If you got a digital camera for Christmas, the next thing you'll be wanting is a portable photo printer. These miniature marvels free your photos from the confines of a memory card or PC, turning them into tangible memories you can stick to a wall, or give to a friend or family member. But are they really any good? And with so much choice available, which one should you be looking for in the January sales?
There are two main types of portable photo printer: inkjet and dye-sublimation, aka dye-sub. Inkjets such as the Epson PictureMate 240 and Lexmark P350 work by literally squirting ink at a page to form images. Their output quality is generally very good and the better printers can produce results that are indistinguishable photo lab prints. However cheap inkjet printers can struggle, giving you indistinct prints plagued by horizontal banding.
Dye-sub printers such as the Canon Selphy ES1 and Sony DPP-FP30 work a little differently to their inkjet counterparts. Instead of squirting, they thermally transfer dye to a page in four passes. First the cyan layer is applied, then the magenta, followed by the yellow and then a final protective layer. Dye-subs are typically perceived as having better print quality than inkjets but they can be costly in comparison -- just check out the cost of the admittedly well-equipped Canon Selphy ES1 below.
You may also want to consider whether your printer of choice has direct printing capability. Many are equipped with a memory card reader and a small LCD display so you can view and edit pictures before you hitting the print button. Some printers, including the Canon Selphy ES1 and Epson PictureMate 240, can even run off batteries, so you can pop them in your luggage and print shots of your adventures from literally anywhere on the planet.
As with all printers, your most important concern should be the total cost of ownership. In addition to the initial cost, you should consider the cost of ink and paper. The standard photo kits for the Lexmark P350, Epson PictureMate 240, and Canon Selphy ES1 all have a cost per page of approximately 19p, but the Sony PictureStation DPP-FP30 will cost you about 42p per page -- don't be fooled by its low initial cost.
Some companies offer on-line services where they'll print your digital stills for as little as 10p per photo, but if immediacy and convenience are a priority, get yourself one of the funky printers we've recommended below.