The idea of the mobile office has been brewing for decades, but only in recent years has technology actually begun to catch up with the portability required to make it a reality. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets capable of performing functions that desktop computers were hardly capable of in the past has helped usher in an age where you can do just as much work on a park bench as you could in an office environment – with possibly even greater productivity. Portable printers are an essential component of that equation.
Portable Printer Basics
Portable printers are small enough to fit into a laptop bag and lightweight enough to carry around. Some mirror the basic shape of traditional printers, with a more compact body build. The more mobile-friendly portable printers are rectangular and long, and don’t include bulkier attachments like feed trays, which are unnecessary in a mobile environment.
All come in laser, inkjet, and inkless technology. There are also pocket photo printers that you can get ahold of which are even more compact in size and are made specifically for producing photo quality images. “Zero ink” portable printers (ZINK for short) employ a special kind of paper that has dye crystals embedded underneath a protective coating of polymer. The crystals are activated by heat, producing vivid color images.
The smaller size of portable printers may lead you to the conclusion that they’ll also be far cheaper than bigger desktop printers, but that isn’t the case. Most of the time, you’ll find yourself paying close to double the cost of a standard printer. You can also expect to pay slightly more for the replacement ink cartridges. Some portable printers only come with the ability to produce black-and-white print jobs, so check the specs before you buy.
Most portable printers come with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to enable wireless communication between your laptop, smartphone or tablet. Some are also equipped to read data from SD cards or USB thumb drives. All come with USB ports that will allow you to run a physical line from your mobile device to the printer itself.
Depending on the kind of portable printer you buy, you’ll need to buy the appropriate paper to ensure your print jobs are of legible quality. Inkless printers require special paper that can withstand the additional heat generated by the thermal technology (including the aforementioned ZINK printers). Laser and inkjet printers also require a certain type of paper to facilitate rapid drying of ink versus toner. Using the wrong kind of paper could damage your portable printer and invalidate its warranty, so always check to make sure the paper you buy is compatible.
Portable Electronic Label Makers
Depending on the kind of printing you need to do, a portable label maker may suffice in place of a standard mobile printer. It may also act as a good complement. Today’s electronic label makers differ greatly from the label makers of old, where you had to insert a roll of tape and individually stamp out letters after setting an alphanumeric wheel to the desired letter or number.
Nowadays, the best label makers employ thermal printing and run on batteries. They produce high quality labels and stickers that can be used to meet a variety of professional needs, from labeling filing cabinets and storage boxes to creating price stickers for retail products.
Bonus Equipment: Portable Pocket Scanners
You can find portable printers that also combine scanning capabilities, but these tend to be slightly bulkier and higher on the cost scale. Portable pocket scanners are a convenient solution to the desire to travel light without sacrificing your multi-tasking abilities.
Portable pocket scanners are handheld, stick-like devices that you slowly swipe over a document or image. While more unwieldy than their larger tabletop cousins, the quality of a scanned image using a portable pocket scanner is significantly better than you can achieve through the use of a downloadable scanner app. These use your smartphone or tablet camera to capture an image, after which it can be converted to various formats (including PDF) for digital storage or convenient emailing, however your quality results may vary. If you want to scan images or documents directly into your smartphone for safe keeping and backing up to the cloud, there are iPhone and Android-compatible devices that hold your smartphone steady as you scan. If you’re looking for optimum convenience and are willing to pay upwards of $150, you can even buy a pen-sized scanner that’ll fit into your pocket and can store up to 1GB of images.