Why Buy a Compact Printer?
They say that bigger is better, but these compact printers show that small is super. The best compact printers let you take your printing on the go, with small sizes, mobile designs and even battery power. Whether you need to print off contracts and forms in the field or prepare documents during business travel, or you just want something small enough to move from room to room, compact printers have all the document printing capability you need in a size that’s easy to pack and carry. We’ve reviewed the 10 best compact printers on the market today, and you can learn even more when you check out our articles on printer technology and products.
Mobile Printer or Mini Printer?
Compact printers fall under one of two categories: mobile printers and mini printers. The best mobile printers are small enough to pack in a laptop bag and are usually battery powered, so you can use them on the go. These portable printers are perfect for people who work away from the office, such as business travelers, or anyone who wants to print documents when they’re away from home. Mobile printers frequently use rechargeable batteries, have optional car chargers and some print on special paper that works with miniaturized thermal printing technology. Since they tend to be more expensive than standard printers, mobile printers are best for those who print on the go out of necessity.
Then there are mini printers. These small printers meet your basic document printing needs and are designed to be easy to lift, pack and move from place to place. Whether you’re a dorm-dweller expecting to move every semester or someone who doesn’t want to give up a lot of space to a rarely used printer, mini printers are defined by their small footprints and light weights. These mini options are also far more likely than their mobile counterparts to have the additional features you expect modern printers to have like color printing and document scanning.
Compact Printers: What We Evaluated, What We Found
Compact printers may have some unique design elements, but at the end of the day, they are much like any other full-size printer, so we tested them as such. Our printer evaluation involves several standardized tests that produce dozens of printed samples. Whenever possible, we simulate real-world conditions; for example, we print on generic plain printer paper and use a variety of file types. We tested each printer to see not only how well it prints documents, but also how portable it is, how easy it is to use, and how much it costs to maintain and run.
In our evaluation, we focused on five central criteria that should be your top considerations as you shop for a compact printer: printer design, output quality, cost of ink and media, features, and what help and support is available.
We assigned each printer a portability score based on its physical dimensions and weight, as well as impressions from our hands-on testing. Printers with high scores are easier to travel with and use than those with low scores.
When shopping for a compact printer, size and weight are the primary concerns. Smaller designs allow for greater mobility, but even non-portable printers with small footprints are easy to move and can fit in small apartments or offices. We focused on printers that weigh less than 15 pounds, though the majority come in at well under 10 pounds. As a rule, lighter printers are better, since they’re easy to move and pack along for travel.
We also looked at battery life, using manufacturer estimates of how many standard pages can be printed on a single charge. The more pages it can print, the more you can use the printer on the go without having to stop and plug it in to charge. Obviously, this particular score only applies to printers that have the option of battery power.
Another major consideration is a printer’s output quality, which is determined by how well and how fast it prints. During our print quality tests we made side-by-side comparisons and examined individual print samples under high magnification. We also identified common errors and print-quality issues, such as streaking and spotting, ink bleed that makes text harder to read, and color blending problems, that can make your prints look shoddy.
In addition, we compared print resolution, or how many dots of ink the printer can place on the page. While not synonymous with print quality – even high resolution prints can have print errors – printers with higher resolutions tend to produce sharper details and clearer text. That said, highly portable printers often trade high resolutions for portability and affordability, so you may have to decide whether resolution or portability is more important for your situation.
Compact printers are also limited by their sizes. Their smaller dimensions place a firm limit on the size and type of paper they can print on. All of the printers in our review can print up to 8.5 x 11 legal documents, but not all work with standard printer paper. In particular, the Brother PocketJet 7 PJ723 requires specialty paper.
Finally, there are several additional factors to be aware of like varied print speeds and limited support for color printing. To include these extra features, compact printers usually sacrifice portability, so consider each one and weigh it against your need to move the printer around.
Ink & Media
Buying your printer isn’t the only printing expense, so we include ink considerations in our evaluation. When you compare cartridges, the price of ink can seem pretty high, but cartridges vary in size, and different inks yield a different number of pages. As such, it’s better to compare printer ink by the cost per page.
