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Which smartphone photo printers are best?

Before the era of smartphones and digital cameras, many people used Polaroid cameras for photos. The devices were slightly bulky but had one unique aspect: they printed your snaps on the fly.

Those cameras have somewhat made a comeback, but what if you want to do the same with images on your smartphone? Well, that’s exactly what a smartphone photo printer is for. The Kodak Dock Plus Portable Instant Photo Printer is a great option, as it can also laminate your picture.

What to know before you buy a smartphone photo printer

Operating system compatibility

Having a portable printer to print a photo instantly is great, but you must ensure that it is compatible with your mobile device. If you’re an Apple devotee, you’ll want a portable printer for iPhone, while Android users need a portable printer for Android. Most printers work perfectly well with iOS and Android devices, but other operating systems are not usually supported. 

Connectivity must be a consideration

The method by which the printer connects to your mobile phone will determine if you need any additional components to make it work. You might have a problem if your device doesn’t have Bluetooth, as that is the preferred method of connection. While virtually all smartphones sold today use Bluetooth, it’s still worth checking to be certain, especially if you have an old device.

Some printers can produce copies from a mobile memory card, but that will only work if your device supports it. Others use a docking pin for connectivity, and your device needs to be compatible with that as well.

Photo quality and size

Mobile devices take photos in different resolutions and sizes. For the iPhone, the default aspect ratio is 4 to 3, while flagship Samsung Galaxy phones usually have a ratio of 20 to 9. However, if your phone has multiple cameras, they may take photos in different aspect ratios. The aspect ratio influences the final printout, as it might not be able to get all the detail in — resulting in cropped images. 

Consider the aspect ratio of your device, and know the limitations of the photo printer. The best portable printer for iPhone might not be the same as the best one for an Android phone that takes photos in a different aspect ratio. 

What to look for in a quality smartphone photo printer

Rechargeable power supply

It is great that you can take the printer wherever you want to go, but running out of power can be disheartening. While some printers need a wall socket to work, a good-quality printer will be charged through an included USB cable. Some printers can also work on replaceable batteries, but those could drain rather quickly. Assuming you choose a rechargeable portable printer, check the battery life to make sure it lasts as long as you need it to. Most can print somewhere between eight and 12 photos before needing to be charged. 

Size matters

Smartphone photo printers are designed to be carried around with you. Nobody wants to lug a bulky printing device. That is why the size of the printer is important. A good-quality photo printer will be small enough to throw in a bag or backpack without taking up too much space. Some printers available are no bigger than a portable hard drive. You can expect them to measure roughly 4-6 inches long by 3-4 inches wide and 1-1.5 inches deep, but this varies between models. If a compact size is important to you in a portable printer, check the dimensions carefully before buying. 

App compatibility

Some portable printers can print photos directly from social media apps, such as Instagram or Facebook, and others can print directly from your camera roll. However, the majority only print via their own proprietary app. You’ll usually get better quality printing an original photo from your portable printer, rather than one that’s been saved from a social media site. These sites often compress images, lowering the quality. 

This is fine when the app is well-designed, easy to use and reliable, but it can be a real pain when the app doesn’t perform well. It’s a good idea to check reviews for the app in question before you commit to buying an instant photo printer. A bad app can ruin the experience of using a portable printer. You can do this by checking the App Store if you’re buying a portable printer for iPhone or the Google Play Store if you use Android. 

Photo quality and dots per inch

A smartphone printer should be good enough so that you can still clearly see the image without any distortion. Some portable printers simply produce better-quality images than others. Avoid models that print streaky, pixelated or excessively dark photos. 

Most printing sizes are relatively small when compared to traditional photos. A standard photo that you’d get from a film camera or a digital photo printing service measures around 4 inches by 6 inches or 5 inches by 7 inches. Most portable printers produce photos measuring 2 by 3 inches. It might seem small, but this helps to retain clarity and sharpness. In terms of dots per inch, a high-quality smartphone photo printer should have a print resolution of around 300 dpi. 

Portable printer features

Color choices

While the color of your new portable printer won’t affect how well it performs, if you have a choice of colors, you might as well pick one you love. Some are only available in basics, such as white or silver, while others come in a wide range of stylish hues, such as pink, blue, mint green and purple. When you’re buying a portable printer for a child or teenager, picking the right color can make a real difference to how much they like it. 

Paper packs

Your new portable printer is likely to come with at least one pack of photo paper included. However, some come without, so you’ll need to buy them separately. Conversely, you can also find some Polaroid printers that come in a bundle with several packs of paper included to keep you going for some time. 

You may want to check how much paper packs cost to buy separately. In some cases, they’re prohibitively expensive, so you might end up not being able to use your printer as much as you’d like. 

