However, when you change the way you connect to the internet, you’ll need to change how you use your computer in other ways too. That’s because once you start using a VPN, some of the essential processes you rely on won’t work exactly like they used to. One example is printing photos and documents.
If you use a wireless printer at home or work, you might have noticed that it won’t connect to your computer or complete print jobs while your VPN is online. Many VPN newbies assume this is just an annoying glitch or bug their provider needs to fix. However, it’s actually an unavoidable consequence of using a VPN.
When you connect to a VPN server, all your traffic is rerouted through a remote network. Keeping your data off local networks is what keeps you hidden from your internet provider and hackers, which is why VPNs are such a good security tool. However, the downside of connecting to the internet via a remote network is that your wireless printer will still be connected to your local network. As a result, when you try to print a document, your computer will be unable to connect to the printer – just like it would if you really did try to print from a remote location.
Thankfully, while this problem can be a big nuisance, there are several workarounds you can try if you can’t print to a local printer while connected to your VPN. Here are our top six tips for using your wireless printer with a VPN.
Option 1 – 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.
Generally, this option is found in the Preferences or Settings tab of your VPN. Look for it under a title like Enable Local LAN Access, Allow Access to Local Network Devices, or something similar. If you can’t find the setting, check the help files from your VPN provider or contact them to find out if that feature is available.
Option 2 – Connect to your printer via IP
If you’re a Mac 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. To try this method, the first thing you need to do is find your printer’s 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:
- Once you’re disconnected, link your printer to your computer as usual.
- Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences
- Click Printers & Scanners, then select your printer from the list
- Click Open Print Queue, then select Print Test Page from the Printer menu at the top of the screen.
- 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.
- Go to the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
- Click Printers & Scanners.
- Under the list of connected printers and scanners, you’ll see a ‘+’ button. Click this to get to the Add Printers screen.
- Select the IP tab and type in the IP address of your printer.
- Click Add. Once you’ve done this, your printer should show as online even when you’re connected to your VPN.
Option 3 – 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. Since router apps have other benefits, like increased ease of use and the ability to use your VPN on devices that don’t have a dedicated app, you may want to consider upgrading to a different provider if yours only has computer and mobile apps.
Option 4 – Use split tunnelling
By default, when you’re connected to the internet via your VPN, all your traffic is routed through a VPN tunnel. While this is great for security, sending every shred of data to the remote server is what stops you from sending tasks to your local, wireless printer. However, some VPNs have a special feature which allows you to send the data of your choice over your usual, local connection without disconnecting from your VPN. This feature is called split tunnelling.
As the name suggests, split tunnelling splits your traffic into private (VPN-routed) data and public (locally-routed) data. If your VPN has split tunnelling, 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. 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.
Option 5 – 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. Using Google Cloud Print, you can print a document to a printer located on any network – whether that’s halfway around the world or in your office.
It’s easy to set up Google Cloud Print with any wireless printer:
- Open your Chrome browser.
- Go to Settings, scroll down to Advanced, and click Google Cloud Print under the Printing section.
Alternatively, type chrome://setting/cloudPrinters into the navigation bar.
- Click Manage Cloud Print Devices.
- 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.
Thankfully, there is a way around this if you like the sound of Cloud printing – upgrade to a Cloud-ready printer. These printers are already set up to connect to Cloud printing services, so they don’t need any PC connection to work. If you’re unsure of where to start, the HP ePrint line is great for this purpose.
Option 6 – 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 in a pinch when you can’t print to a local printer while connected to your VPN: 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.
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.