Polaroid’s Hi-Print 2×3 Pocket Photo Printer ($99.99) is the instant camera vendor’s latest push into the market for mini photo printers that work with mobile devices. Given formidable competition from Canon, Fujifilm, HP, Kodak, and others, the Hi-Print stands apart for using dye-sublimation printing technology, which produces more vibrant images than what we see from the Zero Ink (ZINK) imaging method that many such pocket printers use. The Hi-Print output looks great, but the consumables are more cumbersome and leave behind a lot more packaging waste, and the cost per photo is very high, especially for this model’s small 2.1-by-3.4-inch format. Also, our test model lacks even a small sample of paper and ink to get you started. The Hi-Print is all about the high, indeed: high-quality prints, at a high cost.
A Companion for Your Smartphone
The Hi-Print is available as two different products: the standalone Polaroid Hi-Print 2×3 Pocket Photo Printer (tested here), and the Polaroid Hi-Print 2×3 Starter Set. The former comes with just the printer and a micro-USB charging cable; the latter, which costs $30 more, comes with two print packs that contain two 10-photo cartridges apiece. Each cartridge holds both the paper and a single-use dye-sublimation ink ribbon.
With the Starter Set, pictured below, you get a total of 40 prints altogether, at an incremental cost of 75 cents per print. I’ve never seen a pocket photo printer come without at least a few sheets’ worth of supplies, and I can’t help wondering how many unhappy buyers may leave the store or check out online without noticing that they also need to buy consumables.
Measuring 1.8 by 4.0 by 6.9 inches (HWD) and weighing about half a pound, the Hi-Print is a little more than twice as thick as (and at least an inch longer than) several other competing models, including our Editors’ Choice (the HP Sprocket Plus), and the Lifeprint 2×3 Hyperphoto and the Canon IVY Mini. These three also employ the 2-by-3-inch format. (Technically, the Polaroid prints are 2.1 by 3.4 inches, and the Sprocket Plus’ are minimally larger, at 2.3 by 3.4 inches.) The primary reason for the Hi-Print’s additional bulk is that the body needs room for both its adhesive-backed paper and the dye-sublimation ink ribbon; the ZINK printers’ inkless paper is all you need to load into them.
Our most recent winner of an Editors’ Choice award for portable photo printing, the HP Sprocket Studio, prints 4-by-6-inch photos, making it considerably larger than the 2-by-3-inch models. I should also point out that PCMag has reviewed a few other portable dye-sublimation photo printers, notably the Kodak Photo Printer Dock and the Canon Selphy CP1300 Wireless Compact Photo Printer, and these, too, are 4-by-6-inch machines. The Hi-Print is unusually small for a dye-sub model.
The bottom edge is home to a micro-USB port for charging and a couple of status LEDs. The left edge holds the power button and two more status lights.
The one thing that our dye-sub printer reviews have in common is near-universal praise for dye-sub’s print quality, which is not always the case for ZINK models, especially earlier ones like Polaroid’s own Zip Photoprinter. In any case, the consumables cartridge slips into a compartment accessible via a cover that you can open easily with your fingernail.
Opposite the bottom edge is the output slot, where your prints roll out. The Hi-Print is a four-pass printer, meaning that the paper moves back and forth over the printhead once for each of the three ink colors—cyan, magenta, and yellow—and a fourth time to receive a clear coating to protect the photo. Polaroid claims these prints are waterproof and that getting them wet won’t degrade the images. I sprinkled a little water on some of the print samples from our tests, and they held up fine, with no smearing.
You connect your Android or iOS smartphone to the Hi-Print via Bluetooth 5.0. According to Polaroid, the device’s 640mAh battery, when fully charged via the included micro-USB cable, is good for about 20 prints.
A Look at the Polaroid Hi-Print App
Most of the apps or interfaces for these pocket photo printers are quite similar and simple to use. The Hi-Print app is available for download for both Android and iOS phones and tablets. After you pair the printer with your mobile device, the app finds the printer immediately. Make a few configuration choices, and you’re ready to go.
Editing and enhancement options abound; they include brightness, contrast, saturation, clarity, and filters, and you can add, edit, and format text, frames, or hundreds of stickers. The app itself performs well and is well-behaved (or at least it was on my Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Android phone).
