At first blush, the thought of a fully portable printer, designed to run on battery power, may seem like a total oxymoron: Carry your Canon Haul your HP Truth is, only a few current portable printers can serve as the kind of all-purpose printing tool you might picture when you think of a typical desktop printer. But like most tech today, printers have seen some serious diversification and specialization. Now, you can find a wealth of portable printers that aren't all-purpose but do a single thing well.
We've outlined below our top picks among portable printers we've tested. Read on for our labs-tested favorites, followed by the buying basics you should know when choosing one. Also note: At the very end of this article is a detailed spec breakout, in chart form, of our top choices.
The Canon Pixma TR150 Wireless Portable Printer is one of the most portable and most capable inkjet printers available. Just 4.5 pounds without its optional battery, or 5.1 pounds with it, it's smaller and lighter than its closest competition, if only by a small amount in most cases, and it delivers equal or better performance.
As with most other portables, the TR150 offers output quality well within the range you would expect from an inkjet. But it also delivers top-tier print speed for a portable model. On our tests, it was more than twice as fast on our business-applications suite as any of its competition, and just 4 seconds behind first place for photos, at 50 seconds each. It helps, too, that its cost per page is competitive, and its 50-sheet paper tray is more than enough for most printing needs on the road.
Anyone who needs a portable all-purpose printer on the go should at least consider the TR150, whether they need to connect by Wi-Fi Direct to mobile devices, by USB 2.0 to a PC, or by Wireless PictBridge to cameras that support it. However, one feature its competitors lack will pique road warriors who need to print output at a customer site. You can create up to five templates, save them to the printer, and then print directly from the control panel when needed. That's a neat trick that lets you print an application, a consent form, or a flyer for a potential customer without connecting anything to the printer.
The HP OfficeJet 250 All-in-One Printer is the only current AIO portable inkjet we know of, but that's not the only reason we've included it here. It impressed us enough when we reviewed it to earn an Editors' Choice award for a portable printer, with its ability to scan and copy being only one reason why.
Along with typical text quality for an inkjet, the OfficeJet 250 offers at least slightly above-par graphics and photos. It was also faster on our tests than most print-only portables. And while it can't print two-sided documents automatically (a limitation shared by its single-function competition), it offers manual duplexing, which lets you print one side, then reinsert the pages in the 50-page ADF to print the other side. The simplex (single-sided) scanner offers a separate 10-sheet ADF for scanning and copying. Connection choices include USB, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi Direct, which lets you print from iOS and Android phones and tablets as well as PCs.
A portable AIO is of obvious interest to anyone who needs to both scan and print (including for copying) while on the go. But even within that group, it's not for everyone. If you usually need scanning only or printing only, you could be better off with a separate printer and scanner, to let you carry just the one you need on a given trip. But if you usually need both scanning and printing, the OfficeJet 250 will be less cumbersome to set up. Even better, it may be lighter that the combined weight of two units.
Most fully portable photo printers today offer wallet-size or slightly larger prints, so if you want a 4-by-6-inch picture size, which the Canon Selphy CP1500 offers, you have limited choices. Fortunately that doesn't mean you have to make compromises. The latest in the long-running Selphy line of portables, the CP1500 in particular delivers a solid feature set; drugstore-grade photo quality, courtesy of its dye sub technology; and a reasonably low running cost, at a bit above or below 30 cents per 4-by-6-inch photo. (The cost covers both the paper and required dye rolls.)
Printers for wallet-size photos are among the most portable printers today, and this Kodak model serves as a prime example of why. One big advantage it has over printers for larger photos is that keeping the photo size to 2 by 3 inches means the chassis can be trimmed down. The Step Instant measures all of 1 by 3 by 5 inches (HWD) and weighs just under a pound. As with much of its competition, it's designed as a phone and tablet accessory, offering Bluetooth and NFC as the only connection options, printing strictly from iOS and Android phones and tablets.
