What’s up with the new breed of portable photo printers?

Those of you who have been in the printer industry for a while may remember the first generation small format printers during the surge of the digital camera market.  There were many offerings at the time, most of which printed on either 3” x 5” media or 4” x 6” media and were based on dye sublimation technology, requiring a ribbon cassette and of course special media.

Many home users printed their personal photos on these devices but as online and retail photo print providers started to offer fast turnaround photos at a very compelling price, many of us, including me, stopped using the home/office photo printers primarily because it simply took too much time to do so.  These photo printer providers can also take your photos and create personal greeting cards, calendars, and photo books and store your images on their servers.   Recently Amazon jumped into this market offering their 60 million Amazon prime members the opportunity to store their photos for free.  Anyway, many of the first generation small format photo printers are collecting dust in our closets somewhere along with a pile of obsolete digital cameras.

Fast forward to today when HP, Fuji Film, Polaroid, and Zuta Labs have recently launched 2nd generation small format photo printers.   The Zuta Labs product which will be available in Q3 2017 is unique since it acts much like a robotic floor cleaner except that it is tiny and moves across and down any format media at about one page per minute.  It only prints black so it is not targeting the photo printing market like the others so it will not be addressed in this document but it sure is unique!

Many of us remember Polaroid’s point and shoot digital camera with built in printer but the image quality was marginal and clunky.  The new HP and Polaroid devices are private labeled products developed by XYZ Printing and based on Zink (Zero Ink) technology where the colorants are in the 2” x 3” media itself.  What makes today’s scenario different?  First of all, in 2016, the number of smartphones with camera capability has surpassed two billion.  Add to that the fact that in 2016, the population of Millennials was 75 million, surpassing the population of baby boomers.  What makes these devices different from the earlier generation small format photo printers is that these printers are not much bigger than a smartphone so they can be put in your pocket, they are truly portable, and they run on long life lithium batteries.

Image capture devices have also gone through a major revolution starting with film based cameras, transitioning to digital cameras starting in the early 1990’s, then to smartphone over the last decade.  Today, far more photos are taken on smartphones than any other image capture device. This is not surprising when you consider that smartphone shipments are roughly 50 times the shipment volume of digital cameras, the resolution of smartphone camera optics rivals that of digital cameras, and smartphones are simply the ideal device for sharing and printing photos.

In addition to some huge technology advantages over the first generation devices, the target market for the new generation devices is very different.  HP, Polaroid, and their resellers of their products are clearly targeting Millennials.  The HP and Polaroid printers print on small sticky backed label stock with the idea the Millennials can get instant gratification and post those photo stickers on essentially anything.  This is very different from the time that the first generation of small format printers were introduced where most users printed the photos and just put them into their photo albums, perhaps seldom or never to be seen again.

What is Photizo’s view of the market potential for this new generation of portable printers?  It is too early in he life cycle of these products to really make a prediction.   In the case of HP’s Sprocket with each 2” x 3” sticker costing about $.50, we would think that it would limit the number of prints but we will certainly continue to monitor this market so stay tuned.

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