The Hi-Print app comes with many more filters than I’ve seen in most other pocket photo printer utilities, and the photos that I applied them to looked good. Unfortunately, despite the Bluetooth connectivity, there is no app for Windows or mac OS laptops or desktops, which is typical for these portable photo printers. They are strictly for printing from mobile devices.
Testing the Hi-Print: Four Passes, No Problem
You’d think that images that require multiple passes through the printer would be inherently slower than those that render the entire photo in one sweep, right? Polaroid rates the Hi-Print at 60 seconds per photo, or 1 page per minute (ppm), which is about what I got during my tests. I ran my tests using the Hi-Print app on my Samsung Note 9 running the latest Android update for that phone (version 10 or Android Q).
Of the other pocket photo printers discussed here, most were close to or slower than the Polaroid in printing speed. The HP Sprocket Plus, for example, averaged 58 seconds, while the Sprocket Studio—whose images, again, are almost twice as big—averaged 2 minutes and 5 seconds. The dye-sub Canon Selphy CP1300 roughly halved that.
The Lifeprint 2×3 was easily the fastest of our test bunch, at about 30 seconds per photo, beating Canon’s IVY Mini, which took 44 seconds. Another 2-by-3.4-inch dye-sub machine that I’ve failed to mention so far, the Kodak Mini 2 HD Instant Photo Printer, took about 1 minute and 20 seconds per print. So the Hi-Print, despite its need to pull through the paper four times, is certainly competitive on the speed front.
Print Quality: A Good Dye Job
Dye-sublimation printers have been around for a while and were, before inkjets got so good at photo printing, the imaging technology of choice for many professional photographers. They’re also used in lieu of silk screening for short runs of garment printing. Over the years, I’ve seen dye-sub output ranging from merely on-par with consumer inkjets to highly detailed and vibrantly colored images that come close to rivaling the output from professional-grade inkjet photo printers with nine or more inks.
The Hi-Print’s output is among the best I’ve seen from a 2-by-3-inch pocket photo printer, notably more vibrant than most ZINK prints. A drawback, though, is that the cartridge packs are several times bigger than their ZINK paper rivals, making extra media a bit more cumbersome to carry around with your printer. You can carry a few packs of ZINK paper in your pocket, but that’s not so easy with the Hi-Print cartridge packages, which measure 1.5 by 3.5 by 6 inches.
How to Beat the Hi Cost of Printing
Polaroid sells its Hi-Print paper cartridges in packs of 20 sheets for $16.99. You can buy in bulk for some small discounts: three packs for $16 each, or five packs for $14 each. That comes out to 85, 80, and 70 cents per print, respectively. Obviously, the five-pack deal is the best value, as long as you don’t mind shelling out $70 for photo paper in one go. Comparatively, 85 cents is on the high side.
The HP Sprocket Plus’ running costs, meanwhile, are 65 cents per print, while Lifeprint 2×3 and Canon IVY Mini prints will run you about 50 cents each. Kodak’s two dye-sub portable printers, the Photo Printer Mini and Mini 2, run 50 and 70 cents per print, respectively, while the Sprocket Studio’s 4-by-6-inch sheets go for about 44 cents and the Canon Selphy CP1300’s 4-by-6-inch dye-sub prints are a much more reasonable 35 cents each. (These costs are based on the pricing and yields of each printer’s highest-quantity paper packs, such as the Canon Selphy’s 108-sheet three-cartridge pack at $37.99.)
As you can see, even at 70 cents per print, the Hi-Print is one of the more costly to use, and remember that that figure is for 2-by-3-inch sheets rather than 4-by-6-inch ones.
The Print Quality Is the Hi Point Here
Using this little printer is easy enough if all you want are small wallet-size prints or photo stickers, and its output was indeed above-average for its kind. Our biggest gripe is that the base printer, as opposed to the starter-kit version, lacks the media you need to get started; “Paper sold separately” is one of the bullet points in the product’s Amazon description, but it’s easy to miss.
As for the steep cost per print, the high output quality takes away some of the sting. In fact, the Polaroid Hi-Print’s exceptional print quality is reason enough to choose it over some of the others. If the small output size is just what what you’re after, and top-quality printing is not negotiable, the Hi-Print is among the best of its kind.