If there is any photo accessory that can win friends, it’s the portable photo printer. These cute, compact critters are the ideal answer to that age-old admonition, “I never see all of those pictures you’re always taking.”
Rather than asking tech-challenged grandma to log onto her computer to see the latest pictures of Jack’s soccer goal or Sara’s baby, your customers can simply take their printers with them and hand out prints—instantly. Think of it as a 21st century version of the classic Polaroid print, or a great gift that is, in effect, a more permanent form of social interaction.
With recent developments in wireless connectivity—Google Cloud Print (GCP), Apple AirPrint and GCP-ready printers like Kodak’s Hero All in Ones and HP’s e-AiO units—users don’t even need to take the printer with them; they can print remotely using various apps and Wi-Fi enabled devices without the need for drivers or a PC connection.
In other words, consumers can now send prints directly to a full-size printer located at grandma’s house or practically anyplace, almost instantly, and they’re not limited by the capacity or print sizes offered by compact portable units.
TAKE-ALONG COMPACT PRINTERS
Portable printers have sold steadily for years, and the original concept is pretty straightforward—a lightweight, compact, dye-sublimation printer that turns out high-quality 4×6 prints in under a minute, can operate on batteries or AC for printing in the field or at outside events, and has a small LCD for previewing the images.
Typically a portable unit prints images off a USB-connected computer or other device, or by inserting a memory card into its built-in multi-slot card reader. The idea is to take it along to events, sports matches, etc., and hand everyone instant prints of your best shots.
Technology has increased the appeal of portable photo printers on several fronts. The latest dye-sub prints are far more archival than those of even a few years ago. Canon claims that prints from its Selphy CP800 compact photo printer will last “at least 100 years,” and Epson asserts that prints from its Epson PM 225 Charm are “fade resistant up to 200 years.” They’re fast too—the Canon turns out a 4×6 print in 47 sec, and the larger, heavier Epson can do so in a claimed 37 sec.
Perhaps more fascinating is the ZINK (“zero ink”) system of printing pioneered by Pandigital and Polaroid in their compact printers. It works in conjunction with ZINK paper, a composite material with embedded cyan, yellow and magenta dye crystals. Before printing, ZINK paper looks like white photo paper, and the printers use targeted heat to activate and colorize the paper’s crystals to produce full-color prints that “last for decades.” ZINK technology requires no ribbons, toner or cartridges, but ZINK paper is understandably more expensive than plain photo paper ($15.99 for 40 sheets of 4×6).
The greatest benefit of inkless ZINK technology is that it enables printer designs that are smaller, lighter and more portable. By eliminating the need for the printers that contain the ink source, it’s created a new compact printer category—the pocketable mobile photo printer. Example: the Polaroid CZA-10011 Pogo instant mobile printer that measures 4.7×2.8×0.9 inches, weighs 8 ounces without paper, and is said to print a 2×3 photo in 60 sec from a camera—or wirelessly via a Bluetooth cameraphone!
If all this innovation motivates you to look into these ingenious accessories as a marketing opportunity, here’s a guide to today’s compact photo printers.
Portable Photo Printer Roundup
Canon Selphy CP800. This popular compact turns out borderless or bordered 4×6 dye-sub prints with up to 16.8 million colors in 47 sec, features a 2.5-inch tilt-up LCD, has color balance and exposure adjustments, red-eye correction and portrait optimization functions. It connects via multiple card slots, PictBridge, USB, USB flash drive or optional Bluetooth v2.03. The CP800 measures 4.7×2.3×6.7 inches, weighs 2.0 pounds and is powered by AC or an optional NB-2CP2L battery pack. $99.99. usa.canon.com
Epson PictureMate Charm 225. The PM 225 cute, chunky unit has a built-in carrying handle and turns out high-res (5,760×1,440 dpi) borderless 4×6 prints in 37 sec using 4-color dye ink to print stacks of photos. It features a 2.5-inch LCD, slots to accommodate most memory cards, runs on AC power, and is PictBridge enabled and Bluetooth capable with an optional adapter. An optional battery pack is available for printing on the go, and there’s onboard editing, cropping, red-eye removal, a choice of layouts and a black-and-white option. The Charm measures 13.5×9.1×10.5 inches with more compact storage dimensions and weighs 7.9 pounds. $149.95. epson.com
Pandigital Photo Printer with ZINK Technology. This sleek, flat super-compact PanPrint01 prints borderless 4x6s or two 2×3-inch wallet-size prints on ZINK dye-embedded paper. It features a 5-in-1 card slot, a 1.4-inch LCD, is PictBridge compatible and offers a USB 2.0 port for printing from computers and other devices. Its tray capacity is 20 sheets, and print time is 40-60 sec. It measures a petite 1.5x8x6.75 inches and weighs 1.75 pounds. $64.99. pandigital.net
Polaroid Pogo CZA-10011. Optimized for use with wireless devices, and slightly larger than a smartphone, this instant mobile printer produces 2×3 photos on ZINK dye-embedded paper using thermal printing and operates wirelessly using Bluetooth-enabled cameraphones. Other features include: a USB 2.0 connector; 7.2v Li-Ion power source or 100/240v AC; and a 15-print capacity per battery charge at 60 sec per print. Prints feature a peel-off, sticky back for mounting on flat surfaces. The CZA-10011 ($69.99) measures 4.7×2.8×0.9 inches and comes in black or pink. A 30-sheet pack of “smudgeproof, water- and tear-resistant” Pogo ZINK paper goes for $7.99. polaroid.com
Polaroid GL10 Instant Mobile Printer. Part of Polaroid and Lady Gaga’s Grey Label line, it’s an extremely mobile device boasting an “intuitive design and easy-to-use feature set” that produces Polaroid classic and custom borders and full-bleed or contemporary 3×4-inch photos in under a minute, using second-generation patented ZINK paper. Weighing 15 ounces and PictBridge enabled, the GL10 connects to most cell phones that provide Bluetooth support, and there’s a USB port for connecting it to a camera or computer. Its primary power source is an internal battery claimed to print 35 images before it needs recharging. Apps for the GL10 on other mobile platforms are being rolled out continually. $169.99. polaroid.com
GOOGLE CLOUD PRINT
Google Cloud Print (GCP) enables any web, mobile or desktop app on any device to print directly to any cloud-connected printer. GCP eliminates the need for drivers and, via a cloud print service, brings full-featured printing to a new generation of mobile and web-based applications.
