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Instant cameras have become a lot more popular recently in part because of the near-instant gratification of having a physical print of a picture you took less than a minute earlier.
If you like the idea, but prefer digital photography, you should consider getting a portable photo printer. These are essentially the printer component of an instant camera, but you can connect them to your phone to print any photo from its digital camera roll.
You don’t have to worry about wasting photo paper on a blurry shot, and get to edit the picture before you print it, but the premise is the same. You can get a mini print of your favorite photos whether they were taken earlier that night or two years ago.
When we say these printers are portable we mean they can fit in a purse, backpack side pocket, so you can take them anywhere. Portable photo printers may not have the same retro charm of a Polaroid, but you get the same effect without having to think about missing your shot.
What Is The Best Portable Photo Printer?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best portable photo printer for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Bluetooth: All of these portable photo printers can connect to your phone over Bluetooth, a common wireless standard supported by all smartphones. You can use these printers with any iOS or Android device.
Battery: The portable photo printers in our guide have rechargeable batteries, and charge using a MicroUSB cable.
Photo Size: Every portable photo printer we’re recommending creates prints that are roughly two inches long. Most create wide prints, but we do have a recommendation if you prefer square ones.
Photo Paper: You will need to get special photo paper for these printers, but it’s not very expensive. We’re recommending bundles that include a camera and paper, so you can start printing right out of the box. The photo paper these printers use doesn’t require ink, so you won’t have to get any cartridges.
Best Overall: Polaroid Hi-Print
It’s no surprise that the portable photo printer we like best comes from the company who popularized the instant camera.
I’ve tested it, and Polaroid’s Hi-Print always produces good-looking prints in very little time. I’m especially happy with its color reproduction, which is great for a printer in this class. You’ll need to use Polaroid’s proprietary paper with the Hi-Print, but a 20-pack costs $17.
Connecting the printer to my phone took less than a minute, and Polaroid’s Hi-Print app was easy to use. The app will ask for access to your photo library, then display all of the pictures on your phone. Tap one, and you’ll be taken to a page that lets you make adjustments (cropping, color effects) before printing.
It takes about a minute for the Hi-Print to finish your photo, and you can make several prints in quick succession as long as the printer has enough paper and battery. Waiting never felt tedious because I could see the printer work on the print in real time.
If you’re interested in picking up a portable photo printer before your next party, or want to make physical mementos while traveling, we recommend Polaroid’s Hi-Print.
Best For Square Prints: Canon SELPHY QX10
If you prefer the traditional look of an instant photo, Canon’s SELPHY QX10 is the way to go.
The printer creates snare-shaped prints that are 2.7-inches tall and wide. Canon says these prints dry quickly, and can last for up to 100 years. One of the coolest features is that these prints come with an adhesive back, so you can stick them into a photo book, on your fridge, or onto the lid of your laptop. There’s enough space beneath the print for text.
Canon says it takes roughly 43 seconds for the SELPHY QX10 to make a print, which is in line with the other printers in this guide. You’ll need to use specially designed paper with this camera, but a 100 pack is only $35. That’s the best value in our guide.
Using the SELPHY QX10 requires Canon’s SELPHY Photo Layout app. The software will walk you through picking and editing a photo before making a print. Canon’s app gives you the option to add a stamp (small graphics), border, text, or frame to your photo. These little customizations can make your print extra special, and a great example of adding useful digital touches to an analog photo.
If you’d like to make physical copies of your favorite Instagram photos, and don’t want to apply any cropping, Canon’s SELPHY QX10 is the best choice.
Best For Beginners: Kodak Smile
The Kodak Smile Starter Bundle has everything you need to get the most out of the portable photo printer.
The Smile works identically to the other photo printers we’re recommending: take a photo, download the Kodak Smile app, select your picture, make edits, and print. The app’s basic editing tools let you adjust the lighting, crop of your picture, add a border, and apply a filter. It checks all the right boxes as a piece of tech, but the rest of the bundle makes using it feel like a more cohesive experience.
It includes a case, 20 sheets of photo paper, 100 photo design stickers, a set of photo frames, 12 double-sided markers, nine picture sets, and a photo book. These accessories make it easy to label, customize, and safely store your prints. The borders and frames are especially nice if you’re looking for a creative way to display your photos. The photo book is an especially useful tool, and very important if you’re considering getting a printer to take on vacation.
The Kodak Smile makes 2 x 3 inch wide prints, so you’ll need to crop your square pictures to fit properly. Standard photos will look just fine. This isn’t a restriction, but it’s worth considering if you want a portable photo printer that works best for Instagram-style photos.
The Kodak Smile Starter Bundle is a great way to get everything you need to fully appreciate a portable photo printer in a single click.