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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

16 Models Considered
68 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
82 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Shopping guide for best instant photo printers

Last Updated April 2019

Although physical media like DVDs, cassettes, and even books are quickly being replaced by their digital counterparts, there’s one medium that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon: printed photos. Even though millions of users upload their personal pictures to social media every day, there’s still nothing quite like holding a photograph in your hand and relishing a memory.

Last century, Polaroid had a monopoly on instant photo printing, so much so that most people referred to all instant cameras as “Polaroids.” Now, our smartphones are our default cameras, and instant photo printers are here to marry the technological benefits of the present – like social media and photo filters – with the fun of yesteryear.

Instant photo printers are designed to take your personal photos on your phone and print them instantly to physical photographs you can share and treasure. They print in standard photo sizes and often include apps for editing photos, so each print comes out perfect.

If you’re ready to get in on the fun of instant photo printers – or you’re ready to give your modern tech a healthy dose of nostalgia – you’re in the right place. Read on for everything you need to know about instant photo printers – the features you want, the hidden pricing gotchas, and the best models available.

All-in-one digital camera/printers typically include respectable camera hardware with plenty of megapixels and can create prints directly from the camera itself.

Key considerations

Before you start shopping, take a moment to consider what you’ll be using your instant photo printer for and what features are most important to you. We recommend you start by asking these questions.

How much does replacement photo paper cost? This is the most important consideration of all because a bargain photo printer stops being a bargain if replacement photo paper is overpriced. Look for a photo printer or instant camera that takes replacement cartridges with 30 to 50 photos each, and expect to pay between $20 and $40 per cartridge. If you see a model with replacement photo paper that’s more expensive than that, find one that’s more affordable.

What apps work with the printer? Some instant photo printers can work directly with your social media apps, while others require you to use the manufacturer’s proprietary apps. If you plan on printing a lot of photos from sources other than your smartphone camera, make a list of the apps you want to print from and make sure that the model you buy is compatible. (Often, you can save photos from apps to your personal camera roll for printing, but that’s not always the case, and it’s a cumbersome process.)

What size photos does the printer produce? Many instant photo printers print standard sizes like 4 x 6 and 5 x 7 inches, but some print to unique sizes like 2 x 3 inches. Think about what size photos you want and buy a photo printer that can print to those sizes.

Will the printer work with my smartphone? All instant photo printers can work with your smartphone, but in some cases it’s unnecessarily complicated. For example, some instant photo printers work best using near-field communication (NFC) to transfer photos, a feature only found on Android phones. Similarly, some instant photo printers are built to physically attach to specific smartphones like the iPhone. Before you make your final purchase, be certain the model you want to buy is completely compatible with your smartphone, and check user reviews for feedback on what the experience is like.

How portable does your instant photo printer need to be? Many instant photo printers have built-in batteries, so you can take one with you and print images without having to be connected to a power outlet. If you want to print on the go, make sure to buy one with a built-in battery. If you don’t, save some money and buy a printer that’s intended to stay plugged in all the time.

A class all by itself

The Canon SELPHY is in a class all by itself: it’s like having a portable photo lab with you wherever you go. It can print photos in different sizes, it’s got on-board photo editing with an LED screen, and it even supports AirPrint from Apple iOS devices. If you need to print from any device anywhere you go, but you don’t want to sacrifice any quality, this is the one to get.

Instant photo printer features

As you’re shopping for an instant photo printer, you’ll see a lot of new innovations, as well as some useless “features.” Here are the things that matter most when you’re buying one.

Wireless connectivity: You’ll need to transmit your photos from your smartphone to your instant photo printer, and it’s a lot easier to do it wirelessly than it is with a cable. Avoid instant photo printers that require you to use a USB cable to connect your phone. The headache isn’t really worth it, and wireless models cost roughly the same as their wired equivalents.

Custom apps: Most instant photo printers come with proprietary smartphone apps for printing your photos, but those apps aren’t always amazing, and in some cases, you’re forced to only use those apps to print. On the other hand, some included apps are outstanding and make it easy to customize your photos with image-editing tools and fun templates. Once you’ve narrowed down your search to one or two models, look for online reviews of the apps themselves so you can get a preview of how the app for each model functions.

Stickers: One of our favorite innovations in instant photo printers is the ability to make your own stickers. Many models work with self-adhesive photos, so you can decide to make a fun sticker out of any of your photos any time you want. Don’t knock it until you try it – check user reviews to see examples of stickers that others have made, and then start dreaming up your own!

