If you’re old enough to have seen a Polaroid instant print camera in action, you probably remember the fun feeling — almost magical — of seeing the camera spit out that print and watching it slowly come to life.
While I wouldn’t quite call the Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter “magical,” I will admit that it’s a lot of fun to use. And if you’ve ever wished for an easy, portable way to make a basic photo print from a smartphone, I’d also call the ZIP Photoprinter practical.
Certainly, the Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter cannot create stunning prints that can come close to matching what you can do with a dedicated photo printer, like the Canon Pro-100. And it’s nowhere near as flexible as that type of printer, as you’re limited to prints of 2-by-3 inches with the ZIP Photoprinter.
But those large dedicated photo printers cannot fit into a pocket or purse or run from a battery, either, giving the ZIP Instant Photoprinter a niche as a handy on-the-go printing option for smartphone photography.
What’s in the Box?
- Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter
- USB cable
- 10-sheet ZINK Zero Ink paper starter pack
- Quick start guide
Features and Components
The Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter has no buttons and very few indicator lights or ports, as you’ll control this model completely from your mobile device after downloading the Polaroid ZIP app.
The slot shown toward the bottom of the photo above is the print output area.
The top lid slides backward, away from the output slot, to allow you to load paper.
The ZIP Photoprinter’s indicator lights and buttons are all on the back of the unit.
- Reset button. If the portable printer doesn’t seem to be working, insert a straight pin into the hole to reset the unit.
- Charge light. When the unit is connected to a power outlet through the USB cable, the charge light will either be orange (if the unit is charging) or green (if the unit is fully charged).
- Micro USB port. Plug the USB cable into this port and then into a power adapter to charge the unit.
- Power light. When the Polaroid ZIP Photoprinter is powered on, the light on the far right is on continuously. As the unit is making a print or receiving data from a mobile device, the light will flash quickly. When the unit is powered down, no light is visible.
As shown here, the charge light is orange when the unit is plugged in and the battery is charging. The unit’s lithium-ion battery is sealed inside the case, and users cannot access it.
The power button is on the back left corner of the unit. Hold down the power button for about 5 seconds to turn on the printer. The unit will power down automatically after about 4 1/2 minutes of inactivity, so you’ll have to press and hold the power button again to turn it back on. The power light flashes slowly for about 30 seconds before it powers down.
ZINK Zero Ink Paper System
The Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter doesn’t make use of ink. Rather, the printer operates using the ZINK Zero Ink Paper system.
The top panel of the Polaroid ZIP Photoprinter (with the Polaroid logo imprinted on it) is a lid. Slide the top panel in the direction of the arrowhead (seen here at the bottom of the lid), and it will move about a quarter of an inch, allowing you to then lift the edge and remove it.
Slide the lid back after loading the paper, and it will click in place if it’s installed properly.
The paper fits easily into the compartment once you’ve removed the lid. About 10 sheets of paper can fit in the compartment. The ZINK Zero Ink Paper is white on the portion where the photo will appear, while the ZINK logo appears on the back. You can peel a protective sheet from the back, revealing an adhesive surface, so you can stick the prints to other objects.
The white portion of the sheets will be facing upward when you place them into the unit’s compartment, as shown here.
The ZINK paper consists of three layers of composite material, one each for cyan, yellow, and magenta. Each layer contains tiny dye crystals associated with its color. Heat activates the individual dye crystals in each layer, and the human eye mixes the tiny individual crystals together to create the image.
This is similar to how an inkjet printer sprays tiny individual ink drops of cyan, yellow, and magenta onto a piece of paper, and the human eye combines the tiny drops to create a photo.
The front of the paper is glossy, making it look like specialized photo paper, which is a nice feature. The glossy surface also serves to protect the layers of crystals from moisture.
The blue ZINK Smartsheet goes at the bottom of the compartment to allow the ZIP to operate properly. The first time you use the portable printer, the Smartsheet will run over the printer’s components, cleaning them. Each time you add new paper to the printer’s compartment, you should place a blue Smartsheet at the bottom of the stack to clean the printer’s components.
When making a print with the Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter, the photo print will eject out of the slot in the front of the unit. The printer requires about 1 minute to create a print.
Printing from Smartphone or Tablet
You will not connect your smartphone or tablet to the Polaroid ZIP Photoprinter via a cable. Instead, the printer works over a Bluetooth or NFC connection with the mobile device.
