The 8 Best Instant Printers
We spent 43 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. So you want to give your grandma that awesome photo of you and her at the family reunion, but she doesn't really understand how to use modern tech. With one of these micro printers, you can use your mobile phone to make her a hard copy instantly. They are compact and portable, so you can take them wherever you go. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best instant printer on Amazon.
A Brief History of The Instant Photograph
The first instant films produced both a positive and negative image.
Best of all, you can be selective about the images you choose to print, since they offer the option to review your selection before printing.
Today's instant photo printers would not exist without the instant photographic technologies that preceded them. First developed by Edward Land in 1947, instant photographs, like the printers that now use the term, are not actually instant. Instead, they use a rapid photochemical process contained within the film itself that takes just a few minutes to develop. When compared to the time it takes to get film developed and wait for prints to come back, however, they may seem nearly instantaneous.
The first instant films produced both a positive and negative image. After development, you'd have to peel them apart and the negative could be re-used to make enlargements and contact prints in a darkroom. As the technology developed and became more popular among casual photographers, who often had no use for the negatives, positive-only versions took over the market. The version that produced a square image with a white border around all sides is what most people know as the Polaroid. That specific style of film, however, was not introduced until 1972.
Until 2008, when it ceased production of all instant films, Polaroid dominated the market. Unfortunately for them, the rise of digital photography resulted in a rapid decline in sales into the 21st century. While companies like Fujifilm have picked up the technology in recent years, marketing instant film to young people as a hip, retro trend, digital continues to dominate the market.
While it has spelled disaster for the film industry as a whole, digital photography has drastically improved access to what we call instant photographs. The possibility of holding a physical copy of a picture in your hand within seconds of taking it has become far more accessible, especially with the advent of wireless printing.
Today, printers designed explicitly for that purpose are more accessible than ever. In fact, they're smaller and more portable than most Polaroid cameras, even when combined with a smartphone or compact standalone digital camera. There are ink-less options, as well as those that print on standard photo paper, which brings the cost per print down considerably. Best of all, you can be selective about the images you choose to print, since they offer the option to review your selection before printing. While some may miss the element of surprise inherent in a traditional instant photograph, the end result is prints that are worth keeping every time.
How Digital Photography Changed the Game
Though the technology was neither widely useful nor accessible to the public for several decades, the first digital photograph actually dates back much further than you might expect. In 1965, NASA used a digital process to capture an image of Mars from an unmanned spacecraft. About ten years later, the first digital camera was built by an engineer at Kodak. While not intended for mass production, it successfully captured very low-resolution, black and white images to a cassette tape.
Without such ubiquitous and highly portable cameras, the compact printers that make today's instant prints possible would not be useful.
It wasn't until 1988 that digital cameras were able to create files recognizable by computers. A few years later, in 1990, the first one hit the consumer market. Over the course of the next two decades, the technology got cheaper, more advanced, and, most importantly, more compact. Today, billions of people carry cameras with them at all times, mostly in the form of cell phones.
This technology is what has enabled the re-emergence of instant photography. Without such ubiquitous and highly portable cameras, the compact printers that make today's instant prints possible would not be useful. High speed wireless connectivity provides another major boost to the process.
While not everyone values physical prints, today's instant printers have tapped into a large market. They make it possible to share keepsakes from an experience in real time, and are also useful to fans of photo albums and scrapbooking. Best of all, you don't just get one copy. You can print and re-print to your heart's delight, until everyone in the picture has a copy to take home with them. You can also perfect the images as you go with editing tools on your camera, computer, and even on the devices themselves. All this results in better and more shareable printed photographs.
Uses For Instant Printers
There is no shortage of reasons to buy an instant printer. Perhaps you're driven by nostalgia for the instant photographs of the past. While you won't get to enjoy the process of watching them develop before your eyes, the images these printers make are high-quality, and make great mementos.
Perhaps you're driven by nostalgia for the instant photographs of the past.
For consumers, the appeal of a physical photograph is more than just nostalgia, however. While digital photo frames do have marginal popularity, most people prefer to adorn their desks, refrigerators, wallets, and walls with the real deal. Sending a loved one a file just doesn't compare to handing them a print. And while many people own color printers for their home, they're primarily designed for documents and not images. Those that can produce photographs are slow, complicated, and expensive, not to mention the sizing options may be awkward or limited. Instant printers take the hassle out of producing beautiful and sharable prints.
For businesses, instant printing technology has plenty of marketing potential. If you're creating a branded experience, for example, what better way to send your audience home than with an image of themselves in the environment you created for them. They can also be useful in retail stores, theme parks, and much more.
When it comes to these printers, the possibilities are endless, and the technology is only improving. The quality of the images they can produce gets better every year. The speed at which they print is increasing in tandem. At this rate, it's only a matter of time before they can make truly instant prints a reality.
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