After the impressive debut of the Liene Instant Photo Printer last year, what does the company do for an encore? While Liene, which sells through Amazon, still offers its original 4-by-6-inch dye-sublimation printer for $136.99, the new $159.99 model sports a rechargeable battery. That distinction—the ability to operate without an outside power source—makes this revised photo printer much more adept at working with handheld smartphones and tablets. Like its predecessor, the 2022 edition prints well, but it costs more to buy and to operate than our current favorite 4-by-6-inch dye-sub printer, the Canon Selphy CP1300 Wireless Compact, which was introduced in 2019. That’s enough to keep the Liene from an Editors’ Choice nod, but not by much.
Newer Portable Printer, New Tricks
At 3.4 by 8.1 by 4.9 inches and weighing 2.5 pounds, the new Liene Instant Photo Printer (also known as the Amber M200) is the same size as its predecessor but weighs about a third of a pound more. Among its several dye-sub competitors—as opposed to zero-ink (or “Zink”) photo printers, which I’ll get to a minute—the Canon Selphy CP1300 is slightly smaller and about half a pound lighter; the HP Sprocket Studio is a couple of inches bigger but the same weight as the Canon; and 2017’s Kodak Photo Printer Dock is an inch or so smaller in all directions but two pounds heavier than the battery-powered Liene.
Then there are the numerous Zink pocket photo printers, including a couple of HP devices such as the Sprocket Select and Sprocket Second Edition (PCMag Best of Year winners in 2019 and 2018 respectively) and products from Canon, LifePrint, and others. Typically, Zink machines churn out smaller images than their dye-sub counterparts, with most print pics measuring about 2 by 3 inches. (The Sprocket Second Edition’s are 2.3 by 3.4 inches.)
We haven’t come close to exhausting the list of portable photo printers, with many more variants and exceptions available. A recent Editors’ Choice award winner, the Kodak Mini 3 Retro, is a dye-sublimation device that prints 3-by-3-inch square images.
Zero-ink machines produce photos in a single pass through the printer, using special paper permeated with bits of ink released by the application of heat. Dye-sub printers take four passes—laying down cyan, magenta, and yellow inks plus a clear coat. The last helps colors pop and protects photos from dust, scratches, and fingerprints.
Testing the Liene: Respectable Print Speeds, Output Quality
As these little photo printers go, the Liene is quick, averaging about one minute per image. I ran my tests over a USB-C connection from our Intel Core i5 PC testbed using Windows 10 Pro. I repeated the tests over a wireless connection to my Samsung Galaxy Note smartphone and got very similar results both in terms of speed and print quality.
The Canon Selphy was roughly as fast, but the HP Sprocket Studio took twice as long (2 minutes and 5 seconds). As for Zink photo printers, even though their prints are usually smaller than 4 by 6 inches, they normally take longer than their dye-sublimation rivals. HP’s Sprocket Select, for example, churns out a 2.3-by-3.4-inch image in a minute and a quarter, about as fast as Lifeprint’s 2-by-3-inch Zink printer. (Lifeprint’s 3-by-4.5-inch model takes a minute and a half.)
Speed is not dye-sub photo printers’ only leg up on their Zink counterparts. Output quality is better, too. Just like the 2021 model, the 2022 Liene Instant Photo Printer produced brilliant, accurate colors with excellent detail. Where Zink media feels thin and flimsy, Liene’s 4-by-6-inch glossy sheets (like most other dye-sub media) feel like the premium photo papers they are.
To be sure, these images aren’t a match for the quality you’ll get from a full-fledged, five- or six-ink desktop consumer photo printer from Canon or Epson. As portable photo printers go, though, the Liene prints well and at a respectable clip.
Competitive Running Costs
While writing this review, I found three 2022 Instant Photo Printer bundles. The basic $159.99 package comes with the printer, an AC adapter, and enough paper and ink for 20 photos. An extra $6 buys you the printer and enough consumables to produce 60 photos, and for $169 the top bundle gives you 100 prints. When it comes time to buy replacement consumables, a package of 40 4-by-6-inch sheets and accompanying ink sells for $19.99, or about 50 cents per print.
That’s about 8 cents more per photo than Liene consumables cost in October of last year (though I did find a two-pack bundle for $38, or 47.5 cents per print). The Selphy CP1300 is considerably cheaper to use at 35 cents per print, and the HP Sprocket Studio splits the difference at 44 cents. Again, those numbers include both ink and photo paper, but even so they’re more expensive than a photo-optimized inkjet such as the five-ink Canon Pixma TR8620.
Even though they’re smaller, Zink photos cost more. The Lifeprint 3×4.5 and the HP Sprocket Select use packs of their special ink-free paper that sells for $1.25 and 65 cents per sheet, respectively. The Liene’s 50 cents per photo isn’t bad, though the Selphy’s 15-cent savings could add up if you print a lot of pics—print 100 photos per month, and the CP1300 will save you $180 each year.
Still a Solid Value, Now With Portable Power
As we said about its batteryless predecessor, the 2022 Liene Instant Photo Printer is a no-frills device that churns out good-looking snapshots from your phone, your PC, or the cloud. It’s a snap to set up and use, and it supports multiple connectivity options. Its consumables are kind of pricey, though, so you’ll want to keep an eye out for sales. But otherwise there’s plenty to like about the Liene for both personal and family photo printing, especially if you need to do it away from a power outlet.