We tested 7 smartphone printers. The best is the HP Sprocket Plus. It offers good image quality, especially for portraits, prints relatively large photos and still fits easily in your pocket. If you want to print larger photos in postcard format, the Canon Selphy CP1300 is the best choice.
Most photos today are taken with a smartphone – and also viewed there. But especially in recent years, printouts are back in fashion. Because a photo on a display is fleeting, hardly conveys any value and is often lost in the ubiquity of digital images. It also cannot be given away properly from hand to hand.
Brain researchers have found that looking at a physical photo is much more intense and relaxing than looking at the contents of a screen. The printed image is not perceived today as a relic from the old days, but rather as a welcome change in the digital flood of images.
Mobile smartphone printers can be used to print out and give away mobile phone photos taken at a party, in a restaurant, on the school playground or in the office.
We looked around the market for smartphone printers and got the 7 most interesting and most widespread models for a detailed test.
1. HP Sprocket Plus
Our top recommendation for portable printer for photos is the HP Sprocket Plus, because it prints photos that are about 30 percent larger than the other pocket-compatible devices, shows no major weaknesses in image quality and it is easy & convenient to use thanks to the sophisticated app.
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2.Canon Selphy CP1300
The 892 gram, very popular Canon Selphy CP1300, which is already demanding a backpack to carry it around, is not quite as portable. It prints photos in postcard size (10 x 15 cm), the best print quality in the test and by far the lowest cost per photo. In addition, the Canon shines with many connection options and its own color display.
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3. Fujifilm Instax Share SP-3
The relatively expensive Fujifilm Instax Share SP-3 comes with a retro cult factor. The square 1:1 photo format with the classic instant frame known from Polaroid is very trendy. The SP-3 offers the best image quality in the test and also offers a nice app, but is also anything but cheap in terms of printing costs.
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All You Need To Know About Smartphone Printers
Small printer - small pictures
Most smartphone printers output pictures in 7.6 x 5 cm – even a credit card is larger. However, some can also print postcard-sized photos of 10 x 15 centimeters. Hoever, these printers are much larger and do not fit in your pocket. Logical: Small printers also take small photos.
The printers also differ greatly in terms of the image format, i.e. the aspect ratio. From square (1:1) to 2:3, everything is included.
In practice, this means that the pictures taken with the smartphone are always cropped during printing. Most manufacturers offer apps to choose the right image section.
Connection and apps
By default, the very small printers are connected to the smartphone via Bluetooth. The Polaroid Mini 2 HD also has NFC, which can simplify the pairing process. Fujifilm’s competitors, like the two large printers from Polaroid and Canon, use the Wi-Fi network, the latter can be connected by cable or directly print from the SD Card.
Though you get usability and stability of the apps, it is sometimes not the best option.
A manufacturer app is required to print out the photos, some of which only work with the respective printer. With the usability and stability of the apps and the quality of the processing, it is sometimes not the best option. Exceptions are the apps from HP and Fujifilm, which work with both printers from the respective manufacturer and also leave a mature impression. As a rule, at least the popular photo filters and some basic processing functions are on board.
The Polaroid apps can only be used after an annoying forced registration. The permissions that the Android 7.0 apps can be granted should all be required for operation. Sometimes you have to activate location services to be able to connect the smartphone to the printer.
It is annoying when the apps do not show the image section that can later be seen on the printout. Although a certain crop is often displayed with a frame, many apps / printers then cut off even more of the image than was shown in the preview.
Zink or dye-sublimation thermal thermal printer?
In five out of six cases, the portable printer use what is known as ZINK technology, with ZINK standing for “zero ink”. Here the basic printing colors cyan, yellow and magenta are already available in three layers in the paper, but are initially white. If you now expose a point on the paper to a heat pulse, a certain color is activated and visible.
The printed color depends on the temperature and the duration of the heat pulse. Temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius are generated in the small printers. ZINK papers, the patents of which all belong to a Polaroid subsidiary, are usually provided with a self-adhesive backing.
ZINK printers do not need ink, but printing them is quite expensive
An often criticized disadvantage of this printing process is the high cost per photo, which amounts to 44 to 61 cents. Where possible, we have set the prices for 50 sheets of original photo paper from the respective printer manufacturer, but often had to switch to the next larger or smaller package size depending on availability.
According to our random tests, ZINK paper from manufacturer A can be easily printed with a ZINK printer from manufacturer B – as long as the blue cover sheet of the paper from the printer manufacturer is cheered on the stack to be inserted. A barcode is printed there, which is read by the printer before the first printing process. Of course, consistent printing results cannot be guaranteed, but it seems to not make any major differences between the papers.
Another disadvantage of the process, in addition to the severely restricted image size, is above all the print quality, which one or the other mini-printer has to attest to a certain trash factor. As with old Polaroid photos, the colors of the prints are often only marginally related to what you see on a good smartphone display.
