Getting more out of your iPad or iPhone and your printer with your Mac

This week's Mac Help column doesn't describe a problem with the Mac, specifically, though the Mac is integral to its solution. It involves a new iPad, an existing Mac, and printer support.

J.P. writes:

"I have a Mac and a printer from Epson, but the printer doesn't support AirPrint. It works fine with the Mac, though. I just got an iPad. Do I really need to buy a new printer now?"

The short answer is no.

Let's back up for a moment: iOS devices work with printers that support Apple's AirPrint standard. A lot of newer printers do. Apple has a list of supported printers on its web site, but if your printer isn't on that list, don't panic. Because your Mac can help.

Assuming your Mac already works with the printer you're using, all you need to do is to install a third-party Mac app called Printopia, from Decisive Tactics (Ecamm created the software, but they sold it to Decisive earlier this year). Printopia is installed on a host Mac, and is accessed through the System Preferences. It doesn't make any changes to the iOS device at all — you don't have to install an iOS app or jailbreak or anything like that to get it to work.

Once installed, Printopia works with any printer that works on your Mac. It basically makes your Mac act like an AirPrint server, shunting off AirPrint print jobs to the Mac. That way, your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch can print to that printer, no native AirPrint required.

Printopia has a few other cool features worth mentioning, too: It can be configured to send files to Dropbox and Evernote. You can also use it as part of a workflow, so you can send images printed on your iOS devices to Adobe Photoshop, for example, or send PDFs of your files to Scrivener.

If you're an IT manager in an enterprise environment, you might also be interested in Decisive's industrial-strength version, Printopia Pro. It adds support for Wide Area Network (WAN) printing, directory services integration and much more.

A seven-day trial version is available for download from Printopia web site. Using it beyond that will cost you $19.99 (more for the Pro version). But that's considerably less than a new printer.

Peter Cohen