Over the past few years, we’ve seen a surge of pocket photo printers that you operate solely from your smartphone or tablet. A few, notably the HP Sprocket Photo Printer and the Lifeprint 2×3 Hyperphoto Printer, have managed top ratings in PCMag reviews. Now, along comes Canon’s IVY Mini Photo Printer ($129.99), which, aside from a few set-apart print features, is essentially a “me-too” model. It prints as well as most of its competitors, and it comes with an easy-to-use app for printing, as well as for cropping and enhancing your photos. In our testing, though, little about the IVY stands out. It’s as good a choice as most of its competitors, assuming what you’re after are tiny, on-the-fly prints from a mobile device.
A Quirky Color Scheme
The Canon IVY ($99.00 at Amazon) measures 0.7 by 3.2 by 4.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.6 ounces. These measurements are close enough to those of competing models that print the same size photos—such as the Lifeprint 2×3, the HP Sprocket, and the Polaroid Insta-Share ($199.99 at Polaroid) —to be negligible. The big exception in this lot is the Lifeprint 3×4.5, which prints significantly larger photos. It measures 1 by 4.5 by 6.3 inches and weighs 12 ounces. That’s about a third again as big as the other printers mentioned here, which specialize in 2-by-3-inch (wallet-size) output.
Canon offers the IVY in three color schemes, all two-tone, with white on top and a pastel shade around the edge and on the bottom. (The choices are Slate Gray, Rose Gold, or Mint Green.) All are pleasant but somewhat unusual-looking colors for a printer.
Because the IVY works with your smartphone or tablet interface, it has no control panel to speak of. On the back, you’ll find a micro-USB connector for charging the device, as well as a recharge-status LED and a reset pinhole…
On the left edge is the on/off toggle. A slot on the front edge, from which your printed photos emerge, spans the paper path.
This physical configuration, aside from the pastels, is nearly identical to that of the Lifeprint 2×3. Like the Lifeprint, the HP Sprocket, and a few other models, the Canon IVY uses the ZINK Zero Ink printing technology, meaning that the printer itself requires no actual ink cartridge. Instead, it uses paper infused with color crystals, which melt and display colors on the paper when heated by the printer. (I’ll talk more about this paper, its cost, and how it works later.)
The connectivity comprises just one option, and it’s wireless: Bluetooth, and that only via a handheld Android or iOS device. You can’t connect the IVY to a PC, or tap into the IVY with a Wi-Fi connection. You can connect, however, to one of several cloud and social media sites, among them OneDrive, Google Cloud Print, Facebook, and Instagram. You pair the IVY printer to your mobile device just as you would any other Bluetooth device, through the device’s Bluetooth control panel. (It took me just a few moments.)
The Canon Mini Print App
Canon Mini Print is the app that you’ll use to operate this printer. Aside from some cosmetic variances, it works much the same as the software provided by its competitors. You load and print images from your phone’s storage or the internet. You can choose to print the photos as-is, or you can edit and/or enhance them using the app’s various correction filters and special-effects options.
One feature that Canon Mini Print offers that the others don’t, though, is tiling, or joining multiple prints at their edges to create larger images or collages. To compose these larger images, the software simply cuts the image into four pieces that you stick back together after they print.
One thing to note: Like on many other ZINK-based printers, the paper comes with a peel-to-stick adhesive layer on the back that lets you create stickers from your images. With the tiling feature, you can combine prints to create your bigger images or collages, and use the sticky stuff to make the prints stay in place relative to each other. Tiling is the one feature that allows the IVY to stand out from its competitors.
ZINK-ing About Print Speed, Quality
These little ZINK photo printers all churn at similar speeds, within 10 to 20 seconds of one another. The print speed varies a smidge according to image resolution, the actual image size, the color depth, and so on, but how quickly these variances get handled depends more on the processing power of the phone or tablet from which you are printing.
That said, the Canon IVY churned out our test images in under a minute, with the actual speeds fluctuating between 38 and 52 seconds and averaging at 44 seconds. That’s 2 seconds behind the HP Sprocket, 14 seconds slower than the Lifeprint 2×3, and 56 seconds faster than the Lifeprint 3×4.5. Remember, though, that the latter Lifeprint’s images are about half again the size of these other models’ output, and thus take longer to emerge.
As for the output quality, as with the other ZINK devices discussed here, it’s adequate for what these prints are. The lack of a black base color causes a noticeable dearth of depth. (The color crystals mentioned earlier render only as cyan, magenta, and yellow.) Also, in most cases, I noted that the colors were ever-so-slightly off. Not by a lot, but enough that you’d notice if you looked closely.
In other words, don’t expect the colorful, vibrant, and sometimes breathtaking images you’d get from a five- or six-ink consumer-grade photo printer, such as, say, the Editors’ Choice-winning Canon Pixma TS9120 Wireless Inkjet All-in-One ($839.34 at Amazon) . What you do get is more than passable for refrigerator stickies or pass-around photos at gatherings. And because the software is so easily integrated with social networking and photo-repository sites such as Facebook and Instagram, it’s also a good choice for teens.
The IVY’s ZINK prints will run you about 50 cents each, which, among 2-by-3-inch ZINK printers, is about average. Canon offers two quantities of paper pack, 20 sheets and 50 sheets, and they list for $9.99 and $24.99, respectively, so there is no savings for buying in bulk. (The IVY was fairly new when I wrote this review, and, at the time, I wasn’t able to find the paper discounted anywhere online.)
Bring on the ZINK?
These little ZINK-based printers have been popping up like Whack-a-Moles of late, so one can only assume that they have gained at least a modicum of popularity. As noted, the primary difference between the IVY and its competitors is its up-to-four-image tiling feature for larger images and collages. If that sounds attractive, the Canon IVY is your ZINK. The two competing Lifeprint ZINK printers, meanwhile, allow you, with their unique “hyperphoto” technology, to morph your images into digital video clips. Beyond the razzle-dazzle factor for your friends and family, the tech has a few cool applications of its own.
As for speed, print quality, and cost of ownership, those are all closely clustered for this class of ZINK printer. Put Lifeprint’s unique functions in one hand and the IVY’s tiling in the other, and balance out which feature is more attractive. If neither has a particular draw, the Canon IVY Mini Photo Printer will serve you as well as the others.