So you’re looking for an ultra lightweight a4 sized portable printer huh? You want something as light as a feather which is ultra compact to boot too? Thankfully you’re in luck. As your designated portable printer nerd I can show you exactly the products you’re looking for as well as show you alternatives if they’re not for you.
Ultra compact and lightweight equals a thermal portable printer
If you want the smallest possible mobile printer then you’re going to have to make two basic sacrifices. If you find that these sacrifices aren’t for you then you’ll simply have to purchase a larger device. The first sacrifice is color printing and the second sacrifice is WiFi connection options (but you can still use Bluetooth and of course good ol’ usb ports).
The reason for the lack of WiFi and color printing is because the smallest and most lightweight portable printers use thermal technology. Thermal technology does not allow color printing (apart from red in some larger printers such as receipt printers) and the manufacturers who product the two types of thermal device which you’re looking for decided not to add WiFi connectivity options. This is because they’re so portable that their main use is ‘in the field’ where there are no WiFi hot spots – only a man’s laptop and smart phone with all the Bluetooth one could need.
Compact, lightweight and durable equals thermal technology!
Inkjet printers have moving inkjet heads. These have micro motors which are prone to breaking, plus they require lots of space for the inkjet head to move up and down across the paper.
On the other hand thermal printers use heat diodes which are stationary and so there’s not a massive waste of room in the middle of the printer. Furthermore the compact nature of the device makes it much more durable because there are no air spaces where small pieces of the hardware can wriggle free. It’s compactly manufactured and pressed tight together and is similar to comparing an iPad with a desktop computer – you can drop the iPad and its compact nature will mean it’ll be fine (probably) – but I wouldn’t try that with a desktop printer. Finally the fact that it doesn’t require ink cartridges means it’s much lighter, but it’s not just the ink and cartridges which weigh down inkjet printers – it’s all the other troublesome equipment that they require.
Your options for a compact and lightweight mobile printer.
There are essentially two manufacturers of this type of thermal, compact and lightweight mobile printer. The first is Brother (with their catchy slogan ‘at your side’) and the second is PlanOn.
Brother has a whole range of different produces, essentially there are just two but each one has four variations which creates 8 different but ultimately similar products. There’s the PocketJet 3 and PocketJet 6 model range. Each one features a ‘Plus’ version and a ‘with Bluetooth’ version.
PlanOn just has one device and it’s quite similar to Brother’s products but with inferior device support and software. It’s quite an outdated printer nowadays and I wouldn’t recommend it. Nevertheless it’s a little cheaper and a good place to start for some.
PocketJet 6 Plus A4 mobile printer
This is the ultimate winner if you’re looking for the smallest size A4 mobile printer. Trust me when I say it doesn’t get smaller than this. No device can match this one’s tininess. The PocketJet 6 Plus is capable of 300 dpi black and white printing. It’s Bluetooth-capable but as I said it doesn’t use WiFi. The Bluetooth is an internal adapter so you needn’t worry about carrying it around. The paper is stored in rolls inside the device. This is the top Brother wireless portable printer and it is as large as a laptop battery in size and weighs roughly the same. It’s just long enough to print out A4 paper.
Seeing as it uses the coveted thermal technology you’ll find that it’s incredibly compact and durable. Many of the printers actually come with 25 year warranties for the thermal hardware. I don’t think you’ll see Canon or HP lining up to offer 25 year warranties with their awfully made inkjet head printer. Aside from the fact that inkjet printers tend to die after a few years they’re also much messier and require much more attention to deal with. Getting your fingers stuck because of ink is so 1990s, and you have to do all types of time wasting stuff like soaking the inkjet head with alcohol or printing of a sheet of work every few months to stop the ink drying up. I’m surprised laser printers haven’t replaced them for everything so far… I would suppose it’s in the best interests of these companies to keep us gulping down expensive ink cartridges and buying printers that’ll break after 2 years and 100 sheets of sporadic printing. But I digress…
If I’m being honest I wouldn’t choose the PlanOn PrintStik. You may ask “so why are you suggesting it to us?” and the answer would be that I want to make you feel like you have a choice, when really you don’t. The mobile printer market is incredibly small – there are only a handful of products and most of these are inkjet based devices. When it comes to thermal mobile printers you’ll find that the amount of products shrinks down dramatically.
Essentially there are two main competitors for inkjet printers (Canon and HP) and for thermal printers there’s essentially just Brother. The PlanOn PrintStik was designed and manufactured nearly 5 years ago and is incredibly similar to the PJ 6 Plus aside from a few critical areas. Firstly it prints much slower and can take 1-10 minutes for one A4 sheet of paper (depending on the amount of ink required). Secondly even though it features Bluetooth data transfer it can only receive text messages from Blackberry devices. It can’t even be sent data files in most cases so that feature is pretty useless. Thirdly the Planon Printstik only has 200 dpi printing which is 1/3rd less than the PJ 6 Plus.
On the other hand the PrintStik mobile printer is significantly cheaper than the PJ 6 Plus. It only costs about 200 dollars which is hundreds of dollars cheaper than Brother’s device. The PrintsStik thermal printer is very similar apart from it’s basically slightly worse at just about everything. One thing which really irritates people is the noise, vibrating and buzzing sound when the device is working – which the PJ printers don’t have. If you want the cheapest possible option, with slightly faded blacks for purely work purposes then the PlanOn PrintStik is just fine… but it’s just not that good for much else. If you’re interested in its printing speeds and the noise it makes then see this YouTube video.
What if I want a inkjet mobile printer which is compact and lightweight?
There are plenty of reasons why you’d want an inkjet mobile printer and I’ll name a few right now. Firstly inkjet portable printers allow not only color printing but photo printing too. This isn’t some lame attempt at photo printing this is lab-quality high resolution photographs. Firstly inkjet mobile printers allow wireless WiFi technology too. Instead of being limited to Bluetooth they can utilize not just WiFi points but also infrared (although admittedly it’s very outdated nowadays). The inkjet head is much much quicker at printing off work. Generally around 20-20 pages per minute is common which is vastly superior to thermal printers which produce just a few pages per minute (at best).
There are some downsides to use mobile printers which utilize thermal technology. To start with the’re not as compact or lightweight as thermal device. They’re all much bulkier and heavier – generally similar in size to a small laptop apart from being twice as thick. They’re also less reliable and tend to be more prone to breaking (you can’t drop an inkjet printer and expect it to be okay… but most thermal devices can take a knock or two). A similar comparison would be to dropping a desktop computer on the floor or a tablet computer. The tablet computer is more compact and durable and will last, the desktop computer’s a goner.
There’s lots of reasons on both sides of the boat but the reality is that you need to ask yourself the question of what your printing needs are. How much do you print, what device or devices do you need to print from and how do you want them to be connected are just a few of the questions you need to ask. A few more useful questions would be if you require quick printing speeds, color or photo printing and how long you want the device to last for based on its hardware. Obviously the answer to the last question is as long as possible but depending on what device and its technology the lifespan can be anywhere from… arriving broken to a decade or more. As you can see there’s lots of variation there.