iPads in Education

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Using Physical and Virtual Printers with iPads

Using Physical and Virtual Printers with iPads

You've heard that you can print from your iPad to an AirPrint enabled printer, so you go to your favorite app and find the Print menu ... only to find that there aren't any printers listed. Your shiny new printer apparently doesn't support AirPrint. Join the club. The list of AirPrint enabled printers is growing but many of us just don't have one.

Several app developers have jumped in to fill that void and in doing so, offer features way above and beyond simple printing from your iPad. Let me be clear from the outset that I'm not a big advocate of printing on paper. That's why I love some of the 3rd party printing apps - they offer so much more than simple printing to local printer, especially when you consider the amazingly efficient workflows you can create by setting up "virtual printers" for delivering content from any iPad to other computers, people and applications. I constantly use the virtual printers for personal use and they can be an invaluable aid for organizing classroom workflows.


Printopia is an example of a 3rd party printing app that picks up where Apple's AirPrint functionality leaves off. You install Printopia on your computer and then share ANY connected printers with iOS devices on your wireless network. And that's just the simplest thing you can do with Printopia. It does much more than just give you access to your printers. 

(Note also that Printopia only works on Mac computers but we'll look at a comparable solution for Windows towards the bottom of the article.)

You download the Printopia utility directly to your Mac laptop or desktop. Go to their website and  download the software. Whether you have an inkjet printer, a laser printer or a network printer - if your Mac can print to it, Printopia can share it with your iOS devices. Once it's installed on your computer, go to any iOS app that supports printing, tap the Print button and all of a sudden all of the printers connected to your computer will show up as options - whether they support AirPrint or not!

Here's how to get started:

1. Download and install Printopia.

2. All of your available printers and the Printopia "virtual printers" are automatically enabled for sharing via AirPrint. We'll explain how to use the virtual printers below.

3. Select printers to share.

4. Print. When you select Print from app on your iPad the list of printers you shared in Printopia will now be available for printing.

The Magic of Virtual Printing

Physical printing on paper is just one of the functions Printopia offers. It's "virtual printers" are an invaluable solution for creating all types of digital workflows. Set up virtual printers to move content to your Mac, specific folders, cloud accounts and to even have applications automatically open to edit the content.

Click the + button at the bottom of the Printopia dialog for the following additional options:


** Send content directly to a FOLDER on your Mac

Create a Send to Mac virtual printer to save/print a PDF copy of a document, or a JPEG or PNG version of an image, to a folder on your Mac. Add as many "Send To Mac" virtual printers as needed. Let's say that you want to collect some Pages documents from student iPads. Open Printopia and create a folder on your Mac - let's call it "March Project" - then Click the + symbol under the printers in your Printopia dialog on your Mac and select the virtual printer, Save to Folder on Mac. Select the March Project folder you just created. Now when students go to the Print function on their iPad they can send their documents right to your Mac in a designated folder ready for your review. No paper - it's all digital.

Keep your files organized by configuring multiple virtual printers with different save destinations. "Print" (move) your content to the appropriate directory on your iPad using Virtual Printers.

** Send content directly into any APPLICATION on your Mac

Create a virtual printer in Printopia to send a copy of any content file on your iPad to your Mac and then opens it immediately within a designated application. For example, I'm constantly taking screenshots and pictures on my iPad. and I always need to do some touch up in a photo editor. Using Printopia, I can create a virtual printer that sends a file directly from my iPad into Photoshop on my Mac.

Tap the + sign in under the printer list in the Printopia dialog and select Send to Application. Select Photoshop as the application and that's it. You now have a virtual printer that will send an image to your Mac and open it automatically in Photoshop! It's incredibly convenient.


** Send files directly to a DROPBOX FOLDER

Add a virtual printer to send content to the DropBox folder on your Mac. You can even designate which folder in DropBox to use. Once sent to your your Mac’s Dropbox folder, the content is synced to your online account and then all your other devices that use Dropbox will have access to it. Need to save expense receipts? Take a quick picture and send it to an Expenses folder in Dropbox. Having a special day at your child's soccer game?. Create a folder and send the photos directly to it for easy organization and archiving.

** Typical workflow using Printopia and/or Evernote

As with the option to send to a folder on your Mac, this is also such a simple and effective way to collect work from students. Set up a virtual printer for a folder in DropBox. When your students submit work they simply "Print" it to the virtual printer. Go to the faculty room, open your DropBox account and all the student submissions are there. It's so easy to setup virtual printers that you can just set up a new folder and virtual printer every time you need students to submit work and keep all the submissions organized. There are many ways to return the work. Personally, I love Evernote and have each student share an Evernote Notebook with me. I can then easily annotate and even add voice comments and then return the work to the student's Evernote folder without ever touching any paper in the process.

Note that you can also use Evernote for the entire process by designating a shared folder in your Evernote account and having the students submit the work that way. Lots of options...

Password protect your folders

Every physical and virtual printer you share in Printopia can be configured with password security. Even if someone has access to your wireless network and can therefore see your shared printers, they can’t print or save files to your Mac without knowing and using a specific password.

Printopia has done a wonderful job of satisfying users that still require some amount of paper printing whilst also offering a host of virtual printer options for organizing and working with your digital content. It's one of my indispensable tools.

Other Printing Solutions

Printopia is a terrific solution for both printing and workflow in the classroom ... unless you fall into one of the following teo categories:

1. What if I don't have a Mac?

Printopia will not work on Windows computers. If you have a Windows computer then consider using a product called FingerPrint from Collobos Software. It's close in functionality to Printopia and works on both Windows and Mac platforms.

Setup and use is remarkably similar. You download the software on your computer and not your iPad. It  then shares your physical and virtual printers so that they can be accessed from the Print function on any iOS device.

2. What if my printer isn't on the same wireless network?

Both Fingerprint and Printopia share printers with users on the same wireless network. What if you need to connect to a printer that isn't on the same wireless network?

Your answer might be PrintCentralPro. This is a combination of an app that you purchase from the App Store on your iPad along with a free download that's required for your computer. Download the free companion WePrint software from their website. PrintCentral Pro offers two ways to print to any printer in any remote location, whether you're on the same network, or even in the same city as the printer.

* Print using Google Cloud Print: Google Cloud Print connects your printer to the web enabling you to print to it from anywhere. All you need is a Google account to set it up. If you don't already have one then it's literally two minutes to sign up. Once you have your Google account, simply go to http://www.google.com/cloudprint where you'll find options for adding your printer and making it available for printing over the internet. PrintCentralPro is currently the only app that supports Google Cloud Printing.

* Print via 4G/3G: This works best if you set up a new Gmail account specifically for printing. Enter the account information in both the WePrint utility on your desktop and the PrintCentral Pro app on your iPad. Print jobs will be sent to that email address and then printed every few minutes.


Sam Gliksman


Twitter: @samgliksman




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