While the ZIP Instant Photoprinter works with both Android and Apple iOS devices, the examples below will pertain to an Apple iOS smartphone.
Once the device is listed, touch the listing to create the connection.
The only problem I experienced occasionally with making the connection was that the Polaroid ZIP Photoprinter would automatically power down because of inactivity before the smartphone and unit could make the connection, so work quickly.
Once the connection is made via Bluetooth, you can open the Polaroid ZIP Mobile Printer app. You’ll see this splash screen when everything is working properly.
- Quick Print
- Edit Print
- Secret View
- Name Card
- My ZIP
Touch Camera to shoot a new photo and then print it immediately.
When you see the gray bordered window, you can select the number of prints to make in the top left corner. Touch the printer icon along the bottom of the screen (second icon from left) to begin the print process.
On the gray-bordered screen, the icon on the far left is the Full Image icon, where the photo won’t be cropped to fit the ZINK paper, which may leave white space on the print. The icon on the far left is the Fit to Frame icon, where the image will be cropped so it covers the entire ZINK paper. Touch the second icon from the right to select a different photo.
Touch the Gallery button to print a photo that’s already saved on your smartphone. You’ll just have to select the image to use and then touch the printer icon on the gray-bordered screen to begin the print process.
- Rotate (pink button) – 90 degrees left, 90 degrees right, 180 degrees on vertical axis, 180 degrees on horizontal axis
- Adjust (red/orange button) – Brightness, Contrast, Hue
- Special Effect (orange/yellow button) – Original, Sepia, HDR, Retro, Graytone, Invert, Instafix, Testino, Ansel, Cyano, Georgia, Sahara
- Paintbrush/Draw (green/yellow button) – White, Yellow, Orange, Green, Blue, Purple, Small Brush, Medium Brush, Large Brush, Erase
- Stamps (green button) – Borders, Smiley Faces, Hats/Glasses/Mustaches, Hearts, Holiday Icons, Exclamations, Numbers/Letters
Keeping in mind the small prints the Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter makes though, collages may not be all that useful for you. Squeezing nine photos onto a 2-by-3 inch print makes for a lot of extremely tiny photos.
You could use the Collage feature to create tiny photo stickers — using the adhesive on the back of the ZINK paper — by printing a nine-photo collage and then cutting them apart.
When printed with the Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter, these embedded items will not appear. But when you share the edited photo digitally with someone else, they can see the “secret” message.
Touch Name Card on the main screen for a very interesting feature of this app, where you can print what looks like a business card with the Polaroid ZIP Photoprinter. You can pick a photo from your stored images or shoot a new photo and immediately embed it into the Name Card.
Then just add a name and contact information, pick from the styles along the bottom of the screen, and print the card.
Because of the 2-by-3 inch size of the Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter paper, it’s the nearly perfect size for this type of use. It’s also a great tool for creating instant name tags with an ID photo, for example.
As you select different buttons from the main screen, you’ll see a Quick Tips help screen before you can begin using the feature. The Quick Tips screen provides explanations of many of the icons on the screen.
You probably won’t need this Quick Tips screen after a while, so you can turn the feature off by pressing an on-screen button.
- Buy Paper – Link directly to PolaroidZIP.com to purchase more ZINK paper
- Help – Gain access to information on using the printer and app through a link to PolaroidZIP.com, including accessing the User Guide and technical support
- Device Manager – Make basic changes to the portable printer’s settings
- About – See the version number of the app
The Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter offers a lot of things to like, especially if you’re looking for a fun, portable photo printer that’s easy to pair with a smartphone. It might not create the most vibrant prints in the history of photo printing, but its other benefits make the ZIP Instant Photoprinter an interesting option well worth considering.
This unit’s small size is pretty impressive. It’s about double the thickness of an Apple iPhone 6s, but the 6s is longer than the printer. You can fit the ZIP printer in a large — okay, very large — pocket or a purse. It’s designed to be an on-the-go printer, and Polaroid’s designers succeeded in this area.
By the same token, the prints are really small too. Even though I knew the Polaroid ZIP portable printer creates 2-by-3 inch photos, I was still caught off guard upon seeing the actual the small size of the prints. It’s just a little odd to see photo prints that are so small, especially when the smallest sizes photographers normally work with are 4-by-6 inches.
