All the options for home, business and education users (correct as of May 2019 – comments/corrections to email@example.com).
When Chromebooks first launched there was only one supported method of hooking up your printer to your Chromebook: Google Cloud Print.
Since then, thankfully, the printing options have widened but it’s still confusing and complex. We take a quick tour through the options, regardless of whether you are a home, education or enterprise user of Chromebook printing.
For the impatient, here is a summary table:
|Google Cloud Print||Users can print from anywhere (also see disadvantages).|
Central management of printers.
|Printer needs Google Cloud Print capability.|
Administrators report unreliability in enterprise / education settings.
Limited print policy enforcement.
Users can print from anywhere (see also advantages).
|Chrome OS CUPS (native printing)||Software is built into Chrome OS – nothing to install.|
Mediocre printer support.
Reliable local network printing/tried & tested.
Works with some USB printers.
|If your printer is not supported you can’t install a new driver.|
Limited administration options.
No print policy enforcement.
No print audit trail.
|Printer vendor apps in the Chrome store e.g. HP Xerox, etc||Reliable local network printing.|
Works with some USB printers.
HP app supports admin configuration of printers.
|Only works with printers from the vendor – no good in mixed printer environments.|
No print reporting or policy enforcement for administrators.
|3rd party solutions e.g. directprint.io, Printerlogic, Papercut etc||Works with many printer vendors.|
Advanced features for administrators – including configuration, cost saving and audit.
|Typically has a license cost.|
Free home version from directprint.io – see below.
|External print servers/Cloud connectors/using a PC and other various hacks||Can be a quick fix for an non Cloud compatible printer.|
OK for advanced user in a home environment.
|Not an enterprise solution, requires servers and maintenance – reliability issues will likely generate support calls.|
Google Cloud Print
The promised land of printing: no print servers on premise, fully integrated with Google G Suite, platform neutral (works on Chrome OS, Windows, Mac).
Except that for a multitude of reasons it isn’t a big hit with Enterprise and Education users.
All documents (Google Cloud print v1) leave the network, travel to Google servers, then get sent back to the printer that’s only 10 feet away from you. Quite a round trip.
So after you have upgraded the entire printer fleet to Cloud Print compatible printers, administrators report struggling with printers that drop connectivity to the Cloud, causing support calls. Not cool.
Google should be applauded for trying to bring printing into the 21st century – and for the majority of home users with new printers, it works, well enough.
Chrome OS CUPS (a.k.a. native printing)
In early 2017 the Chrome OS team introduced the CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) into Chrome OS.
CUPS is an Apple open source project which provides the backbone for printing on Mac OS and most Linux distributions (e.g. Ubuntu). In that regard it’s tried and tested, well developed and maintained, respected and flexible.
This was seemingly a smart move by the Chrome OS team, who clearly were responding to grumbles with Cloud Print. Except that unlike on Mac and Linux, Chrome OS doesn’t have quite the same level of flexibility to install extra drivers. For example we have a cheaper Dell laser printer and needed a custom driver, which was very difficult to install (we know, we tried – for hours) and gave up.
It feels like CUPS was included to provide extra printing options for home users, those with ‘legacy’ (non Cloud Print compatible, or USB printers) to help Chrome OS get to the mainstream.
Further improvements like printer auto discovery and configuration have helped home users, but it’s not perfect. Administrators who are used to Windows print management solutions will be disappointed with the admin options provided within G Suite.
Printer vendor apps in the Chrome Store
Several printer vendors were quick to introduce app-based printing solutions aimed primarily at home users to the Chrome Store.
HP Print for Chrome was one of the early examples of a print stack ported from Windows/Mac to run on Chrome OS. Excellent work HP. The app is hugely popular – with millions of weekly users and provides all of the functionality that home users on Windows and Mac have come to expect. HP also include administration options via G Suite, using configuration files.
Expect to see more printer-vendor driver solutions appear in the Chrome Store over time. Vendors seem to be catching up with the popularity of Chromebooks and clearly identify an opportunity to improve the reliability and features. According to Google at I/O ’19 Chromebooks now account for 21% of all laptops sold in the US, showing growth year-on-year.
3rd party solutions – such as https://directprint.io
Designed for administrators looking for advanced configuration, logging, audit, cost and policy control 3rd party solutions from https://directprint.io , Printerlogic, Papercut and some others are now available for Chrome OS.
If you have a mixed-vendor printer environment (HP, Xerox, Brother etc), you definitely need a 3rd party universal solution.
- Manage more than 20 printers?
- Want to know who’s printing?
- Want to enforce mono/duplex/paper/toner saving or secure print?
- User and group based (teachers/students) deployment of printers?
- Need professional support?
Our advice: Look for a solution that doesn’t involve deploying anything on premise (servers, management stations, intermediate PCs etc).
directprint.io also has free home user versions of our printer drivers – see ‘Related’ tab on the store for more information: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/wifi-printer-driver-for-c/hhcgnlnhaapiekdelngjichnccjfkbnc
External print servers /Cloud connectors/Intermediate Windows PCs/other hacks
To get a single non-cloud printer working with your Chromebook you have options. You could possibly scale this for a SOHO environment up to a few printers (don’t call us for support!).
Use Google Cloud Print Connector, connects a non-cloud printer to Google Cloud Print. You will need a bit of hardware to run the cloud print connector on, such as an old PC running Linux or as Raspberry PI.
Build a CUPS server using a raspberry PI so that you can connect ‘legacy’ printer via network or USB to the server. Remember to turn on printer advertising in CUPS so that Chrome OS Native printing picks up the new printer on the local network..
Using an intermediate Windows PC to connect the non-Cloud printer to Cloud Print (install the standard drivers from the printer manufacturer on windows to get started). The PC will need to be switched on 24/7 if you want to be able to print thru the PC to the printer. This is effectively the same as introducing a print server, except that it’s a Windows PC.
All of these options are a bit hacky but if you have a printer that doesn’t work with the other solutions and you have time on your hands to get technical with printer configuration, this may just work. YMMV.
Home users, go with what works! Life is too short to spend time on printers…
Enterprise and education users:
- Consider how much control and insight you need and whether a single vendor solution will work for you long-term.
- Consider whether you have ‘legacy’ (non Cloud) printers that you need to wring additional value out of before swapping out.
- If you have a managed print service contract, speak to your provider about transitioning from a Windows-centric print infrastructure to a Chromebook-friendly one.
Good luck! Contact us if you need advice firstname.lastname@example.org
https://directprint.io is a print management solution designed for Chromebooks.
Article by David Jenkins, Founder directprint.io. Cloud Print, Chrome OS, Chrome are trademarks of Google Mac OS and CUPS are trademarks of Apple.