[This post originally appeared at Slaw.ca, September 9, 2013]
Mobile technology offers opportunities to be more efficient. One area that has seen a lot of improvement is mobile printing. I’m not thinking about taking a portable printer with you, but printing to your office while mobile over the Internet. This is sometimes called “cloud” printing but the use of cloud is marketing guff.
The Wi-Fi-enabled printer has been with us for years, but there is more to it than printing across your internal network from your laptop, tablet, or phone. The basic use case is that you are away from your office and need to have something emerge from a printer that is located there. You may have “signed” a PDF on your tablet and want to make a paper copy with the signature. Perhaps you’ve got an enclosure that needs to make it into an envelope waiting back at the office, like a document you’ve just scanned. Printing directly allows you to skip the step of e-mailing or uploading a file for someone else to print for you.
You may not do this often but, if you set it up in advance, it may make you more efficient when you want to use it. Over time, it may become a habit and save you time.
All Printer, All the Time
One way is to get an Internet-enabled printer. These printers act like normal office printers, whether wired or wireless. But they are also listening to the mother ship, waiting for print jobs from outside your network. HP printers that support this use a service called ePrint (Android/iOS) and Epson has Connect (Android/iOS). There are other wireless printing options but you typically have to be on the same network as your printer, like using Apple’s AirPrint (or Netputing’s Handyprint for non-Airprint printers), or Samsung’s or Canon’s printing apps.
Internet printing using your current printer can be a quick way to complete a task while you’re on the move. Otherwise, a document sitting on your laptop or tablet waiting to be printed is just another task to queue up for when you get back to the office. Internet printing can work two ways: you send the file as an e-mail or you send it using an app provided by the printer company. It works out to about the same thing, as the file you’re transmitting goes to an HP or Epson server and then is forwarded to your printer. The e-mail option is a nice alternative in case you don’t have access to, or don’t want to have, the mobile app. If you’re printing from a laptop, your remote printing can be accessible from the normal print menu.
One caution: you should lock down the access to your Internet printing. Using HP as an example, your printer has an e-mail address. Anyone can print if they have that address, unless you have turned that feature off. You can limit the e-mail addresses allowed to print through the HP Connected dashboard. Also, if you have a wireless-enabled printer, it should be secured to block access. Wasted paper and ink are a pain but, if your printer stores files in memory, you may unintentionally share more than office supplies.
My Printer’s Not Internet-Enabled
You may have a printer attached directly to your computer that you’d prefer to use. Also, older printers won’t necessarily support Internet printing. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it. There are a couple of ways to make that printer able to print your remotely-sent documents.
One option is to try Google Cloud Print. Normally, it involves printing from Google Chrome – on your laptop, iOS or Android device – to your printer in your office. There’s also a Google-specific Android app and non-Chrome apps that are Cloud Print friendly. I’ve used it to print to both printers attached directly to my computer as well as to standalone printers out on the network. You’ll need a Google Account as well, in order to manage your Cloud printers. Printers can be shared to other Google Accounts and the print manager online keeps a list of print jobs so that you can see the status of any document. Cloud Print also works from within your Google apps, so you can print an e-mail or document directly to an enabled printer.
Google Cloud Print works on your laptop as well as your mobile devices. There are other alternatives that are only for tablet or phone, like Cortado’s ThinPrint. Most Internet printing apps and services appear to pass your documents through their servers, at least temporarily, until the print job is completed. Xerox’s Printback (Android/iOS) is a bit different. It has two components: the listening “agent” and the mobile app. Xerox uses your cloud storage or e-mail account to transmit the document. The agent watches your Dropbox or e-mail accounts and prints files that you upload or e-mail from your tablet or phone.
The Awl in Your Digital Toolbox
Internet printing is a bit like an awl. It’s nice to have but you’re probably not going to use it all that often. When you do want it, though, it’s a nice simple tool for getting that specific job done. Internet printing can allow you to clear your queue of a task – printing a document – without waiting until you’re back in the office.