Apps can be native to desktop printers, mobile apps or web-based apps, depending on the user-selected option. Examples: a PC with Chrome browser using a wired or Wi-Fi capable printer, a cloud-ready printer, or a print server with a network printer. Any type of application can use the GCP Print Service, including Gmail, third-party apps, a desktop word processor or an Android OS device.
Printers hooked up with a Google account are treated in the same way as documents in Google Docs, and there’s no need for complex network setups. Once the service receives a print job, it sends it to the printer, which prints it out. And the system sends status updates on the job and makes them available to the apps.
Cloud-ready printers have no need for a PC connection or print drivers since the printer is registered with one or more cloud print services.
Non-cloud printers are connected directly to PCs, typically by USB, but they don’t have the ability to communicate directly with a cloud print service to fetch prints. This is accomplished through the use of a connector, a small piece of software that runs on the PC to which the printer is connected, thus registering the printer with Google Cloud Print and enabling it to receive jobs from the service. When a job arrives, the connector submits it to the printer, prints it using the PC’s OS native printer software and sends job status reports back to the service—just like a cloud-ready printer.
These software connectors are distributed as part of the Google Chrome package. So far, there are versions available for Mac and Windows, and Google is developing one for Linux. All are set up to manage and sequence multiple print orders. The obvious downside of using a non-cloud-enabled printer is that the PC it’s connected to must be powered on and connected to the Internet in order to print jobs via GCP.
Kodak Hero All-in-One Printers. This new line includes four home models—the Hero 3.1, 5.1, 7.1 and 9.1—and an office model, the Kodak Office Hero 6.1 networked AiO printer. In addition to cloud printing capabilities, by using the Kodak Pic Flick app, consumers can print photos directly from their iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, BlackBerry or Android OS device.
The Kodak Hero 3.1 can print, copy and scan, has a 2.4-inch LCD, is compatible with Kodak 30-series ink cartridges, and has an MSRP of $99.99. The top-of-the line Hero 9.1 is a full-featured wireless AiO with print, copy, scan and fax capability, a 4.3-inch touch screen, a 30-page auto document feeder, automatic two-sided printing, a separate 40-sheet tray, and support for Kodak 10-series cartridges. $249.99. kodak.com
HP Photosmart Printers. HP currently offers more cloud-ready printers in more classes than any other manufacturer. They run the price and feature gamut from the compact HP Envy e-AIO to the HP Photosmart, Photosmart Wireless, Plus and Premium, to the Officejet 6500A, 7500A and Pro 8500A, all with the e-AIO suffix, to the impressive LaserJet Pro CM 1415fn color MFP. hp.com
As you would expect, Apple marches to the beat of its own drummer, offering AirPrint, a system that delivers wireless printing from an iPad 2 using a new generation of AirPrint-enabled printers from HP and now Canon. AirPrint works with Safari, mail, photos, iWork and PDFs in iBooks, and third-party apps with built-in printing. If a printer has a photo paper tray, it will automatically select photo paper, and it will line up multiple print jobs and manage the queue right in AirPrint.
Canon just announced that its Pixma MG8220, MG6220 and MG5320 Wireless Photo AiO inkjet printers now support AirPrint wireless printing for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, so that users can wirelessly print photos, e-mails, web pages and other documents without installing device drivers. AirPrint will be supported by the majority of Canon Pixma printers launched from this point forward.
Whether your customers decide to tote a portable printer and have a “printout party” at family events, or set up a Google Cloud Print-ready printer at home or at a remote location, printers represent a viable, profitable revenue stream, and they incentivize the sale of high-margin ink and photo paper, which is a great way to get customers to come back to your store. Whatever else happens in this amazing and changing market segment, you can be sure of one thing—grandma’s house will never be quite the same.