Our smartphones have quickly become our “go-to” device to capture memories, but many of us rarely print those “Kodak moments” to share with family and friends. Here lies the beauty of portable photo printers. They'll create instant photos from your phone on the go!
Unlike a desktop or mobile printer, these devices are small enough to stuff in a coat pocket or purse, require very little setup, and make it possible to print out hi-quality, physical copies of photos taken with your smartphone, anywhere you go. It's almost like carrying around an old-school instant camera with you, everywhere you go.
After spending extensive time researching and testing six different portable photo printers, our top pick is Polaroid Hi-Print(available at Amazon for $89.95). It creates crisp, colorful prints and comes with an easy-to-use app that makes using it a joy.
Here are the best portable photo printers we tested ranked, in order:
Canon Selphy Square QX10
Kodak Mini 3 Retro
With its playful, sturdy design, and above-average print quality, the Polaroid Hi-Print is the most well-rounded portable printer of all the models we tested.
At 6 x 3 x 1 inches in size, the Hi-Print has roughly the same dimensions as a large-screened smartphone, albeit a bit thicker. Its glossy white finish is accented by a rainbow of colors that wrap around one end of the printer, so you’ll never have to deal with being unable to find it in your bag or backpack.
Connecting it to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth was simple, as was installing the combination paper/ink cartridge that the Hi-Print uses to create 2 x 3-inch prints of your photos. Step-by-step instructions are included in the Hi-Print’s companion app. Within minutes, we had the printer set up and ready to start printing pictures. During testing, we never felt the need to pick up the product's instruction manual or jump online for assistance.
In addition to allowing your phone to communicate with the Hi-Print, the companion app provides a number of basic editing tools that allow you to change the framing of the shot you’re about to print, alter it with a filter, or deck it out with colorful digital stickers. While there are a lot of more powerful paid and free image editing apps out there, having these options built into the app is a nice touch. You can even use the app to capture new photos, using the app, without the need to switch over to your smartphone’s camera interface.
The Hi-Print wasn’t the fastest printer that we tested for this guide. However, it isn’t so slow to deliver printed photos that one might consider it irritating, either.
Although the Hi-Print didn’t offer the best image quality of all the models we tested for this guide, its prints were still crisp and largely true to the digital photos we used during testing. We noted a tendency for this printer to tone down some of the brighter colors captured in our test photos. However, this is an issue that can be sidestepped by tweaking the color saturation of an image before sending it to the printer. All things considered, a bit of color desaturation is a small price to pay for how pleasurable the Hi-Print is to use.
My name is Mike Yawney. I have been reviewing tech products for over 15 years, with most of that time spent in front of the camera, talking tech, and reviewing everything from smartphones to video games on one of Canada's most popular national morning television programs. When I’m not standing in front of the bright lights, you can find me trying to find a nice quiet spot to talk tech on the radio. I also post video reviews and how-to guides to my personal YouTube channel.
I always have their latest smartphone in hand, a new laptop on my desk, and a game installed on my console, ready to review.
A Note About Our Product Choices
In the time since we first wrote this guide, a lot has changed in the world of portable photo printers. According to Hewlett Packard, their well-reviewed HP Sprocket Photo Printer (available at Amazon), which was included in our original roundup, will be phased out.
Also, the Polaroid Zip (available at Amazon), once a popular choice among mobile photographers, is being put out to pasture, as well. The Zip printers are still available, but their price is exorbitant, compared to Polaroid’s more recent hardware offerings. With this, along with the other printers in our previous roundup having been discontinued, this guide focuses on all the latest products.
And then there's the Canon Selphy 1300CP. In the original version of this guide, published in 2018, it scored quite well. In the time since then, it's been replaced by a refreshed model ( available at Amazon)—although you can still find the original, too. However, we felt that both versions of the 1300 series stretch the limits of the definition of portable, so we opted to exclude them from our current test group.
In order to see how easy each of the products in our test group were to set up and whether or not they were compatible with iOS and Android devices, we connected them to a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, and an iPhone 12 Pro Max.
We then used both smartphones to snap a large variety of photos to test with our lineup of portable printers. On the Galaxy S21 Ultra, we relied on photos taken with the 108MP wide-angle camera, along with the 10MP telephoto lens. On the iPhone 12 Pro Max, we tested shots taken with the phone’s 12MP camera system. Once the shooting was complete, we selected an image from each of the following groups:
A full-color photo of decorative succulents
A black and white portrait of a young girl
A full-color landscape photo of downtown Calgary, Canada with a filter applied
A full-color photo of the Nova Scotia coastline
A Black and white photo of an old chest
Next, using each printer’s companion app, we applied an image filter to our photos. We then printed the altered photo, in order to see how the images compared.