The success of the devices proves, however, that most users are not primarily concerned with a particularly good image quality. Some enthusiasts even find the false colors sometimes going retro, which is also true of the old Polaroid instant photos.
Only the Mini 2 HD from Polaroid, which, like the two big printers, relies on thermal sublimation printing. The peculiarity of this printer is that the consumables paper and ink / wax must be purchased together in combined cartridges. This not only leads to a lot of plastic waste, but also to high printing costs of around 70 cents per photo. The advantage: the print quality is significantly better.
Smartphone Printer Test Overview
Winner: HP Sprocket Plus
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What we particularly like about the HP Sprocket Plus is that the photos are not that small compared to the other ZINK printers, and that they have a usable quality, especially with the skin tones. Although it is somewhat larger than its ZINK colleagues, it is hardly less portable. Due to its relatively flat design, it can be easily stowed in your pocket.
The processing of the Sprocket Plus makes a clean impression. The device cannot be twisted and makes no noise in our tests. A copper-colored decorative strip provides some visual variety. Thanks to smooth plastic and rounded corners and edges, it slides easily into your pocket. Like all printers in the test, the champion should not survive if you accidentally sit down on it.
Good picture quality
Like the other two, the test image was trimmed evenly around the edges, so that the crosses in the corners on the printout almost disappeared. This is not visible in the app beforehand.
The grayscale gradient has fine gradations. The blue color cast is only noticeable in a direct comparison with the smartphone display, as it extends across all brightness levels. Only the two lightest and darkest shades of gray can no longer be clearly distinguished on the color chart.
The portrait photos make a really good impression – at least until you compare it with the same photo from the “big” Canon Selphy. The skin tones look natural and do not suffer from tonal value tears like some of the competitors, but drift slightly towards pink due to the bluish tint. This is because the blue tint suppresses the yellow tones (complementary color), which emphasizes the red color components of the skin and shifts it towards purple.
We liked the stable and mature app, which made the connection between smartphone and printer quick and easy. The photos are selected in a gallery overview with square thumbnails that can be connected to Instagram, Facebook and Google to print photos from the cloud. After the photo has been selected, it can be shifted, its brightness and contrast corrected, and tidied up with photo filters, frames, text, smileys, etc. One cannot complain about the number of options and the quality of the effects.
Unfortunately, the 900 mAh battery is permanently installed and cannot be changed by the user, which after the end of the service life should amount to the entire printer migrating into the electronic waste. This is damnable from an environmental point of view. Most of the other manufacturers in the test don’t make it any better.
Another small drawback is the relatively high printing costs of 60 cents per photo, with the approximately 30 percent smaller images of the two Polaroid printers even getting 61 cents per printout.
For us, the HP Sprocket Plus is the best portable printer for photos when it comes to high mobility and secondly to image quality. If you want better picture quality or like it more iconic, we have two other recommendations.
Runner-up: Canon Selphy CP1300
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The Canon Selphy CP1300 is currently the most popular portable photo printer on the market. With the help of thermal sublimation printing, in which wax layers in the three basic printing colors cyan, yellow and magenta are successively evaporated on special paper under the influence of heat, it succeeds in producing high-quality prints in 10 × 15 cm postcard format. Optionally, you can purchase a battery, if not, you have to take the very bulky power supply with you.
No other smartphone printer can measure up to the quality of the printouts with the CP1300 in the test. The prints are characterized by finely graduated and neutral grayscale as well as a strong, almost completely streak-free and largely correct color reproduction with excellent sharpness.
All light and dark shades of gray can be easily distinguished from one another on the color chart. In addition to the Kodak Dock Station, the Canon is the only printer in the test that is able to reproduce our portrait photos with very natural skin tones, which is difficult for most other printers. The only point of criticism is the cropping, which is unfortunately not insignificant and not correctly displayed in the app.
The Canon printer is also completely convincing when it comes to ergonomics. It has some dedicated buttons for the most important functions, a directional pad and an unfortunately not touch-sensitive 3.2-inch color screen. This is necessary because the CP1300 can also print directly from the SD memory card or a USB stick.
In contrast to most other smartphone printers in the test, it can also be integrated into the home Wi-Fi and print directly from a PC or laptop.. There is also compatibility with Apple AirPrint, Mopria (Android) and PictBridge.
Overall, the Selphy CP1300 can be attested to a versatility that is not even approachable by the smaller devices. It is all the more unfortunate that the responsible Canon print app has turned out to be so rudimentary. In principle, you can only select photos from the confusing gallery and transfer them to the printer. Editing functions are not available at all, and the other options are also kept within very narrow limits. If you want more, you have to install additional Canon apps.
