The Case For
Over at LifeHacker one of the readers, Mystixa, had a great comment on the article: Do You Print Photos Anymore?. She was of the opinion that we are currently living in the Digital Dark Ages. Her point was that there is no storage media today that stands the test of time.
Centuries From Now...
It is possible that in centuries from now our era could be looked back upon as one of the worst documented periods. Try to retrieve data today from 20 year old media like 5 1/4 inch floppies or a Commodore tape drive and you'll realize that times do move on, but our recorded memories do not. Have you ever lost a hard drive containing photos? They are gone forever. Even a good backup strategy is not sufficient to ensure the legacy of your visual memories.
Cover Your Home with Memories
Nothing lends more character to a home than many family photos on the mantel, on the wall, or even covering the fridge.
"Instant" Printing = Speed and Ease of Printing.
What Makes Printing Faster and Easier?
Hotspots - If you don't have to plug your smartphone into the printer to print photos then things become a lot easier and faster. The printers reviewed below all expose WiFi hotspots to instantly get your prints. (except for the Prynt where the phone docks directly, but this is fast and easy)
No Ink - Some of the printers below have also done away with the idea of ink cartridges at the expense of special kinds of chemical photo paper. No toner cartridges that run out at the worst possible time.
Size and Portability - Three of the printers reviewed below are extremely portable, small to the extent of being (almost) pocket-able, but what they sacrifice to a degree are quality and speed.
Our Favorite Smartphone Printers
In selecting our favorite instant printers, we will give size, weight and inkless printing ability the largest weight.
|1||Instax Share SP-2||5 Stars||Find Best Price|
|2||Polaroid ZIP||4.5 Stars||Find Best Price|
|3||Prynt Case||4 Stars||Find Best Price|
|4||Canon Selphy||3.5 Stars||Find Best Price|
|5||Epson Charm||3 Stars||Find Best Price|
What Does a Smartphone Printer Do?
A smartphone printer turns your phone into a Polaroid. It's so much more than a wireless printer. It gives you the ability to provide a portable option to print pictures anywhere at any time. While the novelty of Polaroid film has since worn off, this digital age version is both fun and functional.
Many professional street photographers carry an instant printer along when doing a street shoot - nothing wins an unwilling model over quicker than having a polaroid photo of him/her handed over to break the ice.
How to Print from Your Smartphone
Printing from your smartphone is downright easy. While each company has a slightly different process most of them are very similar. Download the matching app for whichever printer you choose, they are all free, then choose an image from your gallery. Each app is slightly different but the process is similar. Not all apps allow you to edit pictures, if yours doesn't you'll need to edit it before printing or choose a printer that allows you to edit. Once you've decided which pictures to print you can edit them into a template and hit print. Within a short amount of time, you'll be holding that same picture in your hand.
Top 5 Instant Printers for Smartphones
|PRODUCT||Size||Weight oz||Toner||Speed||Prints||Pic Size||Cost/shot|
|Instax Share SP-2||7.12x5x3||008.6||No||19||100||2.47 x 1.75"||$0.87|
|Polaroid Zip||4.7x2.9x0.9"||006.6||No||55||025||3 x 2"||$0.50|
|Prynt Case||6.5x4.6x4"||008.8||No||50||020||3 x 2"||$0.50|
|Canon Selphy||7.1x5.4x2.5"||030.4||Yes||39||054||6 x 4"||$0.33|
|Eson Charm||9.1x6.7x5.7"||126||Yes||34||200||6 x 4"||$0.25|
The biggest bonus of the new Instax SP-2 is that it's fast. Where the older SP-1 (at $50 cheaper) gave us 18-28 seconds per picture, the newer model can do a shot just north of 10 seconds. You'll have to decide if this is simply a novelty or a bonus but the Instax also produces pictures like an old Polaroid – once printed they only appear after a few seconds. Print quality is slightly better than the SP-1, and of course the plus is no ink cartridges are needed. At only 8.6 ounces, and now styled in white and silver/gold, it's comparatively small and is compatible with both iOS and Android. Compared to the Selphy it's significantly smaller, but it's still larger than the Zip so it's still very portable and doesn't need to stay plugged in. Other advantages are templates in the app that let you add captions like "Happy Birthday" or "Merry Christmas", as well as the ability to add emoji, do collages and split photos across prints. You get a host of custom photo papers from plain white to colorful designs like Candy Pop and Shiny Star.
The prints tend to be washed out in color and blown out. While your filters may emphasize the nostalgic look this isn't going to work for every image. But we're talking about Polaroid-like prints here: retro, fun and not intended for exhibition galleries. The cost per picture is also rather excessive and over double some of the other competitors. Costs come to $0.87 per picture. This also comes with an image that is smaller than all the others at only 2.47 x 1.75". That's smaller than a standard size and smaller than the images produced by the other printers. This printer is also more expensive than the rest.
This is the smallest of all the printers, at only 2.9x4.7x0.9 it is almost too small. It's also the lightest, weighing in at only 6.6oz. It supports both android and iOS and can hold 36 sheets of paper at a time. The paper size is a 2x3" which means it's perfect for standard wallet sized photos. Utilizing Zero Ink (ZINK) technology also means no ink cartridges. It's also comparatively priced, similar to the Selphy and significantly cheaper than the Fujifilm. The Zip also offers NFC pairing as well as Bluetooth.
The biggest downside of this printer is that it's slow. While the others come in at mere seconds the Zip lags behind at almost a minute per picture. Another downside is you're only going to get 25 pictures per charge, a sad amount considering the Charm can run all day. While the size might be a bonus it's also a downside, this thing is so tiny that it's rather easy to lose if you're not careful. The zip is fairly middle ground as far as picture quality. ZINK photos tend to be slightly darker than normal with a slightly bluish tint. As with the Instax this creates a custom feel to your photos - once again you're not doing exhibition gallery work here. The app doesn't allow different templates, you don't get different colored photo paper, what you see is pretty much what you get on the photo.
The Prynt, fresh from a recent Kickstarter campaign, is a dock where you can slide your iPhone 5/5S/6/6S or Samsung Galaxy S4/5 phone into. Changing to a different cellphone? Get a different Prynt adaptor for that phone at about $19. No toner cartridges here - like the Polaroid ZIP, it uses special Prynt ZINK paper. Prynts are produced in less than half a minute. Added to that shots can be previewed before you decide to print. Image quality is decent, on par with the Polaroid ZIP. Photos will work out ot about $25 for a pack of 50 which comes in cheaper than the Instax and close to the Polaroid.
Image quality is a bit grainy and as these are ZINK photos they do come out slightly darker. Although photos are processed quickly, what irritated us was the Harry Potter-like mini movie that needs to be recorded after every shot and is recorded on every Prynt photo. You can then view the mini movie using the Prynt app through the phone's camera in an "augmented reality" fashion. Whether this catches on or ends up in the realm of "one gimmick too far", remains to be seen.
The Selphy offers the best quality prints of all of these, but it comes with the compromise of size and portability. If you don't mind lugging it around this will truly give you the best pictures. The Selphy is pretty cheap however, especially when you take into account that the cost per picture is only $0.33 compared to some others. The Selphy also supports Windows OS as well as iOS and Android, something none of the others do. The printer also supports two different size papers, something none of the others do, including a standard 4x6. The screen allows you to preview images as a bonus, but it also contributes to the size and weight.
This is far from being a convenient portable option. The Selphy weighs almost 2lb and is bulky at over 7” across and 5” deep. It's printing time is acceptable at 39 seconds, leaving it slower than the Instax but still significantly faster than the Zip. The Selphy also requires being plugged in to work even if you can still connect wirelessly, making this far from being an “anywhere” option (an optional battery is available that will yield up to 54 prints). This is not the printer you will be lugging around your street photography shoot to print out snaps.
The Charm comes in on the cheaper end of the spectrum. It's also quite middle-range with it's printing time of 37 seconds. Probably the biggest pro of the charm is that it also has it's own 2.5” LCD screen where you can preview and adjust your picture before printing including removing red eye and making sepia. Prints are water resistant, something that is a huge bonus in the great outdoors. Since the printer uses standard 4x6 size it's easy to get paper for and you can use any brand, unlike the others that require special own brand versions. The downside is that this is the only size it prints. The Charm can print for hours, it's been tested to run all day depending on use and whether you're using Bluetooth or not. Prints are good quality and rival those of the Selphy without needing to be tethered to an outlet.
At over 8 pounds this thing is a beast. It's huge, and boxy and far from portable compared to the others. In fact, it's almost the size of a standard printer at 11.9x10.7x9.6. It only prints in 4x6 and cannot be connected wirelessly without buying an additional Bluetooth adapter. The option to plug directly in or use a memory card does however, give you the option for this as a standard camera accessory too.
And the New Kid on the Block:
The Sprocket is not just small and sturdy, but it is also amazingly light and sleek. Almost no configuration is needed to set up this printer. It is easily accessible from the App store - Just download the app and you are good to go! Too lazy to hit the store? Well, the app isn’t truly necessary to get the printing done. Just connect the printer with your phone’s Bluetooth, share the photo with Sprocket and you have a picture in your hands! Become an editor junkie at home! You can add all sorts of cool borders and text boxes to make your pictures more interesting. The style and color of the fonts can also be changed, giving your pictures a funky look. The Sprocket is capable of printing up to 50 different photos at a time, without running out of battery. And if you need to do a quick top up in the battery department, a Micro USB cable is included with it. The printer uses Zinc technology to print the pictures. The photo paper is sticky on the other end, so you can use your pictures as a sticker. Another amazing feature offered by Sprocket is that you don’t have to wait for the picture to dry up. Just snap, print, and enjoy!
Sprocket is a little more on the costlier side as compared to the other printers. It comes with a price tag of $129.99, with 10 sheets of printer paper. An additional $10 is charged for a replacement pack of 20. The pictures have pretty small print sizes of just 2”x3”, which means they can be used as a sticker but aren’t much of a keepsake. The printed photos are a little too warm as compared to other printers. Also, the color of the pictures sometimes gets faded out in some areas, decreasing the quality of the picture.
Which is Best?
The Charm seems like a dinosaur it's so big and bulky, the quality isn't amazing enough or the price cheap enough to warrant the enormous size. While it's comparable to the Selphy for its quality it's still double the size and can't print multiple sizes and it's only saving grace is the impressive battery life. No inkless printing here - it comes with a toner cartridge.
Although the Selphy comes in at a competitive price, delivers good quality, lugging it around will still feel like carrying around the equivalent a desktop PC where a laptop is needed. The ink cartridges also make this an impractical solution compared to its rivals that need no ink and can fit into medium to large sized pockets. We see the Selphy more as a photo booth solution at a fair if you need to print out decent snaps for customers.
We liked the Prynt - not only is it an interesting new concept, producing good image quality snaps in near realtime, but the wow-factor will have strangers and friends ooh-ing and aah-ing around you. Initially there were problems with the battery draining too quick, but a firmware update fixed that as well. We hated the mini movie feature - Some might find it more acceptable.
If you're looking for portability go with the Zip, it's the smallest, and it's the most functional for on the go but you won't get a lot of use out of it without recharging.
The Instax is a decent all-rounder despite its higher price. It is very fast, has a great phone app, and its little retro looking prints are more Polaroid-like than Polaroid itself can achieve. We rate it first on our Top 5 instant printers for smartphones.