Finally. In addition to assessing print quality, we looked at how easy each of the printers were to set up, their overall useability, companion app functionality, battery life, durability, and the overall user experience.
What You Should Know About Buying Portable Photo Printers
There are a few factors you should consider.
Print Methods: The devices we tested a variety of different printing techniques. Three of the printers used dye sublimation, which uses heat to transfer ink from film sheets to photo paper. This process takes time, as each sheet of photo paper must pass through the printer 4 times to lay down each layer of color before a final print is revealed. One printer used Zink technology where paper embedded with dye crystals, which change color, once heat is applied. Finally, the Fujifilm Instax uses the classic “Polaroid” technique: developer fluid is stored within the edges of the photo paper. Once a photo leaves the printer, the developer fluid saturates the photo and begins to produce an image.
Consumables: You should consider the way the printer actually prints your photos. Do you want a simple two-in-one style cartridge with paper and ink together like the Polaroid Hi-Print, Kodak Mini 3 Retro and Victure use? Maybe the simplicity, convenience and speed that Zink provides is more important to you than the quality of the photos that can be printed. If you’re feeling nostalgic, seeing a photo slowly develop in front of your eyes, with classic Polaroid-style film, might be more to your liking. Taking the time to think about how, where and what you expect from a photo printer, before buying one will help to ensure your satisfaction. You should know that no matter which system you choose, photo paper is not cheap. Single prints can set you back anywhere between 50 cents and one dollar. So, it’s important that you shop around for your refill ink and paper. There are deals to be found online, and you can save money if you buy in bulk, purchasing multiple packs at the same time.
Photo Format: Portable photo printers, typically, tend to print a single size of photo: 3 x 3, 2.7 x 2.7 and 2 x 3-inch prints. While the larger 3x3 sizes work well for portraits and selfies, the wider 2x3 format is more appropriate for landscape photography. If what you want to print isn’t well sized to the paper in your printer, keep in mind you can always crop your photos using apps on your smartphone, including the companion app for your photo printer.
Battery Life: None of the printers we tested offered exceptional battery life, with most proving capable of printing between eight and 12 photos before needing to be recharged. If you want to print additional photos on the go, you will need to carry a charging cable and power brick, or [external battery pack]( with you.
Other Portable Photo Printers We Tested
Canon Selphy Square QX10
The Canon Selphy QX10 is the largest model of the six we tested at 5.5 x 4 x 1.25 inches (L x W X H), but it’s still small enough to fit into your back pocket. It weighs just under a pound, making it the heaviest model we tested as well. The printer’s matte finish will hide most scratches, which is pretty important as this, like other portable printers are meant to be used on the go. I wouldn’t hesitate to toss this unit into a backpack or the glove box of a vehicle. It’s without a doubt the most durable we tested.
The Selphy’s 3 x 3 prints were some of our favorites, thanks to their crisp, clear resolution and color reproduction. The printer’s photo paper comes with a slightly sticky backing, making it possible to stick your photos to a wall or locker door. However, if you’d prefer to treat your shots like a traditional photo, leaving the paper’s protective backing will keep the sticky hidden away, Like many of the other printers we tested, photos could be altered and edited through the companion app.
Unlike the other models we tested, the Selphy relies on a wi-fi connection to connect to your smartphone. The printer creates its own network which you connect to through the app during the setup stage. Fortunately, the wi-fi continues to work even if you leave your house, meaning this printer can still be used on the go.
The Selphy was the one model we tested that required you to load both paper and ink, separately. While it’s not a major issue, it does require you to remember to bring two different consumables on a trip or risk losing the ability to print while on the go.
The Kodak Mini 3 Retro was one of the easiest portable printers to set up and use. Settings were easy to find in the companion app, the battery gauge had an actual percentage, letting us know exactly how much power was left. It was also simple to print multiple copies of photos.
While we had no issues connecting the Kodak Mini 3 Retro to our smartphones through Bluetooth, printing photos wasn’t nearly as easy. The sample print cartridge that the printer came with refused to work, forcing the printer to insist that combination paper and ink cartridge needed to be replaced.
The print cartridge came out easily enough. Replacing it was a different story. The first replacement cartridge we tried refused to be seated inside of the printer: It felt like there was something preventing the cartridge from sliding into the empty compartment. However, we had success with a second replacement cartridge and finally got the printer to function. That said, it felt like there was some sort of resistance when we attempted to swap the cartridge out.
