polaroid-zip-mobile-printer-1-3If you’d like to make a real impression next time you’re out with friends and family, then the Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer may be just the thing for you. Polaroid has long been synonymous with immediately sharing memories with friends, and this Zip printer carries on the tradition. I recently brought one to my family reunion and it was a hit, and I used it at the Photofocus Party at Photoshop World with great success. Let me show you how it works and why you might like it.

It’s Handy

This little printer makes a tangible, real life photograph anywhere. It’s about the size of a smartphone, though a little thicker. It connects to your phone via Bluetooth. It’s so small that you can have your phone in one pocket and the printer in the other and go about your day and print photographs on a whim.

It’s got a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. I got 20 or 30 prints per charge, but even when the battery gets low you can plug it in and continue printing. It charges using a standard USB cable, so I used it with an external battery I use to charge my phone on the go.

Print Quality

Most printers require ink cartridges to make a picture, and I would inevitably run out of ink right when I want to print a photo. The Zip printer doesn’t need ink cartridges because it uses ZINK paper, which stands for Zero Ink. The paper has heat-sensitive layers which reveal color when activated with a laser inside the printer. All you have to do is load a new package of the 2×3″ paper and you’re all set.polaroid-zip-mobile-printer-5

Furthermore, the prints are waterproof and you can peel off the back and reveal a sticker that sticks really well. I stuck a picture of my daughter to the back of my phone and it lasted there for two months before I peeled it off and stuck it in a book.

The only downside to this system is that the print quality is terrible. It’s not a very high resolution, so fine details are easily lost and it adds a lot of sharpening which can also obscure details. Print quality is also not consistent. Printing the same photo over again yields a different result in color and brightness. The dynamic range is extremely limited and any highlight areas are usually blown. The paper only has CMYK colors, so the color range is very poor and colors often look nothing like they did on your phone. Black and white photos always have a color tint and duplicate prints never look the same. Any printer that prints with such low quality should not be brought to market. These are really horrible little prints.

And I love every one of them.

The Phenomenon

We make photographs on our phones all the time and we share thousands of photographs on social media each year. But, all those photographs disappear when something new comes along. The Zip printer gives you the chance to make a photograph that can be shared even when the phone batteries are dead. Kids love them. They have rarely received a printed photograph and this is a special experience. At a family event or outing with friends, it’s a powerful tool that will make you very popular. Your only problem will be running out paper (each package comes with ten sheets; I found bulk pricing making each print US$0.30).


Tips for Use

I’ve printed about 200 prints with this little tool, and I’ve picked up some techniques that will help you make the most of your printing experience.

  • Bring a backup battery, the kind you can use with a USB cable to charge your smartphone
  • Buy plenty of paper; everyone will want a copy
  • Set it on an ice pack while printing; the paper is heat activated, so when the printer gets too hot it shuts down but the ice pack keeps it working. You can also open it and gently blow on it to cool it off. A cool printer also helps produce more consistent prints.
  • Keep the paper out of the sun and heat, but don’t worry about loading it in bright light because it’s not light sensitive
  • Gather photos from your family’s phones, too, so you can print from their points of view
  • It takes 20 to 30 seconds to get a print done from uploading to finished, so that’s only 30 prints per hour if you’re really organized; don’t expect high volume work from this little tool–it’s definitely not for commercial work
A few minutes in the freezer cooled the printer off when it overheated, then I set it on top of an ice pack to keep it cool while printing pictures for my whole family.

The only way to print is to transmit pictures from your phone using the Polaroid Print App. However, I’m not much of a phonetographer and I don’t care to share most of the photos I make on my phone. Instead, I use my GX8’s built-in wifi to beam photos to the phone and then transfer them to the printer so that the photos I print are made with my best lenses and lighting (yes, I’m making a high-quality photo with Leica lenses and then printing in the lowest quality possible; the irony is not lost on me :) ).

Another way I use it is to gather my finished photos from Lightroom via the Lightroom Mobile app then print them via the Polaroid app. When exporting from Lr Mobile, choose the Small size so that they transfer to the printer faster; the print will appear the same even if you use a higher resolution file. Whatever method you use to get a good photo to your phone, you can then print it with the Polaroid Zip mobile printer.

I think there’s room to use this to send clients home with a fun print from a shoot, but again, it’s not appropriate for a photo booth at an event because it is too slow. I could even use it to convince reluctant kids to be in a photograph. Traveling photographers could use it to return the favor of someone willing to make a portrait on the street. There are many ways you could incorporate this into your photography.


The Polaroid Zip mobile printer produces what are probably the lowest quality prints ever associated with the Polaroid name. It’s too sharp, too low resolution, and too inconsistent. However, since we rarely share prints anymore, and if we do we have to order out for them, this little printer perfectly fills a niche and people love receiving a print immediately (by the way, there are other printers that use the same ZINK paper; LG makes one very similar to this Polaroid, and there are larger models for production use). Since the prints have a sticky back, kids in my family took their prints and stuck them in memory books and even to some of their favorite toys. The printer costs a little over US$100, plus about thirty cents per print, but the look on my family’s faces as they shared pictures and talked about the memories was priceless.

Highly recommended.