Print from iOS with Dropbox, IFTTT and Automator

My printer, a Kodak 5250, 1 does not support Apple’s AirPrint and likely never will. That’s too bad, because I’d like to print from my iPhone and iPad. Today I worked up a convoluted work-around with some additional benefits. 2 Best of all, it didn’t cost me a dime.

The idea is to create a folder in Dropbox and attach a Folder Action to it that prints new additions. I use email to populate that folder and thereby trigger print jobs. Here’s how to set it up with IFTTT, Dropbox and Apple’s Automator.

Preparation

To get started, you’ll need an IFTTT account and a Dropbox account. Go to IFTTT.com and GetDropbox.com to sign up. Both are free 3. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get started.

Dropbox and Automator

The first step is to create a destination folder in Dropbox. I made one called “Print.”¬†Next, create a Folder Action with Automator and attach it to that folder. The action will print any document that’s added to the folder (below). Here’s how to create it.

  1. Launch Automator, which can be found in your Applications folder.
  2. Automator asks you to select a template. Click Folder Action and then click Choose.
  3. Click Utilities in the Action Library on the left and then find Print Finder Items in the next column. Drag it into window on the right.
  4. Choose your destination folder (“Print” in my case) from the drop-down at the top of the window.
  5. Select the printer you’d like to use from the Print To drop-down.
  6. Click Save and you’re done.

Easy, right? To test it out, drop a text file into the folder. If you did it correctly, your printer should spring to life and produce the document. 4. Now, on to the next step: getting stuff into that folder easily from an iPhone or iPad.

IFTTT

IFTTT can act upon emails sent to trigger@ifttt.com. In this case, we’ll have IFTTT create a text file of any message it receives at that address and place it in the “Print” folder in Dropbox. Here’s how to create the recipe.

  1. Enable both the email and Dropbox channels.
  2. Click Create a recipe.
  3. The “If this then that” prompt appears. Click “This.”
  4. Scroll down to the email channel and click it.
  5. Two options appear. Choose “Send IFTTT any email” and then click Create Trigger.
  6. The prompt reappears. Click “That.”
  7. Click the Dropbox channel.
  8. Click “Create a Text File.”
  9. The “Complete Action Fields” options appear. In field labeled Dropbox Folder Path, enter the path to your destination folder. I entered /Print. You may leave the other options alone and finally click Create Action.

That’s it! Now, any message you send to trigger@ifttt.com from the email address that IFTTT has on file for you will be converted into a text file and placed into your Print folder, which the Folder Action will recognize and print for you.

Lastly, create a contact on your iPhone or iPad with the email address trigger@ifttt.com. I labeled this contact as a business and called it “Print.”

Now, when I want to print from my iPhone or iPad, I simply forward the email, web address, Tweet, or whatever to “Print” and off it goes. Printing from my iOS devices without spending a dime!

The bonus is that I can create a print job from anywhere that I have an Internet connection and access to the identified email address. Let’s say I’m at a meeting or off in a pumpkin patch (as was the case last weekend). I can forward any email to the Print contact, knowing it will be waiting for me when I get home.

Another option is Google’s Cloud Print. It’s simple to set up (the setup requires Chrome) and is super easy for printing from Google products like Gmail and Google Docs. Some websites are starting to use Google Cloud Print buttons, but I’ve only seen a few.¬†Unfortunately, it’s really restricted to printing from Google’s products.

One last thing. If you do a lot of printing, that Print folder will be bulging. I’ve created a simple Hazel script to keep an eye on it (above).

This isn’t the most elegant solution, but it’s working for me. Plus, it was fun to put together. If you use or modify it, let me know.

  1. So close.
  2. Printopia is a fine solution and I recommend it. Set it up and it works. But where’s the fun in that?
  3. Dropbox offers 2 GB of storage for free. Additional storage is available for a fee.
  4. Bonus feature: Place an alias to that folder on your desktop for easy drag-and-drop printing.

13 Comments on "Print from iOS with Dropbox, IFTTT and Automator"

  1. Perry Lund says:

    My Automater seems to not have printer selection drop down for its action. I am investigating causes on my end.

  2. Shirley says:

    Hmmn, an interesting way of printing from iOS gadgets, wouldn’t have thought of that myself! yes you can use printopia, but you can also use another third party app like printdirect for free :D

  3. Jacques says:

    Why didn’t you just enable the printer? There’s an app for both Mac and PC that allows you to make ANY printer available for Airprint.

    An easy one-step and you’re done..

  4. Hi Dave,

    I’ve picked up your workflow and modified it fits more to something I like. :-)
    In the spirit of sharing I’ve open sourced it at github. You can find it here: https://github.com/martijnengler/tools/tree/master/print-attachment

    Thanks for the inspiration and doing the hard work! :-)

    – Martijn

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