How Mobile Printing Works

Mobile Printers
This print server lets devices connect to a printer through wires or wirelessly.
This print server lets devices connect to a printer through wires or wirelessly.
Photo courtesy HowStuffWorks Shopper

Getting a handheld device to communicate with a printer can be pretty simple. Some printers have built-in Bluetooth or 802.11 receivers. For printers without them, USB adapters can add wireless capabilities. A wireless print server, like the Axis Communications 580 Print Plug or the HP Jetdirect ew2400 Wireless Print Server, can also make a printer wireless. Some print servers can process documents and prepare them for printing so that the handheld device doesn't have to. Others mainly act as a switchboard, letting signals from wireless devices through to the printer one at a time.

Adding wireless capabilities to a printer can be easy, but getting a handheld device to communicate with it can be more difficult. Newer devices can automatically discover a wireless printer, just like they would a WiFi connection or a nearby Bluetooth device. Most mobile printing programs let users maintain a list of printers they use frequently. That way, people don't have to sift through a long list of available printers.

But even if a PDA detects a nearby printer, it can't use it if it doesn't have the right drivers installed. Many printer manufacturers provide scaled-down drivers that let handheld devices print to most of their printers. This usually works pretty well, but because of the generic nature of the driver, the device can't always use each printer's specific features.

This tiny Brother printer uses A7-sized paper and uses a rechargeable battery.
Photo courtesy HowStuffWorks Shopper

For people who travel extensively, portable printers can be a better option than looking for available printers. These are compact, lightweight and can be both battery operated and wireless. Some portable printers, often used for labels and bar codes, will even fit in a pocket or on a belt.

If you're considering buying a portable printer, be sure to compare the printer's abilities with what you'll need to print. If you mostly print photographs, consider getting a portable photo printer, which reads directly from a camera or a memory card. Make sure that the printer is compatible with the device and software you want to use.

To learn more about printers, PDAs, smart phones, WiFi and other topics, see the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Axis Communications. "Network Print Servers: White Paper." February 5, 2001.
  • Axis Communications: Q&A for the Axis 5810 and 5800+
  • Bachmann Software: What does PrintBoy Do?
  • Brother: Mprint
  • Field Software Products: PrintPocket CE
  • HP: Mobile Printing and Presenting Solutions
  • HP: Mobile Printing
  • Pharos Systems: Mobile Printing
  • PrintAnywhere: How it Works
  • Westtek: PocketPC