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Best Instant Photo Printers: Polaroid Versus HP

Transform your digital photos into analog art.

A photo printer, especially a wireless photo printer, is one of those things you don’t realize you need until you have it. And sure, you can share your photos on social media sites, but that’s no replacement for holding printed photos, physical objects you can put in a frame or post on the fridge, courtesy of an instant photo printer.

We all dreamed of a digital future, but if the resurgence of vinyl records and film photography prove anything, it’s that we all want something to hold on to. Parents are no different, and when it comes to pictures of your children, it’s fine to have digital albums filled with special moments like the first day of school. But the photos themselves, printed out, hold the true sentimental value. 

See more: Best Kids Cameras

There are plenty of online printing services that will mail you your photos, and the neighborhood drugstore might still have a photo printing kiosk or two. But we’re all about immediate gratification, and that’s why a photo printer is a great investment. You can choose a desktop photo printer model that churns out vibrant pictures, or a portable photo printer unit that will let you print on the go.

These are some of our favorite photo printers for every skill level and budget.

Best Photo Printers

The HP sprocket Studio prints beautifully glossy four by six inch photos directly from your phone.

Pros: HP’s Sprocket, now in its second iteration, refines this process. Via a unit roughly the same size as your smartphone and connected to it via Bluetooth, you beam your photos and it spits out two-by-three-inch prints that are sticky-backed. Fully charged, the wireless unit will shoot out 35 of the inkless papers. We love the fact that, because of its inkless design, you’ll never need to buy additional ink cartridges, only the papers themselves.

Cons: The biggest distinguishing factor for us is the cost per photo. HP’s paper works out to roughly 50 cents a print.

Polaroid Lab converts digital photos on your phone to real Polaroid prints through the app.

Pros: The Polaroid Lab projects the photo from your phone, exposing it onto Polaroid film. It’s low-fi and moody, but it produces a vintage result difficult to match with filters and other modern hacks. The size of the unit is roughly that of its iconic cameras and best used for tabletop work.

Cons: See above. The aesthetic may not be to your liking.

Finally, we get voice-activated printing, from a top-notch device that works with Alexa, Google Home, and Microsoft Cortana.

Pros: Let’s get real. You use your phone for everything. Now, you can voice-command it to print whatever you want. This photo printer handles print jobs from anywhere and of course is WiFi-enabled.

Cons: It’s voice-activated, but for that to work, you need a smart speaker device. And there’s no LCD preview screen.

This wireless photo printer lets you add stickers and frames to prints, and lets you edit photos until you love them.

Pros: You can personalize the hell out of your prints by downloading the app, which has built-in templates for photo albums, cards, and collages. You can also print photos directly from your social feeds.

Cons: We love that this printer gives you four by six inch photos. Which also makes it a bigger thing to haul around.

You get high-quality photos in seconds, straight from your Android or Apple device.

Pros: The Kodak Mini printer delivers high-quality photos thanks to its dye transfer method, that gives you vibrant colors or dramatic black and white pix. It’s entirely wireless.

Cons: The refill cartridges are not cheap.

A great portable photo printer that's compact and wireless, it also features ZINK printing technology that makes smudge-proof and water-resistant photos.

Pros: We love this printer because it uses ZINK, meaning zero ink, to create a small, portable design that doesn’t require ink cartridges or toners. You just download the app to personalize and print your photos, and connect the Ivy to your Android or iPhone using Bluetooth.

Cons: It’s only compatible with mobile devices running iOS 9.0 or later, and Android devices running Android 4.4 or later.

While Polaroid may be synonymous with instant film, we were impressed with the innovation of the Mint pocket photo printer. The paper is great. But the most important bonus was at its size. At under an inch thick and not much bigger than a pack of cards, it’s an easy carry-along for any trip.

Pros: Paper and ink costs should always be a consideration when you’re shopping for a printer, and the Mint photo printer makes the former affordable and the latter unnecessary. At around 50 cents a sheet, its zero-ink, water-resistant paper costs substantially less than other instant films, making it easier to make prints for family and friends. We also loved its Bluetooth connectivity and the rechargeable battery for on-the-go printing of up to 50 pictures.

ConsIf only all printing were this easy! Alas, this is only good for smartphone photos, so if you’re using another camera or simply want bigger options than its two-by-three-inch prints, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

You know the Instax line from Fujifilm's instant cameras, but this photo printer is also worth checking out.