Photo editing

Some portable printers have photo editing capabilities in their apps. You may be able to add filters, frames or stickers to images before you print them. Consider whether this is a feature you’d use. Some people get a real kick out of it, while for others it’s low on their list of priorities. 

How much you can expect to spend on a smartphone photo printer

The average price of a photo printer for mobile devices will depend on the manufacturer and the functions of the gadget. An entry-level printer can retail for between $70-$90. High-quality printers usually retail for around $120-$150.

Smartphone photo printer FAQ

Does a smartphone photo printer use ink?

A. That will depend on the printer itself and the manufacturer. Printers like the Canon IVY use Zink (zero ink) paper, which doesn’t need ink cartridges. But with some Kodak models, you need to replace the cartridge — just like in a normal printer. You can also find some Polaroid printers that use photo packs that have integrated color ribbons to print vibrant photos. 

Is a portable printer worth it? 

A. The answer to this question depends on the individual. If you’re looking for a quick way to print the snaps you take on your phone, then a portable printer might be for you. However, if you’re looking to print full-size photos, then it’s probably not the right solution. 

Standard photo printers are best for printing larger snaps, while portable photo printers are great if you’re happy to sacrifice size for the convenience of printing anywhere in seconds. What’s more, most portable printers print on sticky-back paper, so they’re also great for making stickers. 

Can you use a smartphone photo printer with a computer?

A. In most cases that won’t be possible, even though it uses Bluetooth. Photo printers are designed to work specifically (and in some cases exclusively) with Android and iOS devices through printing apps. This is great if you want a portable printer for iPhone or Android, but if you want the freedom to print from your laptop, you may be out of luck. 

What’s the best smartphone photo printer to buy?

Top smartphone photo printer

Best Kodak Dock Plus Portable Instant Photo Printer

Kodak Dock Plus Portable Instant Photo Printer

What you need to know: This is a great mobile printer for photos slightly larger than other models.

What you’ll love: The Dock Plus is great for instantly printing photos from your mobile device through a Bluetooth connection. Each 4-inch by 6-inch photo is printed with a laminating process, making sure that fingerprints aren’t visible. It uses a USB-C docking pin and comes with a Lightning adapter for iOS devices. The cost works out to around 15 cents per print, and the free app software allows you to edit the photos before printing.

What you should consider: It is less portable than other mobile phone photo printers.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top smartphone photo printer for the money

Best Canon IVY Mini Photo Printer

Canon IVY Mini Photo Printer

What you need to know: Small and effective, it’s perfect to print photos from any adventure.

What you’ll love: About the size of a hard drive, this mobile photo printer produces 2-inch by 3-inch prints. It uses Canon’s Zink technology, meaning that you don’t have to replace the ink cartridges. The paper produces the image through pigments embedded in the paper, and is drawn out and mixed through heat. It has a print resolution of 314 by 400 dots per inch. Connectivity is provided through Bluetooth and the free Canon Mini print app. 

What you should consider: The printed images are rather small.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Best Fujifilm Instax Mini Link Smartphone Printer

Fujifilm Instax Mini Link Smartphone Printer

What you need to know: This fun printer uses the same popular photo paper as the Instax Mini cameras, but you can print photos right from your phone. 

What you’ll love: It has a high print quality, at a stunning resolution of 320 dots per inch. It also prints photos in 12 seconds, which is pretty quick.

What you should consider: The paper can be a little more expensive than that used with other models. The prints are a little small at 2.1 by 3.4 inches.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best HP Sprocket Select Portable

HP Sprocket Select Portable

What you need to know: Quick and easy to use, this is an excellent portable printer for both iPhone and Android. 

What you’ll love: You can edit your photos by applying filters and adding frames and stickers before you print them. The photo paper is sticky-backed, so you can choose to use your photos as stickers or take photos of your drawings and turn those into fun stickers in an instant. 

What you should consider: The colors print a little darker than they appear on screen, so bear this in mind when selecting which snaps to print. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Best Polaroid Hi-Print Pocket Photo Printer

Polaroid Hi-Print Pocket Photo Printer

What you need to know: Thanks to its dye-sub cartridge technology, this Polaroid printer produces images that are vibrant and high-quality in roughly 50 seconds. 

What you’ll love: The paper cartridges each contain a ribbon and 10 pieces of 2-by-3-inch sticky-back photo paper. The image quality surpasses most portable printers. The Polaroid Hi-Print mobile app is available for Android and iOS, so it works with most smartphones. 

What you should consider: You can expect part of your image to be cropped, depending on the image ratio at which your phone captures photos. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

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Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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