The best portable printers let you print documents no matter where you are, so high-quality printing isn't restricted to the office or home. With a mobile printer outfitted with Wi-Fi connectivity and a battery, you can do so conveniently even when an electrical outlet (or USB cable) isn't available.
Portable printers are defined by their compact size, measuring small enough to slip into a backpack and generally weighing 5 pounds or less. Most portable printers use the same color inkjet technology you're familiar with, though some models out there use more exotic thermal technology to provide basic black-and-white document printing in an even more compact size.
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Rechargeable batteries and car chargers let you use portable printers on the go, whether it's in a hotel room during a work trip or in your vehicle while on the road. And some mobile printers even offer scan and copy capability.
What are the best portable printers?
We compared five portable printers in this roundup. Compared with the best all-in-one printers, the portables measured up well.
The best mobile printer overall is the HP OfficeJet 250. Its fast performance across the board can't be beat and its image quality is consistently high. Plus, despite its compact design, it makes attractive copies and high-quality scans.
The other four models, however, all offer something attractive that's worth considering. The Canon Pixma iP110 offers long battery life and the lowest ink costs per page in this roundup. The Epson WorkForce EC-C110 is lightweight and has a small LCD and four-way control buttons. The Brother PocketJet 773 is rugged, extremely light and compact, and it can print on a continuous paper roll. The HP Tango X is stylish-looking and quick to print.
How you plan to use a portable printer may be the most important factor in choosing the right model. Our test results and features comparisons should set you on the right path.
The best portable printers you can buy today
This HP OfficeJet 250 maximizes what you can do on the go, offering fast copying and scanning, in addition to fast print speeds—with high image quality across the board. This portable printer is on the pricey side, but it offers a lot of features and performance in a compact package. The most immediate payoff is a large, 2.6-inch color touch screen, which makes for easy operation.
Better yet is a small, 10-page automatic document feeder for copying and scanning. This is the only portable printer we've tested that offers copy and scan functions, but with no flatbed scanner, the printer draws paper through the body of the OfficeJet for scanning and copying. Scans weren't always straight, and the paper path's 60-degree bend left me nervous about it possibly damaging photos. But having scanning and copying capability on the go is well-worth these compromises.
The OfficeJet 250 printed text very quickly from a PC, at 9 ppm. On battery power, text printed at 7 ppm. The OfficeJet 250 also printed quickly our six-page PDF of text and color graphics, taking 1:57, compared with the average of 2:27. Photo printing was extremely fast, as well. A 4 x 6-inch glossy photo printed in just 37.6 seconds, at default settings, and in just under 50 seconds at the high-quality setting. The closest competitor, the HP Tango X, took 1:15. The OfficeJet also was the fastest when printing from an iPhone, making a photo print in 42.9 seconds.
Copy and scan speeds were fast, making a color copy in 19.5 seconds, compared with the average of 28.7 seconds for desktop inkjets. The OfficeJet made a black-and-white copy in 13.1 seconds, versus the 16-second desktop average. It made a 600 dpi color scan to JPEG in 1 minute and 21 seconds, and a 300 dpi black-and-white scan to PDF in 20.1 seconds (desktop models average 11 seconds).
Best of all, the speed didn't come with any trade-off in image quality. The very high-quality photo prints had rich, well-saturated colors, pleasing midtone transitions, and lots of fine details. Text documents printed with dark letterforms and edges looked quite sharp. Graphics on plain paper were equally attractive. Document scans looked accurate, with only some sharpness lost on text edges. Photo scans were attractive, with accurate colors and plenty of detail.
The HP OfficeJet offers mobile and cloud printing, but there are some quirks. Using the HP Smart iPhone app was problematic—the app turned a five-page .doc file into a four-page document, while the .docx version was reformatted onto six pages. Photos printed from the Box cloud storage service did not print in full. Roughly two-thirds of the photo would print—but the rest of the paper was left blank.