Retro-look: Fujifilm Instax Share SP-3
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The instant photo pioneers from Fujifilm, who provide the two relatively expensive pocket printers in our test, rely less on high image quality than on retro charm in polaroid optics. The photos of the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-3 are 6.2 x 6.2 cm small without a frame and are surrounded by a raised or tactile white frame. At least the square format looks exactly like a miniature version of a classic Polaroid instant picture.
Like the prototype, the »Fujifilm Polaroids« come undeveloped from the printer and take a few minutes to develop their full color – very iconic!
The SP-3 is chunky compared to the ZINK printers and the Mini 2 HD from Kodak and has a rather idiosyncratic and eye-catching design – a matter of taste.
Regarding the printing process, Fujifilm only states that it is a “3-color exposure with OLED B5”. The results are important and they are impressive – but this also applies to the price per photo in a negative sense. You have to take into account that you are dealing with a square format when recording so that there are no nasty surprises later. It gets really difficult with this printer on smartphones with a 16:9 image sensor, the least cropping occurs at 4:3.
The photos show strong and largely correct colors, but have problems with the contrast range and sharpness. You can see this from the fact that the three darkest and the three brightest boxes on the color chart of the test image can hardly be distinguished from each other. In our portrait photo, the face looks burned out, and the hair on the left side of the picture almost does not stand out from the background. Very nice: The app shows the crop exactly as it appears on the finished photo.
Unfortunately, the Instax Share printers cause quite a bit of plastic waste.
The batteries can be replaced, which is otherwise only possible with the optional battery of the much larger Canon Selphy CP1300. Bluetooth is missing, instead the Fujifilm printers can be connected via Wi-Fi. Here, too, the connection worked without any problems.
The Fujifilm app leaves a similarly mature and stable impression as that of HP, but has a smaller range of functions and fewer filters.
We are not worried about the suitability for everyday use because of the housing quality of the somewhat rickety and not very cleanly manufactured SP-3, but the cheaper test winner shows how it can be done better.
Other Smartphone Printers That We Tested
Kodak Mini 2 HD
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The inexpensive Mini 2 HD from Kodak is still one of the particularly compact printers in the test, but, like the large printers, relies on thermal sublimation printing. The peculiarity here is that the consumables paper and ink / wax must be purchased together in combined cartridges, which leads to unnecessarily a lot of plastic waste and high printing costs of 0.70 cents per photo.
The print quality can convince at least with two test images and is superior to most ZINK printers. The portrait photo, on the other hand, shows burnt-out areas on the face and cannot separate the hair from the background. Other problems with this printer are the unusual credit card format, which does not correspond to a 1:1 sensor format, the rickety and unclean processing, as well as the clear cropping of the photos, which cannot be properly controlled or predicted in the otherwise usable and feature-rich app.
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We can only warn you about the compact, light Polaroid Mint, which is not only bad in terms of image quality, because the app tends to crash and likes to drag photos into the abyss with it on the smartphone. In addition, with no other printer we had as many problems with the coupling as with the Polaroid Mint. Despite various attempts, we were unable to print the test picture for whatever reason.
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The small, if somewhat thick Polaroid ZIP prints dark photos with a strong blue-magenta stitch, but only subtle stripes. Skin tones like to break out. The high printing costs and the curving prints also speak against the mini printer. You get more for your money from the other portable printers.
Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2
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Except for the idiosyncratic design and the smaller photo format, the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-2 is similar to the larger SP-3. The smallest photos in the test (without frame) cost less than those of the more expensive big brother, but still remain expensive. The SP-3 is therefore the better choice for us.
How did we test the smartphone printers?
We initially divided the tested printers into three different mobility categories: trouser pocket (6 models), jacket pocket (2 models) and backpack (2 models).
Since most smartphone printers use the popular 3:2 format (15 x 10 cm, 5 x 7.6 cm …) in the test, we have brought our three test images into this format. The first photo is a classic and very common RGB test image with a gray scale gradient and individual motifs from different categories. The middle photo is a typical architectural photo with large, homogeneous color areas, with which we examined the sharpness and streaking. The portrait photo is primarily used to assess the naturalness of skin tones. Incidentally, we placed the most emphasis on this because portable printers are likely to be used to print mostly person photos such as selfies.
We rated the print quality of all devices in the test internally with 1 to 5 points. We used our test winner Canon Selphy CP1300 as a reference, which comes very close to displaying the test photos on our calibrated monitor. None of the ZINK printers achieved more than three points.
As far as we complain about a color cast, this can be remedied in some devices by making corresponding adjustments in the app. Since we are of the opinion that the instant photos should start immediately, we have always printed out the printouts in the default setting (if necessary, in the “Borderless” settings) and also avoided changing the image section.
With such small photo sizes, sharp images are no challenge for the smartphone printer in the test. Since there is nothing negative in dozens of printouts, we did not go into detail there.
Last product update on 2022-09-29 | Source: Amazon Affiliate