After dealing with our cartridge woes, we discovered another issue. Once the printing process begins, you can’t minimize the Mini 3 Retro’s app to start browsing social media or quickly respond to an email. The moment the app is minimized, the printer will stop printing. The app must remain open at all times or you will have to start the process all over again. This was the only printer where we ran into this issue.
Once the Mini 3 Retro’s photos were printed, they proved quite impressive. From beautiful blues to bold reds, the printer handled colors with ease. We did however notice the printer had issues printing areas with fine detail. Thin tree branches and strands of hair came through slightly pixelated and didn’t reflect the original photos.
We also found the Kodak Mini 3 Retro didn’t have quite as many filters, or stickers to add to your photos as some of the other competitors.
As one of the smallest models we tested, the Fujifilm Instax is perfect for on-the-go fun. Not only does the app allow you to fully customize prints by applying filters and adding fun captions, but you can also buy photo paper with designs already printed on it, to add even more character.
This printer stood out as it was the only model where photos developed after they were spat out of the printer, making it feel like your smartphone has been transformed onto a classic Polaroid camera: Blow on the photo. Shake it. Wait. It was a pleasure to watch the photos the Instax produced slowly come to life. That said, Impatient photographers might find this charming bit of photographic nostalgia to be a dealbreaker. Each photo can take up to five minutes before all the colors in the print finish processing. You should know that this pokey method of printing speeds things up in another area. Because the photo develops after leaving the printer, there’s no need to wait for one photo to finish printing before another can be produced. A number of photos can be printed in quick succession, making it possible to share them, quickly, with friends.
We loved that the Instax provides a digital count of how many shots it can print—a feature no other device in this guide offered—before you’ll have to install a new pack of paper. Thanks to this feature, shutterbugs will never be surprised when their printer can no longer be used to print when they’re out and about.
At 4.5 x 3 x 1 inches, the LifePrint 2x3 Hyperprint was by far the smallest we tested and the lightest at 7 ounces. It was also, by far, the fastest, with photos taking around 30 seconds to print. Some of this speed comes from the fact that LifePrint uses Zink (Zero-Ink) technology to print its photos. Since the ink is incorporated into the sheets of paper, you don’t have to worry about loading a bulky two-in-one paper/ink cartridge. You simply have to load paper. But the resulting 2 x 3 photographs were the worst of any portable photo printer we tested for this guide. The images were very soft, lacking any crisp detail. We noticed subtle artifacts in areas of solid color. The colors were also muted compared to the other printers.
On the positive side, the LifePrint app did have a lot of customization options, including the unique ability to turn a still photo into a short video through augmented reality. While using the app, you can hover your camera over a photo and it will magically come to life for a few seconds. It’s extremely gimmicky, but it is kind of neat the first few times you try it out. This printer also boasts its own social network to share videos and images.
Looking at some of the features, it’s clear LifePrint is aiming at a younger audience and one that may prioritize fun over actual print quality.
The Victure PT320 was the wildcard in our test group. While we hadn’t heard much about this company’s hardware, the Victure continued to pop up, with glowing reviews on a number of e-commerce sites. So, we decided to give it a go.
Unfortunately, the Victure started getting sketchy, as soon as we started setting it up for testing.
While setting up the printer using Bluetooth connection, it appeared on our smartphones as a Kodak printer. This conflicted with the Victure’s instructions, which state that the device will appear in a smartphone’s Bluetooth pairing list as “photo printer”. Being as there was already a Kodak printer in our test group, it took quite some time to sort this issue out. We also noticed the printer’s companion app looked strangely familiar: it was an almost identical clone of the app used by the Kodak Mini 3 Retro. The only distinguishable difference is that it was missing the Kodak logo.
We reached out to Victure to have them address our concerns. The company responded, telling us it uses the same manufacturer as Kodak for their portable printer. It’s certainly not unheard of in the tech world for two different companies to use the same manufacturer, but they typically offer different features and app interfaces to differentiate them from one another.
Despite figuring out the name of the printer in our Bluetooth settings, the problems continued. We had nothing but issues trying to connect this portable photo printer to our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. While the app would see the printer and tell us it was connected, it constantly produced an error when we tried to print a photo, telling us no printer was connected. After four hours of playing with the Victure’s settings, we gave up and contacted customer service. Victure doesn’t offer a telephone helpline, so we had to send an email. Their response was to send us a link to a YouTube video, illustrating how to connect the printer to your smartphone. Nothing resembling troubleshooting was offered. Attempting to connect the Victure to our iPhone 12 Pro Max, and an iPhone X yielded identical results.
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