Wireless printing guide

Our wireless printing guide tells you everything you need to know about printing on the move

Barry Collins
20 Aug 2015

Today’s printers don’t need to be physically chained to your computer to be put to good use. Wirelessly networked printers let you run off documents and photos from almost any device you can think of – laptop, tablet, smartphone – and from anywhere you can get an internet connection. You could, for example, work on a report on your tablet on the way into work in the morning, and have it waiting on the office printer before you’ve even arrived at the office.

Here we’ll explain some of the wireless internet features found on today’s printers and how you can start using them today.

Different types of wireless printing

Wireless printing generally takes one of two forms: networked or ad hoc. With networked printing, your printer receives data from different devices over the home or office network.

Most modern printers come with Wi-Fi capability, meaning they can connect to the same wireless network as your laptop, tablet or smartphone. Alternatively, you might use a wireless print server to connect multiple devices to the same printer. Once installed, a wireless printer will appear in your laptop’s printer menu just as if it were connected by USB cable or over a wired network.

Ad hoc (sometimes called peer-to-peer) cuts out the middleman and involves a direct wireless connection between the printer and the device itself. There are various different ad hoc printing protocols, including Wireless Direct printing and near-field communication (NFC). Ad hoc generally requires the two devices to be in close proximity to one another, unlike networked printing, where the sending device can be anywhere in the home, or even outside of the home if you’re using a cloud printing service.

Wireless printers

It’s almost impossible to buy a home or office printer nowadays that doesn’t come with some form of wireless connection. With Wi-Fi enabled home printers, you can often just press the WPS button on your Wi-Fi router to join the printer to your home network, bypassing the need to first install PC software and enter the Wi-Fi password. Once it’s connected to the network, you can download drivers for the printer on your PCs and laptops and start printing within minutes. The PC driver software also allows you to check on ink levels or perform routine maintenance, such as head cleaning.

Higher-end business printers often come with displays that can be used to configure wireless networks and other settings. Businesses must make sure the printer sits safely behind the company’s firewall to ensure that sensitive documents aren’t available to network snoopers.

Printing from smartphones and tablets to wireless printers

The major printer manufacturers will have apps in the iOS and Android stores, which will allow you to print directly from your smartphone or tablet, provided that it’s connected to the same Wi-Fi network. These apps will allow you to print documents or photos without having to switch a PC on, with the printer’s paper, colour and resolution settings all configurable from within the application.

These apps can also receive documents from the printer. If your all-in-one device includes a scanner, for example, you can scan a photo or form and have it beamed wirelessly to your smartphone or tablet. 

Android wireless printing

Most printers also support cloud printing services, such as Google Cloud Print and Apple AirPrint. Google Cloud Print is a very simple service to set up for those who already have a Google account and use the Chrome web browser or Android devices.

If your printer is Google Cloud Print compatible, you’ll be able to print to it whenever it’s switched on: You could be working on a document in your company’s New York office and have it print for your colleagues back in London, simply by selecting the Print option within the Android app and choosing the Cloud Print device. If, however, the printer isn’t Cloud Print compatible, your home or office PC will need to be switched on and connected to the printer to print remotely.

You can also give colleagues or friends access to your Google Cloud Print device, which is handy, say, if a foreign visitor needs to print their boarding pass before they head to the airport. To set this up you need to visit the Google Cloud Print website, select your printer, click the Share button and enter your colleague’s email address.

iPad wireless printing

Apple’s AirPrint is even simpler. It lets you print wirelessly from any Apple device connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the printer. As with Google Cloud Print, this means there’s no need for a computer to be involved. You can print straight from your iPhone or iPad, using apps such as the Safari/Chrome browsers, Pages, Microsoft Word or all manner of other AirPrint-compatible apps. There’s no setup or drivers involved: If you have a printer that supports AirPrint, it will appear in the list of available devices when you press the Print option within the app.

Ad hoc or Wireless Direct printing

If you want to place the printer in a room that’s outside the range of the Wi-Fi network, ad hoc wireless printing can come into play.

This allows you to make a direct wireless connection between the laptop/tablet/smartphone and the printer, without using the Wi-Fi router as intermediary. HP calls this Wireless Direct on its printers, which allow you to connect up to five devices simultaneously. Wireless Direct can be secured with a password to prevent unauthorised users from running off prints.

Many printers also support Bluetooth, either directly or through additional add-ons. This allows you to print directly from Bluetooth-enabled devices within close proximity of the printer, once they’ve been successfully paired.

NFC is another, more niche, option for ad hoc printing. With an NFC-enabled printer and smartphone, you can simply tap the smartphone against a certain spot on the printer’s casing to print documents, photos or web pages you’ve got open on the mobile device at the time. That can also work in reverse. Scan in a document on a multi-function printer and it can be transferred to your mobile device via NFC, giving you a digital copy of the document on your smartphone within seconds.

Wireless printing via email

Another effortless way to take advantage of a web-connected printer is to email the device the documents you wish to print. Most internet-enabled printers can be registered with a unique email address, to which you can send attachments that will be automatically printed. The printer can normally be set to only accept jobs from approved senders to prevent malicious misuse.

Such services will normally accept attachments in multiple formats. HP’s ePrint, for example, will take Word and PowerPoint documents, as well as PDFs and JPEG photos. However, documents with complex formatting may not be rendered properly when you use such services. If you have a report that contains plenty of embedded graphics, tables or SmartArt, it’s probably best to print from within Word (or your choice of word-processing software) to make sure the text and images flow in accurately. Printing via email can also be problematic with large attachment sizes – avoid files that are larger than 5MB.