The wireless mobile printer – which is best?

When it comes to the people asking me which are the ‘best’ portable printers which are wireless I struggle to answer for a few simple reasons.

To start with everyone is looking for different things, people have different situations, different printing needs and much more so it’s really best for me to cut through to the core characteristics which people are looking for to help them make an informed choice.

When it comes to portability there are two main aspects you need to be looking at.  Weight and the wireless mobile printer’s dimensions, weight (mass) in pounds and the dimensions are always displayed in inches.  If you’re looking for something ultralight weight you’ll be wanting something that’s around 1-4 pounds.  Thermal mobile printers for example are 1-2 pounds which obviously makes them incredibly lightweight.  If you want inkjet printers as most people do you’re looking at 3-9 pounds.  Dimension-wise you’ll be looking at a few inches longer than A4 length – usually around 11-12 inches, with 2 inches of thickness and around 4-6 inches of depth for an inkjet.

The benefits of thermal portable printers are their size, portability, reliability and lack of annoying extras.  The size and portability I’ve already looked at, but if you want something you can slip into a laptop bag or rucksack then this is what you need.  If you want something to fit into a pocket, hold in your hand then you’ll be wanting this because you literally cannot find smaller.

Their reliability is related to the way thermal printer’s hardware works.  Inkjet printers all intrinsically have moving parts as the ink head systematically works itself horizontally across the page.  Thermal-based printers don’t have these moving parts, they work by the thermal heads having electricity heat them up, which heats the paper.  The paper used in thermal paper and is woven with specific chemicals.  These chemicals rapidly reach their boiling point when heated and undergo a chemical change from (usually) white to black.  The chemical then re-solidifies into a solid whilst retaining the color change, different chemicals produce different colors but you’ll fine black and white most common.

The reason thermal printers are so good for true portable printing is that their designs which don’t contain moving parts are far less prone to breaking.  If you keep moving around moving parts as you would expect from a wireless mobile printers then inevitably breaks are going to occur.  This used to be a serious problem for Canon and HP and to an extent it still is, on the other hand with thermal portable printers they’re far more reliable due to this inherent lack of moving parts and as such it’s a significant advanced considering people want a product which isn’t just capable but reliable.

When I talk about ‘lac of annoying extras’ I’m referring to what you actually need to carry around.  Now remember that assuming you’re buying a wireless portable printer I’ll assume right away that you want mobility.  If this is the case then you don’t want to have to carry around A4 paper sheets, ink cartridges and battery packs – let along a larger printer – which is what you have to do for inkjet-based devices.

Thermals don’t need any of these things, their paper comes in rolls which you can easily separate which means that it’s very easy for you to carry a large amount of paper – you can even store the roll for use in the printer itself in most cases.  They use heat to create the prints, so there’s no need for expensive ink cartridges or the extra weight and space they require.  Battery packs which are large, as well as the larger printer itself are again unnecessary.  All you need is the printer, the batteries are much smaller and already within the printer in most cases, and the AC charger.

The downsides of course, and there are downsides, are as follows.  They have much lower resolutions as I’ve stated above, this won’t be a problem if you need it for technical work – but if you’re trying to impress people with really high quality print outs then I’d stay away from them.  They also tend to lack a lot of the core functionalities, they tend to be a little slower, their thermal paper is double the price of regular paper, and the printer itself is double the price of its inkjet alternatives which are superior in specifications just not size.

Overall however, I would recommend thermal wireless portable printer devices for true mobility because you really just can’t beat them.  They do have low dots per inch amounts but unless you’re really trying to impress people they’ll suffice, and you’re saving money because you’re buying something which is reliable enough to last a long time without needing replacements as well as no ink cartridges cost which tend to be exorbitant

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