While instant photography cameras like Fuji’s Instax series have gained a large following amongst a younger generation discovering the beauty of instant prints, lugging around a sub-par camera just for the hard-copy photos is a drag. That’s where portable photo printers such as Liene’s Pearl K100 Portable Photo Printer come in.
The phone in your pocket is already a pretty good camera, and so, if on-the-go prints are what you’re aiming for, Liene’s latest entry into the market joins a long list of zero-ink (or zink) from manufacturers, such as HP and Canon. And while the Liene might not be a name you've heard of, it offers a pretty good value against the competition with its Pearl K100. The company sent me a unit for a test drive, and this tiny pocket printer turned out to have a lot going for it.
What Is Zero Ink?
Traditional small photo printers, such as Liene’s previous 4x6 model, use dye sublimation technology to produce near-lab quality prints. In my test of that model, the prints compared favorably to my professional-grade Canon photo printers. Dye sublimation also allows for colorful, waterproof prints.
The colorful and waterproof parts carry over to this new printer (and zero-ink printers in general) with the added bonus of not needing cartridges, toner, ink or anything else a larger printer needs. All you need is the printer and some zero-ink paper. Photos print in one pass instead of needing multiple runs for each color layer, and prints are done in about a minute. The ink is embedded into the paper itself and is brought out in the printing process.
The catch? Image quality on any zero-ink printer, including this Liene, won’t come close to a dye-sublimation or higher-end inkjet printer, and prints from this printer (and most other printers in this class) are a bit smaller at 2x3” instead of the usual 4x6”
Still, print quality has never been a stumbling block for other instant media such as Polaroids, and it isn’t here, given the scope and intended use of the printer.
All of this comes in a portable package that’s easy to throw in a backpack, purse, or a pocket (if you’re wearing cargo pants, that is). The entire printer is just short of 5 inches long, just over 3 inches wide, and is about an inch tall. It weighs less than half a pound and runs on a rechargeable battery that charges via USB-C and claims to be good for 30 prints. Its design is not unlike an enlarged AirPods case, though my white model seems to pick up dirt and scuffs easily. There are green and pink models available as well.
How Much Does It Cost?
Some of the intended use for this printer can be divined from the paper that Liene supplies for it, which is 2x3” zink paper that has a sticky back. It wasn’t until I read the specs for the printer that I realized this was the case, and so, instead of having just 2x3 prints, I actually had a bunch of stickers that I could put anywhere. That’s not a bad tradeoff for the cost of about 50 cents a print, about the same as Liene’s larger 4x6 printer.
The best case the Liene makes for itself is its initial purchase price. At $97.99 (though currently $88.19 with an Amazon digital coupon), the printer also comes with 50 sheets of zink paper. Compared to the nearest competition, that’s a bargain. HP’s Sprocket is $101 dollars for the same amount of included paper, Canon’s Ivy printer is $103. And all three companies are generally charging between $24-$25 per 50 pack of paper. You can get the printer with less included paper, but that seems to defeat the purpose. All of these compare favorably to Fuji’s Instax paper, which works out to roughly 75 cents per print.
Ease of Use
One of the things that struck me was how easy to use the printer was. The Liene Photo app for the iPhone connected instantly to the printer via Bluetooth, which is a welcome change from the Wi-Fi of the company’s previous printer. I just picked a photo in the app and was ready to go. I had an existing Liene account from the company’s 4x6 printer, but after a quick account creation, it all just works without any fuss.
Like any printing app, you can add filters, enhance or edit the photo, and crop or create bordered or Polaroid-style prints. It’s all straightforward and easy to use. The printer is also compatible with Android phones.
Image quality out of this printer is, objectively, not great. Then again, image quality hasn’t been a strong suit for Polaroids or Fuji Instax prints, either, and it’s key to remember that this is the competition for this sort of printer. Prints are certainly comparable to those storied brands. When buying any zink printer, the quality of the print isn’t the end goal, and such is the case here with the Liene Pearl K100 Portable Photo printer.
If you’re buying with ultimate image quality in mind, it would be better to consider a dye sublimation printer or a high-end inkjet model. While you’ll get better quality, you’ll also get increased complexity and cost. Still, despite the simplicity, the printer did occasionally glitch and photos would exhibit some banding, though it was nothing that couldn't be fixed by running the calibration sheet through the printer for a cleaning.
With this Liene printer, you get simplicity and fun. It’s actually pretty neat to be able to make a print, peel the back off and slap it anywhere, and if that’s your goal, the Liene delivers in spades at a price that’s better than the nearest competition. The fun is as much a feature of the printer as anything else.
Last year, I had concerns if Liene, as a relative unknown in the printer game, would stick around. A year later, it seems that those concerns were unfounded, as the company seems to be committed to the US market with even more printer releases. Liene’s latest apps are easier to use than ever, and the printers seem to be built well. At the very least, the printers are as good as the nearest competition at a better price.
A printer like this would make a fun tool for scrapbooking, journaling, or decorating your refrigerator. My kids are getting a kick out of making photos of themselves and friends to put on their school folders. The speed and ease with which to make these sticker-photos makes the printer well worth its asking price.
What I Liked
- Good price point
- Portable and easy to use
- Sticky back paper makes printing fun again
What I Didn’t Like
- Print quality is only average, which is more a commentary on zero-ink technology than the printer
You can purchase the Liene Pearl K100 Portable Photo Printer by clicking here.