Katherine Boehret

Two Ways to Hit “Print” on a Mobile Device

I haven’t used a printer in my home for the past decade, thanks mostly to my reliance on digital smartphone and tablet screens, along with limited living space. Though paper printouts are far less valuable than they once were, there are still moments when I like to have something printed, like a backup copy of an airline reservation or a map with directions.

Most people assume they can’t print from a tablet or smartphone because their printers are older and/or aren’t equipped with Wi-Fi capability. This week, I took a closer look at two of the many free consumer-oriented solutions seeking to put that myth to rest: Presto (formerly FingerPrint) by Collobos Software and ThinPrint Cloud Printer by Cortado. They make printing from mobile devices as simple as hitting print on a computer.

Both can print documents from various mobile devices, though Presto is currently limited to working with printers connected to Windows PCs. ThinPrint printers can be connected to Windows PCs or Macs. A Mac version of Presto is expected in August. (Each comes in an enterprise version that costs money and is geared toward office environments.)

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These solutions use a sneaky workaround: They work as if they’re simply sending a print job to a computer — and the computer can then print the job because it’s already set up to work with a printer. For example, I press Print on my iPad to get a paper copy of an important email, and the email prints out seconds later because the computer I’ve set to work with Presto or ThinPrint is associated with that printer.

If this concept sounds familiar, that’s because there are existing options from big-name companies that work with and without PCs acting as go-betweens for mobile devices and printers. But these options have their own caveats.

H-P’s ePrint solution enables wireless printing from devices, but only to H-P printers. Apple’s AirPrint solution works with more than 700 printer models from more than a dozen manufacturers, but is limited to Apple’s iOS devices like the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. Google’s Cloud Print is confined to items sent from the Google Chrome Web browser, Chrome OS or Google mobile apps like Gmail and Google Docs.

I found Presto worked more consistently and in more scenarios where people might want to print something. Examples included photos of my newborn nephew, important emails and Web pages from home-decorating websites that I wanted to save. It has built-in support for Google’s Cloud Print, which is handy when printing documents from Google apps (like Gmail or the Chrome mobile browser), Android or the Chrome operating system. This was easy to enable by entering my Cloud Print account credentials in the “Namespaces” tab during setup.

The catch with Presto Home, which is the name of the free version, is that mobile devices can successfully print only to PCs that are running on the same network. For example, my iPad had to be running on the same Wi-Fi network as my Windows 8 PC to print everything out. The Enterprise version of Presto, which costs $30 a month, offers a workaround for this. Another roadblock: If your PC is turned off, like a closed laptop, Presto can’t run.

I downloaded Presto from store.collobos.com to my Windows 8 PC and walked through a few quick steps to get it started. Once this was installed, my devices automatically found the printer (previously set up to work with the PC) as a destination option when printing materials. Presto is compatible with iOS, Android and Google’s Chrome OS.

Meanwhile, ThinPrint is focused more on being a solution for people who use a smartphone or tablet for work-related tasks. It won’t print emails or Web pages, nor does it integrate with Google Cloud Print. But it does print photos quite easily via an app that opens your device’s photos on iOS or Android.

This free app is available in the Apple App Store or Google Play store and must be installed on your mobile device. It offers instructions on downloading a program for a Windows PC or Mac from cloudcentral.cortado.com. Presto avoids needing an app because of its integration with AirPrint and Google Cloud Print.

Unlike the free version of Presto, the free version of ThinPrint lets people print from their iOS or Android devices from wherever they are, so they don’t have to be using the same network as the associated computer. This means if you’re wandering around town and snap a print-worthy photo, you can send it to your printer (through the cloud) using ThinPrint. When you get home, the memorable printouts will be there waiting. If your computer is turned off, the job is held in the cloud and printed the next time that machine is turned on.

Printing isn’t as necessary in our everyday lives as it once was, thanks to mobile devices. It’s often hard to even find the command that sends a document to the printer. But for those rare, vital moments when you just need something on paper, Presto and ThinPrint offer smart solutions.

Email Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.


Corrections & Amplifications

An earlier version of the Digital Solution had a reference to ThinPrint Cloud Printer that incorrectly said it can print emails.


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