Instant cameras have been around since the 1940s, with names like Polaroid and Instax being synonymous with the small, charming prints they produce.
While the Polaroid printer did fall in popularity with the rise of digital point-and-shoot cameras, instant cameras are making a comeback with a modern twist – most of them now work together with your smartphone.
In this guide, we tell you about some of the best mini printers that turn your smartphone into an instant camera. You’ll be having that vintage Polaroid experience again in no time!
Instax is a household name in the world of instant cameras. While most people are more familiar with their instant cameras, Fujifilm’s standalone photo printer is a powerful unit in itself.
It pairs with your smartphone so you can pick and choose which photos to print out, meaning no wasted films. The companion app even allows you to print photos from your Nintendo Switch, so you can print out screenshots from your favorite games. The highlight of this unit is its fast printing time at just 12 seconds, plus its stellar battery that keeps it powered for 100 prints before you need to recharge.
The only thing to look out for is that it uses Fujifilm’s proprietary Instax film, which means you’ll only have one source for film refills.
Polaroid is the name that started it all, so it’s no surprise to see it on this list. This unit is lighter than the other printers in this round-up at just 162g, making it one of the most portable photo printers you can grab. It also uses Zink technology, which means that you don’t need to keep track of its ink levels, making it affordable in the long run as well.
The prints are a modest size that is just a tad smaller than your regular Instax Mini films. This may be a deal-breaker to some buyers, but if you find that this size of photo suits you just fine, this Polaroid printer might be the one for you.
Kodak has been a leader in photo development and image printing for decades now, so it makes sense that one of the best dye-sublimation photo printers on the market right now is a Kodak printer. It uses the company’s proprietary all-in-one ink-and-paper cartridge to produce high-quality images right from your phone. With the Kodak app, you can even edit your pictures to get them looking perfect before you even hit “print”.
Aside from Bluetooth, you can also connect using WiFi Direct NFC, giving you more options for wireless printing. It’s also one of the more affordable options on this list, making this a solid choice if you just want to print pictures on the go.
Aside from coming in a selection of cute colors, the Selphy Square QX10 is easy to bring around and produces high-quality 6.8 x 6.8cm square prints using dye-sublimation technology. It also uses sticker paper, which lets you easily stick your printed pictures in albums, scrapbooks, or even on a photo wall. You can even edit and decorate your pictures on Canon’s free app to really give them that personal touch.
What sets this apart from other portable photo printers is Canon’s guarantee that your prints will last 100 years (provided they are stored properly). With a smudge-proof and waterproof finish on its prints, this mini printer is the perfect companion to document those moments you want to treasure for a lifetime.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better, and the HP Sprocket Plus is proof of that. Despite it being pocket-sized, the Zink prints you’ll get from this photo printer are vivid and crisp, capturing the moment without sacrificing any detail.
But what really makes this unit stand out is a feature in its companion app called “Embedded Experiences” that lets you instantly print a frame from a video. Then, when you scan the print on the app, it plays the video back so you can relive the memory as if you were there in the moment again.
The only downside is that the price for this mini printer can be a bit steep compared to the other products on this list, but considering how polished its performance is, it’s well worth the investment.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one Polaroid printer that won’t break the bank, then the Kodak Step might just be your match. The unit itself is affordable, and because it uses Zink paper, you won’t be spending for ink refills down the line.
This printer connects seamlessly with both iOS and Android devices via Bluetooth. With the Kodak app, you’ll also be able to edit your photos and add borders and stickers to them before printing them out.
With a sleek and elegant metallic finish, not only does this hybrid instant camera get the job done – it looks great while doing it too.
For starters, what makes it a cut above its chunky predecessors is that it’s a hybrid digital camera. You can take pictures directly with this camera and review them right after on its built-in screen before you choose to print or not, which means you don’t waste any film on blurry shots.
