sign a hard-copy version of a PDF and send it back via real paper mail.

You may be used to facing a task like this in your iPhone’s email app, and putting it off until you get to your Mac or PC. But chances are, if you own a fairly modern printer, you can just print right from the iPhone. In fact, once you get a taste for it, you’ll prefer printing from iOS. You will never need to deal with drivers, or pick up your 100-page print job only to find every sheet printed too small.

The answer is AirPrint. It’s how printers always should have worked.

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AirPrint is driverless printing for iOS devices. Or rather, it works the opposite way of normal printer drivers. Instead of forcing the user to download a driver for every printer they connect to, Apple forced the printer manufacturers to add AirPrint to their hardware.

The result is that printing from an iPhone to an AirPrint-compatible printer is easy. You just switch on the printer, make sure it’s on the same Wi-Fi network as your iPhone or iPad, and print. Here’s how it works:

How to print to an AirPrint printer

Step one is to find what you want to print. Maybe it’s an email attachment, or perhaps it’s a file in your iCloud Drive. Let’s start with an attachment in the iPhone’s Mail app. Tap the attachment to view it, and then tap the Share Arrow.

AirPrint printing is really, really easy.
AirPrint printing is really, really easy.
Photo: Cult of Mac

In the screenshot above, you see the steps for printing via AirPrint. After tapping the Share Arrow, tap Print, and you’ll see the third view.

The first time you print, you’ll need to select a printer. Tap the button to do that, and pick your printer from the list. You may have to wait a moment, but it should show up automatically. Tap to select it.

Select your AirPrint printer from this list.
Select your AirPrint printer from this list.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Then, you’re ready to go. Once you have selected a printer, you’ll be able to print from the first screen we saw. The Print button is at the top right of that screen:

Usually, when you choose to print something, this is the first screen you’ll see.
Usually, when you choose to print something, this is the first screen you’ll see.
Photo: Usually, when you choose to print something, this is the first screen you’ll see.

And if your printer doesn’t show up? Well, that’s the downside of AirPrint. If it doesn’t work, you just have to cross your fingers, restart everything, and try again. This is frustrating, but it’s still way less frustrating than dealing with printer drivers. In my experience, AirPrint has been rock solid. Except when it hasn’t, but that’s rare.

Alternatives to AirPrint

There are a few alternatives to AirPrint you can use if you don’t own a compatible printer. One is to use the manufacturer’s app to do the printing, which is the iOS equivalent of installing a driver. Usually these apps are absolutely terrible. Canon’s neat little Selphy photo printer, for example, requires that you use its awful app.

The other workaround is to use something like Printopia. Printopia is a Mac app that pretends to be an AirPrint printer, acting as a bridge between iOS devices and the printer connected to your Mac. The advantage of this is that you can print to any printer from your iPhone, not just AirPrint printers. The downside is that your Mac must be running to use it.

If you’re shopping for a new printer, though, just get one with AirPrint. It’s a lot easier.


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