Selphy Photo Printer

Quick Photo Prints: The Best Snapshot Printers, Tested

Ready for November’s and December’s parties and family gatherings? By the end of the season, your household will probably have enough new photos packed onto smartphones and camera cards to fill any physical photo album to bursting. If you like the idea of printing your photos at home or, instantly, at a relative’s house, a snapshot printer may be just what you need. No more trips to your neighborhood superstore's kiosk; no more waiting for prints in the mail.

Epson PictureMate PM-400 Personal Photo Lab

These specialized printers are intended for instant gratification, when you don't have the time to wait in line or to order prints online. They’re great for handing out fresh snaps on the spot to far-flung relatives at get-togethers. These printers also make swell gifts (scrapbookers love them), especially if you give one with a few packs of refills.

We’ve tested the leading models, and you can see links to the best ones at the bottom of this page. Indeed, these printers don't change much year to year; most of the current models have been available for some years now. (One big exception is Epson's new big gun in this space: The PictureMate PM-400 Personal Photo Lab, new for the fall of 2015.) But here are a few considerations to keep in mind.

OUTPUT SIZE. As their name suggests, snapshot printers solely produce postcard-size images—nothing larger. They’re typically limited to 4x6-inch or smaller color output (a few, like the PM-400, can do 5x7s), and they’re not meant to replace a general-purpose inkjet or laser. (They can’t handle letter-size paper, so your kids won’t be printing school reports on these.) Compact and often portable, most have a built-in LCD for previewing images.

CONNECTIVITY. Most, but not all, dedicated-snapshot models allow you to print directly from a PC, usually over a wired USB connection or, in a few cases, a wireless Wi-Fi connection through a router. Some also allow you to print straight from a digital camera's memory card, or from a camera or smartphone connected to the printer over USB, Bluetooth wireless, or various Wi-Fi schemes. (You may see reference to the "PictBridge" standard among these printers; that tells you this printer can print directly from a PictBridge-compliant camera over a USB port. Check your camera's documentation to see if it qualifies.)

Depending on how you intend to print, make sure the connectivity mix that the printer offers makes sense for your situation. One feature that is increasingly common on full-size inkjet printers, Wi-Fi Direct, allows for direct-to-printer wireless connections over Wi-Fi without an intervening router. It’s scarce in snapshot printers, though, and worth looking for in future models.

PRINT TECHNOLOGY. Not all dedicated snapshot printers use the inkjet-printing technology you may expect. Among the printers we reviewed below, Canon’s Selphy models employ dye-sublimation technology, which uses a cartridge of carrier film that's impregnated with ink. Dye-sublimation cartridges typically come with exactly enough paper as the cartridges will print to, and it’s impossible to squeeze extra prints from the cartridges; they’re rated for a fixed number of prints, and no more. (The film can't be run through a second time.)

The printers in this roundup offer a range of pluses and minuses, so you'll have to decide which one is right for you with the help of our deep-dive reviews below. As we mentioned, the available models haven't changed much in the last few years (with the exception of the new PM400), and the best of the older models we’ve tested that are still on the market (available new) are the Canon Selphy CP900 and Epson PictureMate Charm. (The Charm will co-exist, at least for a time, with Epson's much newer PM-400.) Easy to use, and offered with optional rechargeable-battery accessories that allow for true on-the-go mobile printing, the CP900 is a dye-sub model. The PictureMate Charm, meanwhile, is a veteran inkjet model that remains one of the best you can buy.

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