Ink costs for printing text documents is about average for portable printers, at 9 cents each. With standard cartridges, cost per color page is high, at 23 cents per page. Using high-yield cartridges, you can lower this to 17.3 cents, though this is still higher than the 15.5 cents per color page you get with the Canon iP110 when using standard cartridges.
The Canon Pixma iP110 (with LK-62 portable kit with battery) offers high-quality prints and a powerful battery rated to last 600 pages. Print speeds are not lightning quick, but image quality is high and printing costs are low with the Canon iP110.
The iP110 delivered high-quality prints across the board. Color graphics on plain paper and glossy photos looked very attractive. Colors were well saturated, textures looked smooth and details were sharp. Text quality was also good, with dark letterforms and well-defined edges, though up close the edges looked slightly bumpy.
Overall, the iP110 printed at roughly average or slower-than-average speeds. It printed five text pages in 40.8 seconds, or 7.4 ppm, which was faster than the 6.9 ppm average for all portables tested. Running on battery power, this printer did not slow, keeping its 7.4 ppm pace intact. The Canon was slower than the average of 2.4 ppm on mixed color graphics and text, printing six pages in 2 minutes and 49 seconds, or 2.1 ppm. The iP110 was somewhat slow to make 4 x 6-inch glossy photo prints. Printing over USB from a PC, using default settings, the iP110 made a photo print in 1:45. (From an iPhone over a wireless network, the time was nearly identical). At best quality settings, printing a photo from the PC took 2:21. The HP OfficeJet 250 was significantly faster, printing a 4 x 6-inch glossy photo in 37.6 seconds and 49.5 seconds, respectively.
For the other inkjets, we printed a glossy photo at high resolution from an iPhone, using Wi-Fi Direct. However, the iP110's iOS app does not offer a quality setting, so we printed at default settings, which took 1:48. By comparison, the HP OfficeJet 250 printed a 4-by-6 glossy at default settings from an iPhone in 32 seconds.
The iP110 offers the lowest costs per page of the portable printers we've tested: 7.8 cents (text) and 15.5 cents (color). Buying a combo pack of cartridges could lower your cost per color page to an estimated 13.3 cents.
There's a USB port and Wi-Fi support. Photographers will like that the iP110 supports PictBridge for compatible digital cameras. As is typical for portable printers, the iP110 does not have an output tray, but rather an output slot. The lid becomes the vertical input tray at the back, and the output slot is on the front.
Of the four models outfitted with a battery, the Epson WorkForce EC-C110 is the least expensive. With the WorkForce moniker, this mobile printer is sold by business equipment resellers, and may be the best portable printer for business users. Of the inkjet models here, it is the lightest, weighing just 3.5 pounds.
You lift the lid and lean it back to serve as the 20-sheet input tray. Doing so reveals a small, 1.4-inch color LCD and four-way control buttons. Prints come out a slot on the front panel. You can use the LCD and buttons to change settings, configure Wi-Fi, and so on. You also need it to confirm the paper size, which I was prompted to do every time I loaded paper.
The EC-C110's print speeds were slower than the average. Text printed at 5.8 ppm, versus the average of 6.9 ppm. Running on battery power slowed the EC-C110 substantially: Text printing slowed to 3.4 ppm. Our six-page PDF of mixed text and color graphics more slowly than any other inkjet in this roundup, taking 3:16, or 1.8 ppm. The average was 2.4 ppm.
The EC-C110 printed a photo at default settings from a PC via USB in 1:11. Printing at high resolution slowed the EC-C110 to 3:59. Over Wi-Fi Direct at high-quality settings from an iPhone was agonizingly slow, taking 5:28 to print one photo; printing a second snapshot took almost 7 minutes.
Print quality was high across the board. Text looked dark and sharp, though the letter edges looked a little rough up close. Color graphics printed with natural-looking colors and sharp details. Glossy photos looked very attractive.
Costs per page are better than the portable printers average. Estimated costs per page are 8.8 cents for text and 17.8 cents for color.