Pros: The SP-2 prints high-resolution pictures using a laser exposure system. It prints on standard Instax film, so if you already have an Instax camera you can go back and forth between digital and instant and get a consistent collection of snapshots. We’re also big fans of the reprint button, an easy way to print multiple copies.

Cons: Plenty of folks struggled to connect their smartphones to the printer.

Whether you’ve got a fancy camera or not, we can guarantee you’re more likely to have your phone with you at any decisive moment. That’s why a cameraphone printer always makes a cut on a list like this. The ease of use for the KiiPix photo printer is such that operation is a cinch for even the most technologically-challenged.

ProsSimply center your photo in the included frame, turn your phone’s brightness up, and depress the KiiPix’s button to expose the film. There are no batteries to replace or cords to lose—its fully mechanical action needs no WiFi or Bluetooth connection to work. For added customization, download its app to overlay photos with text, lightly edit, or add emoji.

ConsAs any old photographer will tell you, it’s not the cost of the camera that gets you—it’s the film. Even Fujifilm, which is known for its economy pricing, will run you a little less than a dollar a sheet.

This printer is small enough to fit easily into bags, or even your pocket. Plus, you can decorate, design, and print your social media photos using the HP Sprocket app.

Pros: It’s tiny, but powerful. The Sprocket has Bluetooth 5.0 and sleep mode, so it stays connected even when you’re not using it, without draining your battery. You two-by-three-inch sticky-backed photos so you can be surrounded by happy or silly memories. And the photo refill paper isn’t expensive, at about $5 a pack.

Cons: This is not a professional photo printer, so don’t expect an elite level of picture quality. And you need the app to print.

Straddling the line between the portability of a smartphone printer and the flexibility of a desktop model, the Canon SELPHY CP1300 is worth its weight for the variety of prints it produces.

Pros: Plug it in (or purchase an optional battery pack), and with the included paper you can make prints from photobooth strips to four-by-six glossies. You can, of course, print directly from your phone via its app, but the device also allows you to insert an SD card from your digital camera or a USB drive. For these latter methods, a three-inch LCD screen allows preview and selection of images.

ConsIt’s hardly fair to expect professional-level prints, but we should nevertheless note that images produced won’t be as sharp or detailed as those printed from at-home machines. Portability has its drawbacks. Still, Canon sells its inks together with paper, and all told you can bang out prints for pennies—something not nearly as affordable as other high-quality options.

Cruise enough yard sales and you’ll come across a graveyard of printers. The culprit? The rising costs of inks. We credit the HP Envy 5055 for its sheer affordability for the print-crazed. For less than a cup of coffee, you can be printing to your heart’s content.

Pros: Released in 2018, the Envy 5055 packs a ton of cutting-edge features in an affordable package, including dual-band wiereless connectivity; direct-from-device printing; and edge-to-edge pictures up to eight-by-10. But what really sold us were the ink refills. For as little as three bucks a month, you can get topped off and back to printing. Bonus: It also scans.

Cons: You have to install a ton of software to start using this thing. Still, after navigating these troubled waters, many users were ultimately satisfied.

This inkjet printer has a maximum resolution of 5760 x 1440 dpi and produces photos in as fast as 37 seconds.

Pros: This is hailed by fans as one of the easiest photo printers you can find. This lightweight printer gets you stunning borderless four-by-six-inch and five-by-seven-inch photos that will last decades and decades. You can print from your iPad, iPhone, tablet and smartphones; the printer includes WiFi Direct. Bottom line is that it’s fast, it’s portable, and it’s simple to use.

Cons: Some folks complain about the color quality.

You’ve tried the rest, and now you want the best. This machine will offer the greatest latitude of printing options—but for a price.

Pros: Epson is arguably top three in the photo printer game, but its SureColor P800 makes this list because of its versatility. If you’re printing in volume—think Christmas cards and large extended families—the price of paper will be a consideration, and the most economical means of it is with roll paper. This machine can use both sheet and roll options with aplomb, making major holidays and one-off jobs equally easy. Of course, it has Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud printing capabilities for devices other than your lap- or desktop, but if you’re willing to drop a G on a photo printer, we’re betting you’re doing a more thorough job of retouching than slapping an Instagram filter on a smarphone photo. Ultra high-res photos are blown up larger than life with a max sheet size of 17-by-22-inch sheet size or 17-inch rolls.

Cons: Quality comes with both price and weight. At 43 pounds, this is one of the smallest pro-level machine available, and as such, it demands a base photo worthy of the ink. Many won’t need a sliver of its capability. But if your photography is located somewhere between vocation and hobby, this is the printer for you.

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