The printer uses Zink technology, which creates images by heating dye crystals embedded in the paper, without the ink cartridge or dye ribbon some other portables use (another slimming factor). Cost per print is reasonable, at around 50 cents, and the print speed is right-on among Zink printers we've tested, at around a minute a snap. The print quality is also on par among Zink-based printers, which is to say that the prints make for nice stickers and casual snapshots to share, but output from dye sub and inkjet printers tends to look a tad sharper.
For a photos with a square aspect ratio printed at just bit larger than wallet size, it's hard to beat the Kodak Mini 3 Retro. The printer weighs just shy of a pound, measures 1 by 5 by 4 inches (HWD), and prints 3-by-3-inch photos using dye-sub technology and a four-pass ribbon, with the last pass laying down a clear projective coating. As is typical of dye sub printers, the picture quality is a clear step above what you'd expect from competing printers that use Zink technology. Kodak promises a long life for the prints, too, rating them at up to 100 years.
There are heavier-duty label printers than the LW-PX900, but they aren't handheld portables. The printer is available by itself with an AC adapter, but we'd recommend the LW-PX900PCD Deluxe Kit, which adds a rechargeable battery, a hard-shell carrying case, and two industrial magnets that let the printer stick to any handy ferromagnetic surface. Either choice comes with a lifetime guarantee.
The Colop e-mark, which you hold in your hand while printing and drag over the page you're printing on, is less a portable inkjet printer than a portable printhead, with your arm serving as the printer mechanism. It functions as the digital version of a rubber stamp. But more important, it's a major improvement over that stamp. It can hold three imprint designs in memory at once, and each can be up to 5.9 inches long. And you can easily switch among them as needed.
Choosing the right category of portable printer for how you print is usually easy. (If you want to print photos from your phone on the go, for example, you'll probably start by looking for a compact photo printer.) But it's still worth knowing what those categories are before you begin shopping. The four main classes of portable printer are (1) all-purpose printers, (2) photo printers, (3) label printers, and (4) monochrome thermal printers.
These all-purpose printers are all inkjets. To the extent that you need to check out and compare basics like print quality, print speed, paper capacity, maximum duty cycle (how much you can print per month without risking damaging the printer), and whether the printer can duplex (print on both sides of the page), choosing among them is similar to choosing any all-purpose printer. But there are also some special considerations for portables.
SIZE AND WEIGHT. Any printer is portable if you have a big enough truck! The question is whether it's small and light enough to carry easily, particularly if you want to pack it in a suitcase or backpack. Weights for current all-purpose inkjet models range from 3.5 pounds to a little less than 7 pounds. Keep in mind, also, that if you don't need to bring the battery on a particular trip, you can shave off as much as half a pound. So check the weights both with and without batteries. (And if you might go without batteries, factor in the power cord or adapter.)
CONSUMABLES AND PAPER HANDLING. This area also encompasses factors such as speed and running cost. The potential range of print quality across portable inkjets is comparable to what you would expect from any other inkjet. However speed, paper handling, cartridge capacity, and running cost are not. The small size of a portable printer is necessarily tied to slower, lighter-duty print and paper-feed mechanisms, as well as limits on how much paper can fit in the tray. Smaller printers also don't offer enough room for large ink cartridges, which leads to a higher cost per page.
For each of these issues, be prepared to adjust your expectations, making your comparisons to other portable models, rather than to inkjet printers in general. For example, an auto-duplexing mechanism, which is common for full-size inkjets, adds size and weight. So expect support for manual duplexing, at best, with the printer first printing all odd-numbered pages, then making you reinsert the stack before printing the other side of each sheet. (We cover all these areas in our reviews.)
CONNECTIONS. Most all-purpose portable printers offer both Wi-Fi and USB for connections. Some support PictBridge, as well, for printing photos directly from cameras that support the spec. If you want to connect cable-free via Wi-Fi, make sure the printer supports Wi-Fi Direct. And if you might need to print straight from your phone or tablet, make sure the printer also supports mobile printing with your specific device.
PORTABLE ALL-IN-ONES. Portable AIOs are even rarer than portable single-function printers. The only one we've seen of late is from HP, with the latest model being the HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile A