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.
Top Instant Smartphone Printers
Since our original article back in 2016, two new printers have joined the ranks of our Top 5, the HP Sprocket and the Kodak Mini Portable. We therefore decided to grow the table to a 2017 Top 7.
|1||Instax Share SP-2||5 Stars||Find Best Price|
|2||HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer||4.5 Stars||Find Best Price|
|3||Epson Charm PM 225||4.5 Stars||Find Best Price|
|4||Polaroid ZIP||4 Stars||Find Best Price|
|5||Kodak Mini Portable Printer||4 Stars||Find Best Price|
|6||Canon Selphy CP1300||3.5 Stars||Find Best Price|
|7||Prynt Case||2.5 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 Instant Printers for Smartphones: Specs
|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|
|HP Sprocket Portable||4.53x2.95x0.87"||006.1||No||42||050||3 x 2"||$0.50|
|Epson Charm 225||13.5x9.1x10.5||123.2||Yes||37||100||6 x 4"||$0.25|
|Polaroid Zip||4.7x2.9x0.9"||006.6||No||55||025||3 x 2"||$0.50|
|Kodak Mini Portable Printer||7.5x3.8x2"||008.2||No||60||020||2.1 x 3.4"||?|
|Canon Selphy||7.1x5.4x2.5"||030.4||Yes||39||054||6 x 4"||$0.33|
|Prynt Case||6.5x4.6x4"||008.8||No||50||020||3 x 2"||$0.50|
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.
The Sprocket is not just small (the smallest on test) and sturdy, but it is also amazingly light (lightest on test) 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.
This is the second smallest of all the printers, at only 2.9x4.7x0.9 it is almost too small. It's also the second 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.
Canon has long been the go-to company regarding printers and they do not fail with this one. Your choice of print sizes includes You can print various sizes, including 2.1 x 2.1" labels, 2.1 x 3.4" cards, 3.5 x 4.7" L size, and 4 x 6" postcards. In addition, you have available a wide choice of borders and frames that make printing pictures fun. There is also a handy photo editing feature to help ensure the best quality photos. This camera comes bundled with 100 pieces of photo paper to get you started and includes all the necessary accessories and cables you will need. You have your choice of either white or black. You can print from your computer, mobile devices, and even Apple devices with ease. At less than two pounds, this is an excellent printer for your photo adventures. The paper and ink come in one cartridge so you know where you stand in regards to the ink supply. Topping off the package, the large view screen enables you to see the photo and work on it with ease.
Being one of the newest portable printers on the market, being released in August of 2017, there hasn't been enough use to garner customer reviews to help determine any points that may indicate issues. As with any product this new to the market, you are going to have to base your decision on the reputation of the manufacturer. We couldn't find any place on Amazon that offered refill photo paper so it may be something you find difficult to purchase once the original 100 picture pack is depleted. This also makes it impossible to determine how much the prints cost. It appears you may have to go directly to the Canon website to find dealer information.
The Epson PictureMate Charm allows you to print a 4 x 6 picture in as little as 37 seconds. the print quality is high for portable printers at 5760 x 1440 dpi. The tray holds a maximum of twenty pieces of photo paper so you are ready to print from a sd card, cf card, your computer and a couple of other methods. A Bluetooth adaptor is available to print from your Android phone. The printer/paper packs make it easy for you to know how many pictures you can take before refilling the ink. Ink amount matches up perfectly for the number of prints and you are warned about the dwindling ink supply when you are nearing the fifteen pictures left mark. This gives you time to replenish without the surprise depletion of some other printers. Buying a paper/ink combo pack results in a cost of 35 cents per print, which is one of the least expensive on the market. Paper comes in both matte and glossy finish to enable printing your favorite.
This printer does not come ready to work with Apple products and the Bluetooth adaptor is a bit difficult to find as it has been discontinued. At nearly eight pounds, it can be a bit heavy if you are carrying it for long periods of time. The lack of a picture tray makes it necessary to find a stable place for it to rest while printing. Not doing so has resulted in some pictures being skewed near the bottom when being too anxious to retrieve the photo. This problem is not one that can be solved unless the printer sits on a steady surface. The original package does not come with an included printer cord so you will need to purchase one separately. Epson's customer service is not noted for its easy use, so you may find any need to deal with them frustrating.
And the New Kid on the Block
The Kodak mini portable mobile instant photo printer uses technology that allows you to print directly from your mobile device with the free downloadable app. You have your choice between color photos and black and white ones. The ink/paper packs come in 20, 30 or 51 quantities, making it easy to purchase the amount you need without difficulty. No cables or buttons are needed to operate this printer, making it easy to carry and use no matter where you roam. Kodak claims the ink on printed pictures stays bright and true to color for a full ten years, which exceeds most printed products. The free app allows for easy editing and accessorizing with frames. This printer works equally well with Android and other smartphone technology. Weighing less than a pound, the printer fits easily into a purse pocket or backpack. The print tone is on the cooler side compared to other mini printers. This translates into pictures that are truer to color on things like the sky and skin tones.
The size of the picture is only 2.1 x 3.4. This is exactly the size of a credit card, which leaves a lack of fine detail in the printed photo. This is small compared to many other portable printers. Considering the prints average approximately seven cents each, this runs on the expensive side. Many users are disappointed by the lack of Bluetooth availability. In the UK, you can purchase regular photo paper or paper that has a sticky back. The sticky paper is not yet available in the USA. The original cartridge that comes with purchase only prints eight pictures so you may end up disappointed if you don't purchase an additional ink/paper pack initially. Kodak does not offer a carrying case that is made specifically for this printer so you will have to look around to find one that suits your needs.
Which is Best?
The Charm seems like a dinosaur it's so big and bulky, the quality is good but then again the price is a bit steep. While it's comparable to the Selphy for its quality it's still massive in size. 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.
If you're looking for portability go with the Zip, it's small (but the HP Sprocket is smaller), it's fast (the Sprocket is faster) and even the charge on the Sprocket is better. It seems the older Zip is outshone by the newcomer in almost every sector, and both print to the similar paper types.
Weighing up the Sprocket against the Instax SP-2 we see the Instax leading on speed and prints per charge (albeit on a smaller photo), but we think it still does enough to come out on top.
The Kodak mini? It doesn't win in any category and the 20 prints on a charge is not too good.
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.
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 instant printers for smartphones.