I ran into a glitch when trying to print 4 x 6-inch photos from a Windows 10 PC. In the print driver, an error said, "photo doesn't fit on selected paper." The online FAQ did not help, but changing the default paper size to 4-x-6 in the Windows 10 printing preferences solved the issue.
When printing with an iPhone, the EC-C110 had a tendency to drop the Wi-Fi Direct connection before I could finish printing. Resetting the connection and re-entering the password seemed to solve this issue.
Cloud printing may not always be seamless. The Epson iOS app reflowed text in .doc files opened from Box, the online storage service, turning a five-page document into a seven-page reflow that would not be worthy of a business meeting.
This Epson WorkForce model delivers below-average costs per page, Wi-Fi Direct connectivity, an LCD and control panel buttons, but low battery life and slower-than-average print speeds limit its appeal.
The Brother PocketJet 773 offers a convenient way to print documents in a very compact package. It's the smallest and lightest printer in this roundup. Being a direct thermal printer, it prints only in black-and-white, and uses special thermal-reactive paper instead of standard printer paper. It does not print onto photo papers. Because it doesn't use ink cartridges, you don't have to worry about running out of ink.
Designed to work in settings such as a police patrol car (for which there is a vehicle mount), the PocketJet 773 works with roll paper and fan-folded paper, in addition to individual sheets. Accessories include rugged cases for roll paper and fanfold paper, and a cigarette lighter adapter.
The PocketJet 773 prints text documents from a PC with dark letterforms with very sharp edges, however, some text looked lumpy around the edges, reminiscent of a dot-matrix printer. Text quality was also low in text documents printed from an iPhone. Graphics (converted to black-and-white) looked very pixelated, with obvious banding and flat black shadows. On occasion, the PocketJet printed pages that were crooked or cropped incorrectly. This may have been due to following a print too quickly with a fresh page (you must feed one sheet at a time).
The PocketJet 773 printed more slowly than the mobile inkjet printers we tested. It was the slowest at printing our five-page text document (1:02). It also was the slowest at printing our six-page mixed text and graphics PDF (3:46), even though it was printing it in black-and-white (the inkjets printed it in color).
Going mobile isn't cheap. A battery runs $123.99. And be careful when buying the printer online, since it is generally sold on its own, without the power cable or battery needed to power it.
Paper isn't cheap, either. Direct thermal printers require specialty thermal paper, a hundred sheets of which costs $13.99, or 14 cents per page. But if you don't mind curling paper or folded paper, you have options. A 600-sheet continuous roll of thermal paper lowers printing costs to 10.3 cents per page. Fanfold paper costs 9.5 cents per page. By contrast, desktop inkjet printers offer costs per text page of 7.7 cents with standard cartridges, and 5.9 cents with high-yield cartridges, on average.
The price is high on this compact thermal printer. But if you need a rugged and unobtrusive printer to generate necessary documents on the go, without fear of running out of ink, the PocketJet 773 is a good place to start.
The HP Tango X is a small printer made for home use and portability. It's lightweight compared to most desktop models, at just 7.5 pounds, the Tango X is less than a pound heavier than the HP OfficeJet 250. This printer has no USB port; it is wireless-only. But unlike other portable printers, the Tango X does not offer the option of a battery.
Like other portable printers, the Tango X has only an exit slot instead of an output tray. You need a PC or smartphone to use this portable printer, because it does not have a screen or control panel.
The Tango X prints quickly. It printed our five-page text document in 30.8 seconds (or, 9.7 ppm), which was the fastest time for a portable printer. It also turned in the best time for our six-page PDF of mixed graphics and text, churning it out in 1 minute and 47 seconds, or 3.4 ppm. Its print time for a high-resolution 4 x 6-inch photo from a PC was fast, at 1 minute and 15 seconds, although the OfficeJet 250 bested it. Similarly, it printed a 4-x-6 glossy from a smartphone in a respectable 1 minute and 7 seconds, but the OfficeJet 250 was 25 seconds faster.
