Using the Airport Extreme for USB Printing

When I rearranged my office recently my printer ended up about 8 feet from my computer and the cable was only 6 feet. USB cables were too expensive locally, close to thirty bucks for one long enough. So I ended up ordering a Belkin 16′ USB Cable for less than $8. Ok, they got me to order a book from my wish list to get above $25 for the free shipping. But that was a 16 foot cable and a book I’d eventually order for less than a what a 11 foot cable would cost locally. USB 2 is limited to 5 meters which is about 16 feet so I was getting the longest cable I could use without getting into repeaters or powered cables.

But I’d have to wait over  a week for the cable to arrive so I left the printer where it was and hooked it to the Airport Extreme Base Station (AEBS) that was right next to it. I figured that would suffice until the cable arrived. Boy was I wrong. For the record, my printer is a Epson Stylus Photo R340. From what I experienced Apple lost it’s touch with airport printing.

There are some issues I expected going in and these would probably occur with most USB printers unless their driver is designed for the AEBS. What I confirmed was:

  • The utilities didn’t work. These are the utilities used for things like checking alignment, checking ink levels, cleaning the print head and so on.
  • Error messages aren’t returned to the computer. For example, out of ink and out of paper messages.
  • The built-in card reader can’t be accessed from the computer.

I did have additional problems which may have been printer specific. Eventually I just moved the printer a bit and ran the cable across the floor until my new cable arrived. But these are the problems I had:

  • An out of paper error message caused a loss of connectivity to the printer. Powering it off/on or plugging in the USB didn’t help. I eventually had to reboot the AEBS.
  • When a printout was near the end of the document it would frequently report a communication error and I had to cancel the job. The next job would start printing fine but would more likely than not experience the same problem near its end.
  • The AEBS would sometimes not see the printer when the printer was turned on. Unplugging/plugging in the USB usually resolved this, but once I had to reboot the AEBS (which is when I decided to move the printer).

Apple not longer publishes a list of supported printers. If you’re looking to use the AEBS for printing a good place to start your research is at Apple also has a list of troubleshooting steps but since this setup was temporary for me I didn’t take the time to go through most of them.

Anyone successfully printing using an Airport Extreme base Station?