It may seem a bit unusual to talk about the portable photo printer in 2023. Afterall, with the advent of digital photography and powerful mobile devices, the need for physical prints has become more and more obsolete, or so it seems. Surprisingly the photo printing industry is still alive and well, whether scrapbooking or making a photo album, or simply hanging photos on on the side of your fridge, having a physical copy of your favorite pictures just feels more special. Like being able to physically hold and read a good book, paper prints seem to carry deeper meaning to us, hence the rise in popularity of the portable photo printer, a subcategory of the mobile printer genre.
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Although professional printing services are still available at your local Target, Costco or CVS, it is still rather inconvenient and can be a bit pricey as well. We all live busy lives, and not every one has the time or resources to go to a professional printing service. This is where portable photo printers might make sense, and may be a smart buying decision.
If you are from the 80’s you’ll remember the Polaroid instant print camera, which completely changed the way we took pictures. In today’s times, portable photo printers (sometimes also referred to as pocket photo printers or smartphone photo printers) is bringing back that trend. They allow you to print photos directly from your smartphone, tablet, or camera, but are also compact and lightweight enough to carry with you on the go.
When you think mobile printers or portable printers, the image below might come to mind…
Don’t worry, we aren’t talking about these bulky things. Portable photo printers are sleeker, sexier, and much more portable. For example, the Polaroid Hi-Print 2×3 Pocket Photo Printer looks much better and can definitely be conveniently carried around to your next party or family get-together.
So How Do Portable Photo Printers Work?
Portable photo printers typically use one of three printing technologies: thermal dye sublimation, ZINK, or inkjet.
Thermal dye sublimation printers use heat to transfer dye from a ribbon onto a specially coated paper. The printer heats the dye ribbon, causing it to vaporize and diffuse onto the paper, resulting in a high-quality image with rich colors and deep blacks. These printers produce durable, water-resistant prints that are resistant to fading. We’ll talk about these later in the article.
ZINK printers use a special type of paper that contains embedded dye crystals. When the printer heats the paper, the dye crystals activate, producing a full-color image. ZINK printers are often smaller and more affordable than thermal dye sublimation printers, but the prints they produce are typically lower quality and less durable. A great example would be the portable photo printer from Polaroid, the Zink ZIP Wireless mobile photo mini printer.
Inkjet printers work by spraying tiny droplets of ink onto paper. They are the most versatile type of portable photo printer, as they can produce high-quality prints on a wide range of paper types and sizes. However, they are typically slower and more expensive to operate than other types of printers, and the prints they produce may not be as durable as those produced by thermal dye sublimation printers. The downside of inkjet printers is that they are typically less portable compared to the other two technologies.
One of the most highly reviewed portable inkjet printers on the market is the HP OfficeJet 200, and although it is portable, you probably NOT going to be carrying this around with you to print photos at a party anytime soon.
Regardless of the printing technology used, portable photo printers typically require a connection to a smartphone, tablet, or camera in order to print photos. This can be done using a wired connection, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or NFC. Many printers also come with companion apps that allow you to edit and enhance your photos before printing them.
Key Features to Consider When Choosing a Portable Photo Printer
Print Quality and Resolution
When it comes to the best quality and resolution, thermal dye sublimation printers are generally considered the top choice for portable photo printers. This technology uses heat to transfer dye from a ribbon onto a specially coated paper, resulting in high-quality prints with rich colors and deep blacks. Thermal dye sublimation printers can produce prints with resolutions up to 300 dpi, which is higher than the resolution of most inkjet or ZINK printers. When making your buying decision, make sure to look up the following tech specs for your printer of interest.
- Resolution in DPI (dots per inch) and PPI (pixels per inch)
- Color Accuracy and Reproduction
- Print Speed
Definitely something to consider depending on how you plan to use your portable photo printer. Chances are you plan to carry it around with you to a party or maybe a work event. You’ll want to make sure that the printer you are looking to get has the ability to quickly connect to the devices you are using to take the pictures. Common connectivity options are:
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are two very standard options that most portable photo printers will come equipped with. NFC (near frequency communication) allows devices to perform certain functions based on a “tap” similar to the technology used in credit cards today with “tap-to-pay” functionality. Chances are portable photo printers in the modern age will have a couple if not all 3 technologies built in, so you won’t need to worry about connectivity too much.
