The Sprocket is a small, portable printer that produces wallet-sized prints directly from your smartphone or tablet. It uses no ink to do so, either, and is a lot less awkward and messy than most other portable printers. Prints emerge in just under a minute, and the Sprocket itself can fit into pockets and hand bags quite easily as it measures just 116mm x 75mm x 23mm, and weighs a paltry 172g.
It connects to mobile devices over Bluetooth, and requires the use of an app (iOS, Android) to select, tweak, and print photographs from the device’s library. Prints are quite small, at 50.8mm x 7.62mm (2 inches x 3 inches), and running costs aren’t exactly bargain basement, but the Sprocket is just the ticket for anyone who misses those old Polaroid instant cameras that disappeared along with the Polaroid brand in the 2000s.
HP licensed a technology that was originally developed by Polaroid called ZINK (a portmanteau of “Zero” and “Ink”) to make this tiny printer that spits out colour images without using the traditional printing method of applying liquid or powder to paper. ZINK is currently maintained and licensed by Zink Imaging Inc., a company that spun off from Polaroid in 2005.
Instead of ink cartridges and a traditional moving print head, the Sprocket uses special Zink paper that contains multiple layers of transparent dye, which is activated as the paper moves through the printer. A thermal print head uses pulses of heat that varies in wavelength and intensity to activate the dyes, which turn cyan, magenta, and yellow as needed, to produce a final, full-colour image.
Instant Mobile Printing
This is all a single-pass process, too, and while the prints don’t emerge as fast as photographs from Polaroid cameras did, those older cameras can’t print from digital sources. The idea here is to enable instant printing from mobile devices, without the mess and fuss of traditional inkjet or laser printers, and in this the Sprocket succeeds.
The Sprocket is simple to operate, as all it consists of is the printer itself and a micro USB cable that charges its internal battery. To print, simply connect to it via Bluetooth, fire up the Sprocket app, choose the photo to print, do any tweaking from with the app, and hit Go. The photo emerges from a thin slot on the front of the device just less than 50 seconds later, bone-dry and ready to be shown around or pinned wherever. The back of the photo paper is sticky, too, so they can be easily stuck to surfaces if pinning them isn’t your thing.
On a single charge, the Sprocket can print around 30 photos, and it charges back up to full capacity in about 90 minutes. Up to 10 sheets of photo paper fit inside, saving the user the need to print, load paper, print, load paper.
The Sprocket app is a lot of fun, too, offering features that make photos look just that much cooler, like stickers, captions, borders, effects, the option to draw freehand on them, and other editing tools. With a bit of practice and an artistic eye, photos printed with the Sprocket app should be a major improvement over regular, non-Sprocketified ones.
Print quality is great for a tiny portable printer, but don’t expect it to rival that of its bigger siblings. These are photos for a pinboard and to show friends at events, rather than masterpieces, so be prepared to forgive the occasional imperfection.
The other concession when owning and operating one of these little printers is cost – this isn’t a budget printer by any means. While you’re saving on ink, you’re spending on the Sprocket’s special paper – each print costs just less than R8 even if you buy the paper in bulk, which is a far cry from the cents-per-print of other, less portable options.
Essentially users pay for the convenience of an “anywhere” print, and while there are other portable options from other manufacturers, none are quite as compact as the Sprocket (although they do offer the option of more traditional photo-sized prints that the Sprocket doesn’t).
Ultimately, the Sprocket is a commendable blend of old-school instant printing and modern digital technology, and the result is undeniably charming. It may not produce the best-looking prints around, but the appeal of taking the Sprocket everywhere you go, and the serious gift-ability it represents this close to Christmas will likely stand it in good stead.
- Highly portable
- No ink printing system
- Quick and easy
- The app offers plenty of customisation options
- A bit expensive per print
- Quality almost but not quite as good as traditional printers