Print quality was reliably high. Text documents printed with dark letterforms with sharp edges. Graphics had lots of fine detail and colors looked natural and well-saturated. Photos printed on glossy paper were equally attractive.
Copying and scanning are the Tango X's Achilles' heel, however. The Tango X relies on a smartphone to take a picture in the HP Smart app and then print it, which is not really copying or scanning, in the traditional sense. Testing these features on both an Android phone and an iPhone, it was clear that the quality did not hold a candle to a physical copier and scanner, such as the one built into the company's OfficeJet 250.
Text printing costs per page are below the average for portable printers, at 8.5 cents. Cost per color page, however, is above the average, at 21.8 cents, though you can reduce that to 18.1 cents by using high-yield cartridges.
Lacking a battery option, the Tango X's mobile capabilities are limited—but it's still very portable. It's just that it's better understood as a single-function printer rather than a smartphone-enabled multifunction device.
How to choose the best portable printer
When selecting a portable printer, you'll want to consider a few key factors, such as how you intend to use the printer, what your document printing needs are and what level of portability will be best suited to your circumstances.
First, consider your printing needs. Do you need color printing, or even photo printing capability? All of the printers listed above are inkjet models, except the Brother PocketJet 773, which is a direct thermal printer and only prints in black-and-white. The HP OfficeJet 250 is the only model with an automatic document feeder for copying and scanning.
Portability is largely a question of size and weight. The HP Tango X is the largest of the bunch, measuring 15.3 x 24.4 x 10.2 inches (W x D x H) when printing and weighs 7.5 pounds. The Brother PocketJet 773, meanwhile, is a slim bar of a printer that weighs only one pound. Measuring just 10 x 2.2 by 1.2 inches (W xD x H), it's unobtrusive and very unlikely to get in the way, even in cramped environments, such as a car.
Most also have optional batteries, letting you print even when there's no outlet to use for power. These are accessories that need to be bought in addition to the printer itself, so plan your purchase accordingly. Many of these printers also offer car-charging options, which are ideal for use in a vehicle while out making sales calls or printing during a road trip.
To help you find the right mobile printer, we considered a range of models and chose five products that we felt best represented the variety available. The printers we reviewed are priced from $200 to almost $500 (including accessories, such as a battery). Prices in this article include a battery, in some cases as part of a kit, except for the HP Tango X, which does not offer a battery option.
Finally, most of these portable models are single-function printers. They are too small to have a flatbed scanner for copying and scanning. One model does scan and copy, however: The HP OfficeJet 250. It has a partial lid that you fold forward to reveal a slender automatic document feeder. In addition, the HP Tango X offers what HP calls "copy" and "scan" functions via the smartphone HP Smart app. However, all this really amounts to is using your phone to take a picture (or "scan" if you will) of a document and then print it (or "copy," in HP Smart parlance). As outlined in our full review of the HP Tango X, the results were sub par.
How we test portable printers
To test portable printers, we performed a variety of everyday tasks. To make the results comparable to desktop inkjet printers, we performed a few of the same printing speed tests, from a Windows 10 laptop: A five-page text document, and a six-page PDF with text and graphics.
While desktop models printed text pages at 8.8 ppm, on average, the portables were not far behind, at 6.9 ppm. The portable printers almost matched the desktop printers' 2.7 ppm average on color graphics, clocking in at 2.4 ppm. This average excludes the Brother PocketJet 773 because it prints only in black-and-white (and even so printed only at 1.6 ppm on this test).
For photo speed, we printed a 4 x 6-inch glossy snapshot. The Brother PocketJet 773, however, does not print on photo papers and was excluded from this test.
To test portability, we focus on the wireless and battery-powered functions of the printer. We perform a wireless network setup, evaluating the ease of use for connecting on the go. We also print from a laptop and smartphone using Wi-Fi Direct, and gauge the differences in performance compared to wired and outlet-powered printing.