While regular printers require periodic ink refills, some compact printers, such as the Brother PocketJet 7 PJ723, ditch ink entirely in favor of thermal printing. Using thermal technology makes the printer smaller and more portable, but it also requires special thermal paper. Taking into consideration ink and specialty media, we calculated the cost of printing documents on a per-page basis.
If you rely on your mobile printer for work-critical printing, you want something that can handle every page you send it. Look for printers with a high monthly duty cycle, which is the number of pages a printer is rated to print in a 30-day period without damaging the components.
Connectivity has a big impact on how you use your printer. All of the printers in our review connect to your PC using USB, but several also connect wirelessly via Wi-Fi Direct and Bluetooth. While USB connections are reliable and simple, wireless connectivity is a huge convenience, particularly if you plan to print from devices that don’t have USB support.
Mobile devices have their own connectivity requirements, and some printers support mobile printing protocols like Apple’s AirPrint or Google Cloud Print for phones and tablets. On the other hand, several compact printers connect to your mobile devices using proprietary apps. If you plan on ever printing from your smartphone or tablet, you need to make sure the printer you buy has the necessary support.
Help & Support
As with any tech product, you want to be sure you have access to tech support and repair technicians if something goes wrong. All of the products in our review come with a one-year warranty, but the manufacturer’s tech support options vary widely. We scored help and support based on the number of support channels each printer has, as well as the materials and tools available for fixing problems yourself. It’s easy to find help when there are several ways to contact support personnel, be it by phone, email, live chat on the manufacturer’s website or even popular social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Also, you can often solve problems on your own when you have access to troubleshooting guides and customer support forums.
What Else Is Important When Choosing a Compact Printer?
People searching for compact printers need them for different reasons, and you may not have the same concerns as the next person. Here are a few specific features you may want to keep in mind as you read our reviews:
Printing in color is handy, but it’s not always available on mobile printers. If you’re only printing simple invoices and contracts, a printer that prints exclusively in black and white is likely just fine. Keep in mind that there is a smaller selection of compact color printers available.
Most large, full-size printers also have scan and copy capabilities, and the same is true of some compact printers. You can find portable printer scanner combos, but this additional feature often comes at the expense of portability.
Finally, there’s photo printing. Of the subset of compact printers that can handle color printing, only a few can print photos. Photo printing also requires some advanced planning when you’re using your printer on the road – you need to pack along photo paper and possibly even additional ink.
The Best Compact Printers: Our Verdict & Recommendations
During our testing, several printers found their way to the forefront by not only being highly portable, but also by having excellent print quality and a wide variety of features.
The Gold Award winner is the HP OfficeJet 250 All-in-One Printer, a multifunction printer that’s small enough to pack along on a business trip and mobile enough to use along the way. Beyond its portability and print quality, it can scan and copy and works with all of your PCs and mobile devices.
The HP OfficeJet 200 is our Silver Award winner. It comes with all of the quality and mobile printing options of its sibling, the 250, but without the extra bulk and expense of an all-in-one model. For pure portable printing, it’s hard to beat.
The Bronze Award goes to the Canon Pixma iP110, for its mobility and features. If you need a mobile printer that can handle photos as well as regular documents, this is the model to get.
Also worth mentioning is the Brother PocketJet 7 PJ723, which has the distinction of being the most portable model in our review. By ditching ink for thermal printing, it has a design small enough to slip into the pocket of a laptop bag, and there are also several mobile-friendly accessories available like a vehicle mount and power kit. While you sacrifice print quality and color printing, it is hands down the most portable option in a category defined by mobility.
Finally, for those who want something small but not necessarily mobile, there’s the HP DeskJet 3755 All-in-One. With a compact design and all-in-one capability, it’s a great printer for anyone who moves regularly or just doesn’t want their printer to take up too much space. It’s also the most affordable printer we reviewed, making it a great budget option.