Printing over VPN - why it might be a challenge

Last updated: December 1, 2020
printing over vpn

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While using a VPN has a lot of benefits, those who start using the product for the first time encounter some inconveniences. In particular – printing photos and documents. If you use a wireless printer, you might have noticed that it won’t connect to your computer or complete print jobs while your VPN is online.

Printing issues using VPN are not glitches, but they are avoidable.

When you connect to a VPN server, all your traffic is rerouted through a remote network. The downside of connecting to the internet this way is that your wireless printer will still be connected to your local network. As a result, you won’t be able to connect to your printer.

One workaround is to get Surfshark or another VPN with the split tunneling feature. But there are other solutions as well.

Change your VPN settings

With some VPNs, getting your computer to connect to your wireless printer is as simple as changing the settings. This is possible if your VPN has an option to toggle the use of local network resources.

Once enabled, this option allows you to connect to printers and other devices on your local network without disabling your VPN. Here’s how you would do it:

How to change your VPN settings

  1. Go to your VPN’s Preferences or Settings
  2. Find a feature called Enable Local LAN Access
  3. Alternatively, look for one called Allow Access to Local Network Devices
  4. If you cannot find any, check the help files
  5. Alternatively, contact your VPN’s support

Connect to your printer via IP – for macOS users

If you’re a macOS user and the above option doesn’t work for you, you may be able to get your computer working with your wireless printer by connecting to it directly through its IP address.

If your printer has a screen, you can often see the IP address by selecting this option from the menu. If not, you can find it by disconnecting from your VPN temporarily and following these instructions:

How to find your printer’s IP address

  1. Once you’re disconnected, link your printer to your computer as usual
  2. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences
  3. Click Printers & Scanners, then select your printer from the list
  4. Click Open Print Queue, then select Print Test Page from the Printer menu at the top of the screen.
  5. Find the Device URI on the test page and scan until you see ‘IP=’. The IP address is the number string listed after these letters.

Once you have the IP address, connecting your printer by IP address is simple:

How to connect your printer via IP

  1. Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences
  2. Click Printers & Scanners.
  3. Under the list of connected printers and scanners, you’ll see a ‘+’ button. Click this to get to the Add Printers screen.
  4. Select the IP tab and type in the IP address of your printer.
  5. Click Add. Once you’ve done this, your printer should show as online even when you’re connected to your VPN.

Use the router app

Are you connecting to your VPN via your provider’s computer software? While these standard VPN clients are sufficient for most uses, they’re not always ideal when it comes to using local devices like printers.

Switching to your VPN’s router app instead can help you solve your printer problems.

This method works because when you use your VPN through your router, every device on your network connects to the same remote server – including your printer.

With your printer and computer both connected to the same network, you should have no problem sending through print jobs as usual.

Not every VPN has a router app, but it never hurts to check your provider’s website or contact them to find out. Moreover, router apps have other benefits, like:

  • increased ease of use
  • the ability to use your VPN on devices that don’t have a dedicated app

Therefore, you may want to consider upgrading to a different VPN provider if yours only has computer and mobile apps.

Use split tunneling

By default, when you’re connected to the internet via your VPN, all your traffic is routed through a VPN tunnel. It’s great for security, but sending every shred of data to the remote server is what stops you from sending tasks to your local, wireless printer.

Therefore, some VPNs, like Surfshark, have a special feature called split tunneling. As the name suggests, split tunneling splits your traffic into two parts:

  1. private (VPN-routed) data
  2. public (locally-routed) data.

If your VPN has split tunneling, you’ll be able to select which software on your computer can send data through the VPN, either by excluding specific apps or only allowing specific apps.

Surfshark VPN
Surfshark VPN
VPNpro rating: 9.4 / 10

If you print frequently from a PDF reader or text editor, for example, you can set your VPN to disallow that software from connecting. Keeping those apps on your local connection will then allow them to sync with your locally-connected printer.

Of course, it’s important to note that restricting certain apps from connecting to your VPN means any data you send from them could be seen by your ISP or anyone else snooping on your connection.

Use Google Cloud Print

Another great way to bypass these VPN restrictions is to use a remote wireless printing method that doesn’t require your printer and computer to be connected to the same network.

There are many remote printing services available today, but Google Cloud Print is one of the most popular and accessible. Here’s how you would set it up:

How to set up Google Cloud Print:

  1. Open your Chrome browser
  2. Go to Settings
  3. Scroll down to Advanced
  4. Click Google Cloud Print under the Printing section
  5. Alternatively, type chrome://setting/cloudPrinters into the navigation bar
  6. Click Manage Cloud Print Devices
  7. Sign in, then follow the steps to add your printer

Once you’ve connected your printer to the Cloud, printing documents remotely is easy. All you need to do is head to google.com/cloudprint and upload your print file.

Windows users can save time by downloading the Google Cloud Print app, which adds Cloud printing to your regular print window. You can also print directly from the Gmail app by clicking the 3-dot menu button on any email and selecting Google Cloud Print.

However, there is one downside to this method: in order to print, you need to have a computer powered on and connected to your local network (without a VPN) whenever you want to print.

As a result, it’s better suited to offices with multiple computers than to home VPN users.

Connect your printer with a cable

If you can’t use the above options for any reason, there’s a simple solution you can use – connect your printer to your computer via a cable.

When your printer and computer are connected directly instead of over the internet, you shouldn’t have any trouble printing your documents even when your VPN is active.

Most printers connect to computers using standard USB AB cables, which you can pick up cheaply in most stationery and computing stores.

Of course, this method is low-tech and only works while your printer is plugged into your computer, so it’s best to try one of the solutions above to fix the problem permanently.

Bottom line

With so many fixes available, you’re sure to find one that works for you and your printing dilemma. And remember, while it can take some time to work out the kinks of using a VPN, the security benefits far outweigh the negatives.

Top VPN providers
NordVPN
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Surfshark VPN
9.4 / 10
Strong encryption
Excellent performance
Unlimited simultaneous connections

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5 comments
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  1. Cathy Singleton

    I have Fubo live TV on my amazon fire stick. If I put the vpn on my router will this interfere with my watching TV thru the app


  2. sherman

    I never knew about this at all! Thank you for raising the awareness of visitors to your site! I would definitely learn how to use VPN when printing next time


  3. unitechmind

    Printing with a VPN? Never knew it is possible. A great eye-opening article. I have a wired printer right now but things are changing fast and I might change to get the wireless one soon


  4. harvestmoonrules

    Hmmm. I’ve always printed directly via a cable, and am not really a fan of wireless printing (I’ve heard a ton of horror stories of people getting stuff printed through their printers they didn’t send) so I’ve always been just ultra suspicious of the process. But my sister got me a wireless printer, and I’ve been wondering if there was a safe way to set it up. Google Cloud Printing looks promising. I might try that.


  5. Max R

    Great article, I’ve never even though of printing with my VPN, you can still do it offline I guess, but when you don’t have the choice but to do it online, I guess it’s better to know how to.

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