Not only does it print pictures from its native storage, but you can also connect your phone via Bluetooth and instantly print photos from there. While this is great news for those who aren’t too keen on this photo printer’s 4.9MP sensor, the built-in camera can still be incredibly handy for when you need a quick shot.
The Selphy CP1300 is a compact photo printer that packs a lot of punch. While it may not fit in a handbag, it’s definitely small and light enough to take with you on the road.
It’s a bit closer to a traditional desktop printer than an instant printer, which means that it is also capable of printing pictures with superb quality. It can print physical photos with a maximum size of 4 x 6”, which is perfect if you want to make your own postcards for sending people back home while you’re traveling.
It connects with iOS and Android devices but can also print via USB or over the Internet. While it does not have a native companion app, iOS users can make use of Apple AirPrint for their photos.
The only major downside to this unit is that the battery pack is not included in the kit, which means you’ll have to shell out a little more if you want it to be truly portable.
While this admittedly toes the line of what can be considered as “portable” at its 1.6kg weight, the Epson Workforce WF-110 is a powerhouse of a printer that can do anything that a desktop printer can – including print gorgeous photos on the go.
It can print documents and pictures both on plain paper and photo paper up to A4 size; is compatible with iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac; and has micro-USB and Wi-Fi connectivity, making this an excellent all-around companion for a professional who wants a device that works hard and plays hard.
The only thing to look out for with this printer is that its performance is only matched by its price. It’s quite steep compared to the other photo printers on this list, but if you need a workhorse on the go, this one is unmatched.
This last pick is a Polaroid printer unlike any other because it doesn’t use electronics at all! It has no battery and no components that would require an external power source. Instead, this printer is powered purely by mechanical energy – just turn the hand crank on the side.
While this might sound like a toy or a novelty item, this photo printer actually lives up to its name quite well, relying on very straightforward methods. All you have to do is put your phone up to maximum brightness, lay it facedown on the scanner surface, and turn the hand crank until your print comes out.
Needless to say that this photo printer doesn’t come with a companion app. But because it’s pretty analog, this is the best Polaroid printer for anyone who doesn’t want to worry about having to charge multiple devices before leaving the house.
Not all Polaroid printers are built the same. Below are some of the things you’ll want to consider when you’re choosing between printers.
The first thing to look into when choosing a mini photo printer is its size and weight. While having a unit that fits into a bag and barely weighs anything is great for portability, a smaller Polaroid printer typically has more limitations in terms of print speed and quality.
A portable printer wouldn’t be very portable if you had to charge it constantly. Look at the approximate number of prints you can get out of one full charge for each unit, which is a tangible measure of its battery performance.
While most of the units below have Bluetooth connectivity, some have other connectivity options as well, such as Wi-Fi Direct and USB connections. Also, make sure that the unit is compatible with your smartphone and its operating system.
Aside from the unit itself, we also look into the quality of the print it produces – you’re buying a photo printer, after all! For this, we look at the size of the print, as well as the paper type. While most photo printers use photo paper and ink, many mini printers now make use of Zink (short for “zero-ink”) technology.
Older instant cameras use a printing process called dye-sublimation, which uses heat to transfer ink onto paper. On the other hand, Zink photo paper is an ‘all-in-one’ thermal paper with layers of ink already embedded into it, which are surfaced by the application of heat. Since there are no ink cartridges to replace in a Zink system, it is convenient, less wasteful, and cheaper per print.
Aside from the price of the photo printer itself, you should also take into consideration the price of the paper, which will be a recurring expense for the lifetime of your device. Some printers are only “affordable” until you factor in expensive photo paper!
While size and weight are the main measures of portability, there are a number of other things to consider when choosing the best Polaroid printer for you. A smaller photo printer can be easier to bring around, but what you save in space, you might be sacrificing in print quality.
Alternatively, you might need a unit that can keep going for long stretches of time, a companion app that lets you edit pictures on the go, or a printer that can do more than just print photos. Think about your needs and lifestyle so you can choose the right photo printer for you.