Battery Life and Portability
Both ZINK and thermal dye technologies offer great battery life, however ZINK printers, in particular, are known to be champions in this category. Many ZINK printers can print up to 30 or 40 photos on a single charge, making them a great choice for anyone who needs to print a large number of photos while on the go. You’ll want to investigate these factors when making your buying decision.
- Battery Capacity
- Charging Time
- Size and Weight
Paper Size and Printing Costs
This can be a deal breaker for many people, so definitely understand the limitations to the portable photo printer you are looking to buy.
- Print Size and Borderless Printing
- Print Quality vs. Printing Costs
- Cost of Paper and Ink
To find out about the costs, you can simply search for refill supplies based on the printer you’re interested in. For example, the HP Sprocket is a great portable photo printer using ZINK technology. It prints 2×3 prints on ZINK paper that costs around $30 (at the time of writing this article) for a pack of 50. The math comes out to be $0.60 per print.
Obviously this isn’t an apples to apples comparison but you get the idea, and this is the kind of research you should complete before making your final buying decision.
Compatibility with Your Device
Although most portable photo printer manufacturers have probably taken this into consideration, it is still something you may want to just check off the checklist just in case the printer you are looking to buy is specific only to Android or iOS.
User Interface and Ease of Use
When it comes to ease of use, ZINK portable photo printers are generally the most convenient and user-friendly option. This is because they don’t require any ink cartridges or ribbons to be loaded into the printer. Instead, the special ZINK paper contains everything needed to produce a full-color photo.
With a ZINK portable photo printer, you simply load the paper into the printer, connect your smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or NFC, and start printing. Many ZINK printers also come with companion apps that allow you to edit and customize your photos before printing them.
Why Use a Portable Photo Printer?
The flexibility to print anywhere is a major and obvious benefit of portable photo printers. Because of how small and light they are, you can easily store them in a purse or backpack. This device has gained a lot of popularity in recent years as a trendy way to share memories with friends. A lot of young people will bring these to parties and quickly print out candid moments they captured on their smartphones.
Another clever use we’ve seen is at wedding receptions where you can quickly use a portable photo printer for your guests to sign the guest book. You can also get really creative here and use the printed photos to set up where your guests will be sitting.
Because they are so simple to use, there is really no need to transfer pictures to your computer then send them off to CVS of Walgreens to get physical prints. Simply print directly from your smartphones or tablets by connecting to the printer wirelessly through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
This gets your creative juices going, right?
Limitations of Portable Photo Printers
Although we’ve reviewed some of the benefits of portable photo printers, there are also some drawbacks. These small printers can only print around a 300 dpi resolution, which is by no means professional level. However, if you’re only looking to print 2×3 or 3×3 of 4×6 size prints, then 300 dpi is more than sufficient for crisp, accurate printouts.
Another drawback is the high price tag. Though the topic is cost is highly subjective, a $150 portable photo printer doesn’t have anywhere near the number of features as a full fledged desktop inkjet printer for the same price. Factor in the cost of paper and cartridge refills, it can be very expensive to run and operate these mini memory makers.
How much is that special memory worth to you?
Top-rated Portable Photo Printers
Canon Ivy CLIQ+2
A highly specialized and highly recommend unit for it’s ability to not just print photos, but take photos as well! You’ll be able to easily carry this ZINK based portable photo printer with you anywhere you go. Think of this as the original Polaroid (for those of you from that generation) refreshed and modernized.
A powerful printer compatible with both iOS and Android that specializes in 2×3″ prints for endless fun and creativity! This portable photo printer also uses ZINK technology, so all you need to buy is the paper refills. No need to deal with expensive ribbons or toner replacements. It can also connect and print from multiple devices.
Fujifilm Instax Mini Link
A great contender from a solid name in photography. This is an inkjet technology based portable photo printer with 20 sheet capacity. Use the INSTAX app to edit your photos before printing them out in full vivid color! Please note, this printer prints 2.4×1.8″ size mini photos.
