Jeremy Laukkonen is automotive and tech writer for numerous major trade publications as well as the creator of a popular blog and video game startup. A fan of EVs since the early 2000s, he stays up-to-date on the myriad complex systems that power battery electric vehicles.
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Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen
Affordable per-print cost
Print straight from your phone
Add fun stickers and effects
Can only print via Bluetooth
Bigger than other Sprocket printers
Large power supply and battery
Need clearance behind the printer
The HP Sprocket is a remarkably compact photo printer that can whip up a high-quality 4x6 print in about a minute either at home or on the go.
The HP Sprocket Studio is a portable photo printer that’s capable of delivering professional-quality prints both at home and on the go. This printer is significantly larger than the other devices in the Sprocket line, and it definitely isn’t pocket-sized, but the detachable bed and included battery make it fairly easy to pack up and take with you.
I recently enlisted the help of friends and family, with the promise of some free 5x7 prints, to put an HP Sprocket Studio to the test both around the office and some on-demand printing while out and about. Over the course of about a week with this device, I tested things like color reproduction, speed, the durability of prints, and the ability of the Sprocket Studio to reproduce a wide variety of still and action shots.
The selling point of the Sprocket line has always been the ability to slip a battery-powered printer in your pocket, and the Sprocket Studio is just a little too big for that. Instead of a rectangular puck form factor like the other Sprocket printers, it houses the printing mechanism in the familiar puck and also includes a rectangular bed that holds the printer paper.
The main body of the unit I tested was a matte gray color, with the top of the puck section featuring an attractive speckled look. Other than that the overall design is very minimalist, with a single power button, a customizable LED indicator, a power input, and not a whole lot else.
While the Sprocket Studio isn’t quite as portable as the other printers in the line, it’s still small enough to pack up and take with you. The included battery adds a bit of extra bulk and weight, but that’s the tradeoff for the ability to print anywhere and anytime you want.
If you’re planning on leaving this one on your desk, there is one peculiarity to the design that you need to know about. Unlike most printers, this one requires a significant amount of clearance to the rear in order to function. Due to the way that it pulls each print through the print head, back and forth, for multiple passes, you need about five inches of clearance behind the device to keep your prints from running into anything.
The HP Sprocket Studio is one of the simplest printer setups I’ve ever run into. It is important to note that this printer only works over Bluetooth, and you have to print from a mobile device. You can’t connect it to your network, and there’s no way to connect it directly to a computer. With that in mind, the setup process goes most smoothly if you start downloading the Sprocket app to your phone before unboxing the printer.
The printer itself comes shrink-wrapped, so you have to peel it out of its protective coating and then drop in the printer cartridge to get started. Other than that, all you have to do is plug the unit in and set the photo paper in the paper tray.
Once you have the app installed and the printer is loaded and turned on, it’s a simple matter of pairing the printer and your phone via Bluetooth. After that, you print directly from the phone. As long as you’re about 30 feet or so from the printer, you can initiate new prints.
The Sprocket Studio only comes with enough ink and paper for 10 prints, but I plugged in an additional cartridge and stack of paper so I could print a wider variety of shots in a wider variety of circumstances. I printed off some of my favorite snaps I’ve taken with my Pixel 3 after setting the printer up at home, then I tossed it in my messenger bag and carried it around for a week, allowing friends and family to use the “my friend’s sprocket” option in the app to print their own favorite shots.
The Sprocket Studio does seem to have a bit of trouble printing detail in especially dark shots, but that’s really the only issue I noticed. It handled still shots, action shots, both real and fake bokeh effects, and my niece and nephew got a kick out of the option to add stickers and other effects.
Overall, I didn’t notice any difference in the quality of these prints compared to what I’d expect to get from the local drug store or Walmart. I also like the color reproduction better than similar printers that use Zink technology. Tearing the ends off the photos after printing does leave a barely noticeable rough edge, but the actual picture quality is great.
Actual print speed varies depending on what you’re printing, but this will never be the fastest printer around. It takes four passes for each print to lay down cyan, magenta, yellow and black, and in my experience, most photos took about a minute to finish. Photo printers that handle everything in one pass can get things done more quickly, but a minute per print is pretty good from such a portable device.
As I mentioned briefly before, the HP Sprocket Studio is limited to Bluetooth in terms of connectivity. You can’t connect to a computer via your home network or a USB cable, and there is no option to plug in an SD card or USB stick. Some of the Sprocket Studio’s competitors do offer those features, so the lack of connectivity is something to keep in mind if you want to print from anything other than your phone.
You can’t use the HP Sprocket Studio without installing the Sprocket app. The good news is the app downloads and installs quickly, and it’s exceptionally easy to use. I was able to set it up and start printing within a minute or so, and your friends and family can even download it and select the “my friend’s sprocket” setting if you want to let them print directly from their own devices instead of emailing you shots to print.
The app is fairly bare-bones. You have the option to choose a photo from your device or to grab one from a connected account, like Facebook or Instagram, and then the app gives you some basic tools to adjust the brightness, contrast, color levels, and other settings. It isn’t exactly Photoshop, but it is there if you need to tweak a snap before printing it.
In addition to basic image adjustments, the app also allows you to insert a border, text, stickers, and various effects.
The HP Sprocket Studio has an MSRP of $150. While it’s typically available for a bit less than that, a number of competitors offer their own 4x6 photo printers for less. The difference is that while those units are often just as small as the Sprocket Studio, they aren’t actually portable.
With the Sprocket Studio’s battery, which definitely adds a bit of additional cost to the initial investment, this printer is truly portable and allows you to print wherever you want.
Ongoing costs of use are more or less in line with most of the competition. A pack of 80 sheets of photo paper and two ink cartridges, enough for 80 prints, costs about $35 for a per-print cost of about $0.44.
The Canon Selphy has an MSRP of $1110 (view on Amazon) for just the printer, or $180 for the printer and a battery pack. That makes the base unit cheaper than the HP Sprocket Studio, but you don’t get true portability unless you pay for a significant upgrade.
The Selphy does provide a great deal of versatility that the HP Sprocket Studio lacks. In addition to 4x6 prints, the Selphy can also print in a number of other formats, all the way down to 2.1 x 2.1-inch squares. It also features a built-in LCD display, Wi-Fi connectivity, Airprint compatibility, and the option to print from both SD cards and USB memory sticks.
I like the Sprocket Studio for the lower price, compared to the battery pack version of the Selphy, and for the slightly better portability. Packing this little printer along and printing photos for friends and family on the go was a remarkable amount of fun. However, the Selphy is the better option if you plan on leaving the printer on your desk.
Beautiful photos in under a minute wherever you are.
The HP Sprocket Studio is a fairly limited device, in that you can only print 4x6 inch photos. However, it does that one job exceedingly well, in a remarkably portable package, and for an affordable per-print price. If you’re in the market for a photo printer to specifically print 4x6 inch photos, then the HP Sprocket Studio is a great option. You’ll want to look elsewhere if you need to print a more versatile set of sizes, but the HP Sprocket Studio is definitely my choice for a highly portable 4x6 inch photo printer.
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