Chodowiecki_Basedow_Tafel_21_c_ZCan you legally print from an e-book you’re reading? Would you want to? And how to do so? No, I’m not talking about piracy, just fair use in your own home or elsewhere.

Public domain books from sites like Project Gutenberg are fair game for printing. Go ahead if you can deal with the tech hassles.

Copyrighted books? Don’t count on it. Ideally Amazon, other retailers and publishers would let us print whole books for private use. But even excerpts restricted by Digital Rights Management would be better than the current situation: no printing, as rule. In deepest sarcasm mode, I’ll say: “Thanks, DRM!”

There is one workaround. At least on my desktop Kindle program, I can use block a short passage and copy it into Word.

Also, while no printing from DRMed books is the rule, some e-reading apps out there might be exceptions.

Without obstacles such as DRM, how much can you print without permission from a copyrighted book. Determining fair use is tricky. Laws of different countries will vary. Here’s an Australian take on the issue.

The why and the how

In a 2010 TeleRead post headlined How to: The archaic art of printing e-books from home, Contributor John Schember reminded us why we’d want to print from e-books—for educational purposes, for example. Or maybe you just prefer paper for highlighting and making notes.

Then, after mentioning the legal complexities, John told how you could use the Calibre e-book management program if you need to print. I’ll summarize and somewhat update his wisdom. Here are several different ways John said we could print from books:

1. You go to your Calibre library and convert your book directly to a PDF file from another format if DRM or another barrier isn’t in the way. Then print from the PDF using a desktop, Android or iOS version of a reader such as Foxit (links go to the different Foxit versions).

That’s the most accurate way to print.

2. John also tells of printing directly from the Calibre book viewer (look at the left side bar for a printer icon), but at least with my installation, I haven’t found a way to do so. All I could do was “print” to PDF. Maybe I’m overlooking something.

For more, see The Beginner’s Guide to Calibre as well as The ABCs of e-book format conversion and other TeleRead articles on Calibre.

3. Also, John noted the printing capabilities of the Sigil ePub editing program (click File, then Print), even if, at least back then, Sigil didn’t handle page breaks well when printing.

More printing tips

With the past few days, two posts have appeared in other blogs on additional ways of printing e-books—techniques that may also work with Word or Google Docs documents, spreadsheets or other files.

First, Nathan over at The E-Book Reader told how to print from Kindle Fires, and his tricks covered PDF among other formats. If the gods are on your side, that means you can print public domain books via PDF readers and other apps which allow printing.

Second, following up on Nathan, the Digital Reader offered more information on Fire-printing as well as on printing from Android devices.

For the Fire: Go to the printing-related Amazon help page and download, as appropriate, a plugin for your printer—a Canon, Epson, HP, Ricoh or Samsung. If you’re lucky, the plug in will then let your PDF app or other do the actual printing. (Update: Nate at the Digital Reader says not to bother. I’d still be curious if anyone else succeeded.)

For Android devices: Search for printing app programs by the name of your printer. Some will let you print only from within themselves, while others allow printing within apps.

The need for a printer connection—cable or wireless

But wait! In the case of both the Fire and traditional Android devices, your computer still needs to be on speaking terms with the printer. You could use a USB cable, or you can use a wireless connection to the printer (obvious requirement: a wireless-capable printer). Check with your printer manufacturer if you can’t get the wireless working. Another approach would be to try Google Cloud Print.

Finally—remember that if all else fails, you can download an e-book file to your desktop and let Calibre and your regular PDF program (typically  look for “Print” within the file menu) do the trick.

The Moon+ Reader Pro route

Here’s yet another tip. You can use Moon+ Reader Pro (I don’t know about nonPro) to mail an ePub file from your Android device to your desktop, then go the Calibre route for the PDF conversion, followed by the use of Foxit or an equivalent to print the PDF file.

I know. Given the many different hardware and software choices, this is hardly a comprehensive guide to the printing issue. Still, maybe it’s a start. As you can see, even the organic complexities of printing from nonDRMed books can be a hassle. The last thing we need is for DRM to get in the way of at least printing within the bounds of fair use.

Got a question on a specific? Post it and perhaps another TeleRead community member can help you.

Image credit: Here.


  1. @Everyone: To get the comment tracker on the community page back to normal, I need to delete the dialog between Nate and me. But fear not. It’s here below. – DR

    te Hoffelder January 24, 2016 at 8:55 am
    Those plugins don’t work on either of my Fire tablets, so I would not recommend using them.
    David Rothman January 24, 2016 at 9:33 am
    @Nate: Thanks for the update on the plug-ins!
    Nate Hoffelder January 24, 2016 at 10:02 am

    BTW, Amazon won’t let you print DRM-free Kindle ebooks not even your own, so that arguably has less to do with DRM than technical limitations with the platform.

    Printing is a feature Amazon has chosen not to develop, for whatever reason.
    David Rothman January 24, 2016 at 10:06 am
    @Nate: Perhaps we can think of the nonprinting as a de-facto form of DRM I course did not say Amazon offered printing, but it’s useful to enlighten people on that little detail.
    Nate Hoffelder January 24, 2016 at 11:15 am
    David, I think that when you blame DRM you are confusing the issue. (You’re also getting the technical details wrong.)

    It would be more constructive (also more accurate) to regard Kindle ebooks as a document format that can’t be printed, because that would let us criticize it in comparison to other document formats which can be printed – PDF, for example.

    That comparison can be used as a goad to pressure Amazon into adding the feature (or so I hope).
    David Rothman January 24, 2016 at 11:28 am
    @Nate: I said de facto DRM in regard to the end result even for nonDRMed books: no printing! As for the format for Kindle e-books—well, books are the main show. The Kindle’s personal documents capability is not as important to Amazon. Kindle format is not used for business documents to the extent that PDF is (or as far as the percentage of use). It’s just too much of a stretch, as I see it, to make the comparison you’re aiming for. We’ll just have to agree to disagree on these matters.

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