The Polaroid Zip printer feels like a throwback to photo-tech from the 90s, especially if you owned a Polaroid I-Zone, but the actual technology behind it is new and impressive. The slim, pocket-sized printer is convenient, but the real secret hides in its Zink zero-ink Paper.
At its core the Polaroid Zip is lightweight, weighing only 6.6 ounces or around the size of a small hard drive. It’s only 2.5 centimeters thick, so users should have no problem throwing it in a bag or pocket when they’re on the go. It has a gloss finish, however, which looks nice but seems like an odd choice for something that’s supposed to be mobile and could get scratched easily.
Set up was very simple; we turned it on and it connected to an app on our phone to walk us through the few steps. The exterior doesn’t have much, just a power button, micro-USB charging port, a reset button, and a spot for your photos to come out. To load the Zink paper, you only need to slide the top back and the pop the panel off. A full charge should last about 25 prints.
The Zink printing technology is really the most interesting part of this portable printer. Zink paper is a special technology that produces instant prints without ink. The paper is made up of several layers: the backing, heat-sensitive layers embedded with colorless cyan, magenta, and yellow dye crystals, and an overcoat. The paper appears white until the printer adds controlled heat that varies in pulse length and intensity, melting the crystals and causing a chemical reaction that allows them to retain color and solidify.
To get technical, the top layer is comprised of yellow colorless crystals, and responds to short high-heat pulses. Magenta makes up the middle and changes based on longer moderate-heat pulses, while cyan lies at the bottom and reacts to long low-heat pulses. They are separated by thin layers that act as heat insulation to moderate the thermal reactions. The end result is smudge-proof, instant prints that don’t need time to develop.
The print itself takes less than a minute to make (we clocked it at about 45 seconds). The printer doesn’t make a lot of noise, but it does make a whirring-type sound when it prints, so don’t use it in the middle of the bride and groom’s wedding vows. We were also impressed with the quality – while it doesn’t create the perfect photos you would expect from an Inkjet or dye-sub printer, the images were crisp and clear. If anything, they felt a little oversaturated.
Zink sheets come in packs of ten, and our Zip printer took the 3 x 2-inch size. It had the typical glossy finish and thickness of a classic developed photo. The paper has a sticky back if you want to display your photos easily. It wasn’t obviously apparent and it’s not the easiest to peel, but the coating works pretty well once you get the backing off. This makes the Zip printer ideal for things like taking and mounting quick ID photos. The adhesive didn’t have a super glue-like grip, but it also didn’t damage any of the surfaces we placed it on. It stuck well to indoor objects and surfaces, but it will fall off of something more textured or placed outdoors after a bit. This is a photo, after all, so it worked well for the items you would use it on, if you choose to use the adhesive feature at all.
Overall, this is a fun device to tote around on a day trip or at a party. Its small design is convenient, there’s no risk of an ink cartridge breaking, and the photos are perfect for playful montages or anything else you need a quick print of. The print won’t match the HD quality you see on your phone, but it gets the job done. At the time of writing, the Polaroid Zip printer hovers above $120 and Zink photo paper refills cost about 25 cents per sheet. It’s not the cheapest of options, but it’s priced far below similar transportable printers.
Zink paper provides a creative solution in an area that has seemed to stagnate after the digital boom. We’re excited to see where this technology goes in the future and how it will be repurposed in other fields.