EXPERT TIP

Long-term exposure to the sun fades or deteriorates most printed photographs. If you want your printed photos to stay looking vibrant, keep them out of the sun.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

By default, most smartphones don’t take pictures at standard printed photo dimensions. To get images to fit on each print, you’ll need to crop each one to the dimensions the printer requires. To make things easier, edit your photos to standard dimensions ahead of time.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

If you’re considering buying a camera that prints instant photos, check to see how many photos are in a replacement film cartridge. Film cartridges for instant cameras can carry anywhere from 10 to 50 photos.


Staff  | BestReviews

Instant photo printer prices

Inexpensive

If you’re looking for a basic instant photo printer, or you need one for a specific use like a vacation or wedding, you can find a decent model for anywhere between $30 and $75. Instant photo printers in this price range don’t offer a lot of bells and whistles, so expect to be limited to models that only print photos in a single size. In general, it’s best to stay away from the cheapest instant photo printers because they often have the most expensive replacement photo paper.

Mid-range

The best values in instant photo printers can be found on models that cost between $75 and $100. Instant photo printers in this price range typically include custom apps that make it easy to edit your photos and add filters before printing. Not every deal in this price range is a bargain, however, so pay close attention to the quality of photos each model prints, as well as how expensive the replacement photo paper is.

Expensive

If you need the absolute best instant photo printer available, you’ll need to spend a lot more. Instant photo printers in the $100 to $200 range include a laundry list of features like the ability to print in multiple sizes. If you need professional-quality prints, or you simply want the most versatile portable printer you can get, you’ll need to spend at least this much.

Perfect prints every time with minimal fuss

Kodak once again proves why it’s the first name in photography. This is the instant photo printer to get if you want perfect prints every time with minimal fuss. Android users will love the NFC connectivity for making everything much faster, and professional photographers will love how detailed the photo prints are.

Tips

  • Buy plenty of extra photo paper ahead of time. Make sure you never run out of photo paper for new pictures, and stock up when you buy your instant photo printer. By keeping extra around, you’re also protecting yourself against potential future problems (like if the manufacturer discontinues it or it becomes hard to find).

  • Research to see if third-party photo paper is available at a discount. In some cases, you can find compatible photo paper from a different vendor and save a lot of money, so do your homework ahead of time to see which models work with third-party photo paper. (And don’t forget to check user reviews of any third-party photo paper because they’re not always great.)

  • Print original photos for better quality. Photos from social media will be compressed and won’t look as good. A lot of instant photo printers can connect directly with your social media accounts, so you can instantly print photos. That’s an incredibly convenient feature, but there’s a catch: when you upload a photo to a social network, it gets compressed and slightly degraded (so that image file sizes on social media can stay small), so when you print photos from social media sites, they can sometimes look blurry or pixelated. Whenever possible, print directly from original photos for the best quality.

  • Consider getting an all-in-one digital camera and photo printer. This is something to think about if the camera on your smartphone doesn’t take great pictures. Camera/printer combos a little pricier than standalone printers, but for many people the convenience – and image quality – are worth it.

Other products we considered

We love the Kodak Portable Instant Printer Premium, because it has perfected the printing process, and it can even charge your phone while you’re printing. This is definitely one of the most expensive models available, but it’s dead simple to use and prints stunning photographs, so it’s well worth the steep price. If you’re okay with photos that are only 2 x 3 inches in size, then the Polaroid Mint Pocket Printer is a fun option. It’s tiny, it comes in multiple colors, and it can print up to 50 photos with a single cartridge. If you want the most portable instant photo printer around – or if you just miss the instant quality of a Polaroid – this is the one to get.

Many instant photo printers include templates for decorating photos with virtual frames and captions, great for creating greeting cards, holiday decorations, or just personalized messages.

FAQ

Q. How long does it take for a picture to print on an instant photo printer?

A. Most instant photo printers truly are instant and can develop a photo in seconds, much like a vintage Polaroid camera. Some models may take as long as a few minutes, depending on if they have additional features, like printing photos that are also stickers.

Q. Are instant photo printers noisy?

A. No. Instant photo printers have moving parts, but they’re tiny, so there isn’t a lot of noise when its in use.

Q. Can I print images from a video on my phone with an instant photo printer?

A. Yes. While instant photo printers can’t print directly from a video, they can print from a still image from a video. Some instant photo printer models include software to help you pick images from the videos on your phone, but the easiest way to get a specific image from a video is to pause the video at the desired moment and take a screenshot, then print the screenshot.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Jaime
    Jaime
    Writer
  • Kyle
    Kyle
    Writer

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