Last year, 1.2 trillion photos were taken around the world — and every year, that number grows, thanks to smart phones with increasingly high-tech cameras, plus our obsession with selfies (the average person takes 25,000 in their lifetime).
So, what happens to all those pictures? Well, not much. The vast majority will be downloaded on to computers, or dumped on photo-sharing apps such as Instagram, and then forgotten about.
The idea of actually printing out a lovely image to decorate your wall or fill a frame has, sadly, become passé.
But now, after years of decline, ‘proper’ photos are making a comeback, thanks to a new generation of printers that make it easier than ever to create high-quality hard copies of your holiday snaps. Why? Because they are designed to print pictures directly from your phone.
Small, portable and able to operate wirelessly, these printers appeal to all ages — from nostalgic older consumers to younger people attracted by their novelty value.
What’s more, years of capturing anything and everything on our phones has led to the realisation that the easier it is to take and forget a photograph, the less we value it. By printing out a physical copy, you give it greater importance and create a keepsake, rather than just clogging up your phone’s storage.
So, which mini printer is best to preserve your treasured memories? Tom Rawstorne put the latest models through their paces . . .
£9.99 for 20 prints.
The new Zoemini is tiny: about the size of a smartphone. You download an app on to your phone, then slide open the top of the printer to insert the photo paper. Next, you link your phone to the Zoemini via Bluetooth, select the picture you want in the app and press ‘print’.
After 20 seconds of whirring, the Zoemini slowly spits out a print, taking about a minute from start to finish. It is fully developed, but the photos are small — just 5cm x 7.6cm (2in x 3in).
This printer uses Zink paper, which is coated with chemicals that react to heat, turning different colours at different temperatures. The printer detects the colours in the image to be printed, then heats different areas of the paper to the correct temperatures to match.
This type of paper is genuinely new and exciting: it does away with the need for ink cartridges and refills, making the printer cheaper to run than its traditional counterparts. The photos don’t smear or fade and the backing can also be peeled off, turning them into a sticker.
On the picture I print, one of our fox-red Labrador (used to test all the printers), the definition and depth of colour are impressive.
If you want to (and my 13-year-old daughter does!), you can use the app to adorn photos with emojis or text before printing.
£16.99 for 20 prints.
Bigger than the Zoemini, but still portable, the Instax Share looks stylishly angular and is operated standing upright on one end. First, you load the film inside, then connect your phone to the printer via wi-fi and an app you have to download.
Even if you’re not technologically savvy, you won’t struggle to get it working. Choose the photo you want and out comes the print in fewer than 15 seconds.
But, like an old-fashioned Polaroid, this film then takes a minute or two to develop fully. The prints are bigger than those from the Zoemini and are square, at 6.2cm x 6.2cm (2.5in x 2.5in), plus a border.
I love the retro shape (and, says the manufacturer, so do professional photographers), but my pooch picture comes out in more muted tones, paler and less red. That doesn’t put off my daughter, though who thinks it looks more ‘vintage’ than the other prints.
£9.99 for 20 prints.
The cheapest of the electronic printers I tried, this device is small, light and easy to use. You download an app to your phone, load a pack of paper and charge the printer.
It takes about a minute for an image to emerge and it’s just 5cm x 7.6cm (2in x 3in). This uses Zink paper, like the Zoemini, but the quality of the finished photograph, while still good, somehow looks less natural — the colours are harsher.
But my daughter doesn’t mind: she promptly prints off a couple of selfies of herself and a friend — then uses her iPhone to take a picture of the printed photo, before posting that back on her Instagram page. Work that out if you can . . .
£14.99 for 20 prints.
The most low-tech option of the lot, the KiiPix doesn’t require batteries, a power source or any downloading of apps.
It’s more like one of those old-fashioned pinhole cameras.
First, you load film into the base of the plastic gadget. Next, you erect the sides of the printer and balance your smartphone across the top, creating an arch. The phone has to be screen-side down, with the photo you want to print showing on the screen.
Once in position, you simply press the ‘shutter’ button on the base of the printer — the film inside the printer is exposed to the light from the image on your phone’s screen, creating a matching image.
Twist a switch — and the exposed film emerges mechanically from the base.
There’s a 90-second delay while the print develops. It’s all quite hands-on and exciting — a bit like the early days of photography.
But so, too, are the results. My first go is faint and blurred, with vertical lines across it. I try again, having cranked up the brightness on my phone to maximum. The result improves, but the colours and definition are not the sharpest.
The image is small, at 4.6cm x 6.2cm (2in x 2.5in), but has a larger, white border, giving a retro feel. Fun for the kids, but it’s fiddly and a bit hit-and-miss.
£27.99 for 80 sheets of paper and two cartridges able to print 40 photos each.
This brick-sized gadget is more like a traditional printer than its competitors.
It comes with a replaceable ink cartridge and has a tray you clip on to the front from which the photo paper is fed in.
You download an app to your phone and can then connect via wi-fi, a USB cable or physically slotting your phone into a built-in socket on the top (this also charges your phone as you go).
Watching the printer at work is fun. The paper goes in and out, building up layers of colour, before a coat of sealant is applied. The photos are the largest of the lot, at 10cm x 15cm (4in x 6in) — a traditional size. The colours are bright, though the definition on some is not pin-sharp. But that may be down to the quality of the phone camera on which the shot was taken, rather than the printer.
Swapping the cartridges is simple, yet the eco-minded will balk at having to dispose of a lump of plastic after every 40 prints.
£9.99 for 20 prints.
This printer I’m familiar with, having bought it as a gift for my daughter a year ago. It’s worked without problems ever since, the only thing limiting her use being the cost of paper.
It also uses Zink paper — it’s worth looking out for online deals or buying in bigger packs, which can prove more economical.
It makes small 5cm x 7.6cm (2in x 3in) photos and the downloaded app allows you to customise your pictures with borders, emojis and anything else you can think of.
At about 45 seconds, it’s the quickest printer I tried, but, while the quality is perfectly adequate, the finished shot isn’t quite as sharp as the Zoemini.