Kodak Mini 3 Retro 4PASS
This dye sublimation powered portable photo printer prints 3×3″ photos with superior photo quality that you would expect from a company like Kodak. The printer prints both border and borderless and the pictures come laminated and protected right out of the printer so the are protected against fingerprints and water damage. Using Bluetooth technology and an accompanying app, you can print your favorite moments instantly, anywhere.
Another contender in the dye sublimation category, this Bluetooth enabled pocket photo printer prints 2×3″ sized prints from any mobile device. A unique feature of this printer is that it prints on self-adhesive photo paper so you can print your memories and instantly stick them anywhere you want! Great for scrapbooking or wedding events. This original instant-photo company is bringing old-school back and making it cool again!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Are portable photo printers easy to use?
Yes, portable photo printers are generally designed to be easy to use. Most models come with intuitive controls and user-friendly interfaces that make it easy to print photos directly from your smartphone, tablet, or camera.
ZINK and inkjet printers are particularly easy to use because they don’t require any special ink cartridges or ribbons to be loaded into the printer. With ZINK printers, you simply load the special ZINK paper into the printer and start printing. With inkjet printers, you may need to install ink cartridges, but the process is usually straightforward and can be completed in just a few minutes. You don’t find inkjet technology often in portable photo printers anyway.
Thermal dye sublimation printers can be slightly more complex to use, as they require you to load a ribbon into the printer in addition to the special paper. However, most modern thermal dye sublimation printers come with refill cartridges that are the ribbon and thermal paper in one, so it becomes essentially as easy and straight forward as ZINK printers.
How long does it take to print a photo on a portable photo printer?
The amount of time it takes to print a picture on a portable photo printer can vary depending on several factors, including the specific printer model, the type of technology being used, and the size and complexity of the image being printed.
In general, ZINK and inkjet printers tend to be the fastest, with print times ranging from around 30 seconds to a few minutes per photo. This is because these printers use a simple printing process that doesn’t require any heating or cooling time.
Thermal dye sublimation printers can take slightly longer to print a photo, as they require time to heat up and transfer the dye onto the paper. However, most modern thermal dye sublimation printers can produce prints in around a minute or two.
Can I print photos from my social media accounts on a portable photo printer?
Yes, many portable photo printers allow you to print photos directly from your social media accounts, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. To do this, you may need to download a companion app for your printer that allows you to connect to your social media accounts and select the photos you want to print. You may need these app in order to print using these printers anyway, so it’s not a big deal.
For example, some models of the Canon Ivy printers come with a “Print from Instagram” button that allows you to easily print your favorite Instagram photos with just a few taps using Canon’s app.
What is the maximum paper size supported by portable photo printers?
ZINK printers tend to have more limited paper size options, with most models designed to handle photo paper sizes up to 4 x 6 inches. Some models may be able to handle slightly larger paper sizes, such as 5 x 7 inches, but these are less common.
Thermal dye sublimation printers typically offer a wider range of paper sizes, with many models capable of printing photos up to 4 x 8 inches or 5 x 7 inches. Some high-end models may even be able to handle larger paper sizes, such as 6 x 8 inches or 8 x 10 inches.
It’s important to note that larger paper sizes may require more time and resources to print, so you’ll want to check the specifications of your printer to ensure that it can handle the paper sizes you need. Additionally, larger paper sizes may also come with higher costs per print, so be sure to consider this when making your decision.
How much do portable photo printers cost?
In general, ZINK and inkjet portable photo printers tend to be the most affordable options, with prices typically ranging from around $50 to $200. These printers use relatively simple printing technology and tend to offer more basic features, such as limited paper size options and lower print resolutions.
Thermal dye sublimation printers tend to be more expensive, with prices ranging from around $100 to $500 or more. These printers use more advanced printing technology and can offer higher print resolutions, larger paper size options, and faster print speeds.
Portable photo printers are a great way to instantly print your favorite pictures on the go. With so many different options available on the market, it’s important to consider your needs and preferences before making a purchase. Whether you’re looking for a printer with high print quality, extensive connectivity options, or great battery life, there’s a portable photo printer out there for you. By keeping in mind the key factors outlined in this guide, you’ll be able to make an informed decision and choose the best portable photo printer for your needs.
We hope you enjoyed this article, and for more similar content, you can check out some of our other smart tech articles.