One of the ways Polaroid and ZINK take advantage of the small size of the Zero Ink paper is by offering some interesting print options. For example, the 2-by-3-inch paper size is similar to what you’d find for a business card, and the Polaroid ZIP app includes a feature where you can use a photo from your smartphone to create and print an instant business card or name tag, including adding your name and contact information.
The app also has several very basic editing functions, allowing you to make slight improvements to your images before you print them. Or you can add icons and emojis to images before they’re printed, making the Polaroid ZIP portable printer fun to use. You can even draw on the images with your finger and the touchscreen of your smartphone.
One concern you may have about using this unit is the battery longevity. You can expect anywhere from 18 to 25 prints per charge for the ZIP, and it takes about 70 to 90 minutes for a full charge of the unit. So if you’re planning on making prints for an entire day with this Polaroid instant printer, you’ll need to carry the USB cable and keep it plugged into an outlet during use. I also found that sending numerous photos to the portable printer through my smartphone’s Bluetooth connection caused the smartphone battery to drain much more quickly than through general everyday use.
- Printer is small enough to fit in a large pocket or purse
- Unit is fun to use with plenty of special effect options
- ZIP will really appeal to younger photographers who rely on the smartphone camera
- Printer and app were easy to set up and use with an Apple iOS smartphone
- No control buttons on the printer simplify its use
- More special effect, image editing, and print format options than I expected
- Pairing ZIP printer with a smartphone will give better results for longer period of time than purchasing instant print camera, making this a good value compared to similar options
- Photo print quality is not great
- Prints tend to lack in contrast and vibrancy
- Printer only can create 18-25 prints per battery charge
- ZINK paper can get expensive if you use the printer quite a bit
- Print speeds could be a little faster
- Prints are really small
One thing you’ll have to keep in mind with the ZIP Instant Photoprinter is the cost of the consumables. While you won’t have to purchase ink cartridges and specialized photo paper like you would with an inkjet printer, you will need to purchase ZINK Zero Ink paper, which can become expensive in a hurry … especially if you’re letting a teenager or child use the portable printer without supervision. The printer itself carries a price tag of around $150, while the ZINK paper can be purchased for an average of between $0.40 and $0.60 per sheet.
Speeds for creating prints are acceptable for this unit. During my test prints, on average it took about 20 seconds for my smartphone to transmit the data for the photo via Bluetooth and then another about 35 seconds for the printer to finish the print. It’d be nice if the print speeds were a little faster, but the Polaroid ZIP’s speeds aren’t going to be so slow that they’ll keep anyone from choosing to use it.
Okay. I’ve probably avoided this subject long enough in a review about a photo printer. While the technology behind the Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter is impressive, and this unit is a lot of fun to use, the image quality leaves a bit to be desired. This printer’s images certainly don’t compare to even the most basic dedicated inkjet photo printers. The ZIP’s images almost seem to be faded, lacking in contrast and vibrancy. They’re of an acceptable quality, all things considered, but there’s nothing magical about the quality of the prints.
So if you’re looking for a printer to create really sharp, great-looking prints, the Polaroid ZIP isn’t the unit for you.
But if you want a portable printer for a smartphone camera that’s relatively small, and as long as you’re clear about the ZIP’s limitations as a printer, this unit is a nice option. I thought it was a lot of fun to use, and the teenagers and younger children I showed it to loved it, although I would recommend giving the child a limited number of sheets of the ZINK paper per session so they aren’t printing every photo they’ve shot on their smartphone in the past week.
I would highly recommend pairing the ZIP with a smartphone camera as a portable photo printing option, rather than going with a camera with a built-in instant printer. With the continuous improvements in smartphone camera quality, the Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter will be the more versatile, higher quality, and longer-lived option versus an instant print camera, especially if both options have a similar cost.
The Polaroid ZIP Instant Photoprinter isn't going to give you top-notch photo quality, so if that's your only consideration in a photo printer, you're going to be disappointed. But this battery-powered device gives you an interesting option for making tiny 2-by-3-inch prints from your smartphone camera. When paired with the Polaroid ZIP app, the printer is easy to use. There just aren't many options like it on the market, so for those who love shooting photos with smartphone cameras, the ZIP Instant Photoprinter does a nice job filling a niche at a reasonable price with reasonable print quality and performance speeds.