Small, dye-sublimation printers have all but eliminated the need to go to the drugstore to make basic 4x6 prints, and HP’s new Sprocket Studio Plus is a welcome update to this style of printer from a venerable name in printing.
HP’s Sprocket lineup is designed to be a portable (or in the case of the Studio Plus, an almost-portable) photo printing solution for your smartphone. The two smaller entries in the lineup, the Sprocket Select and Sprocket 200 each use Zero-Ink technology and rechargeable batteries, but this printer is the higher end of the range and needs to be plugged in to get that higher-quality dye sublimation printing. If you’re looking for prints to put in the family photo album, this is the one to get vs. any Zero-Ink printer.
HP provided me with a review sample of the Sprocket Studio Plus, and it’s made a fairly good impression.
The HP Sprocket Studio Plus, as far as printers go, is fairly handsome looking. It’s 8.27” x 5.31” x 3.56” on a desk (without the paper tray installed) but you’ll need more than that for the paper tray and space behind the printer for the paper to move in and out as each layer of color is applied to your prints. The way the dye-sublimation technology works is through a cartridge that uses a Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black panels to print in layers on the paper, for a resulting output that rivals a professional photo lab. The whole process takes about 1:45 from the moment I pushed the print button on my phone.
The paper tray stacks neatly on top of the printer when it’s not in use. That helps save space compared to some of the competition that doesn’t offer this stacked design.
While it looks great and is finished in high-quality plastics, the design isn’t perfect. Printers in this consumer class run in the $100-150 range and you’ll find them with a range of hardware features. The Sprocket Studio Plus falls at the top end of this range and is missing some physical design features that lower-end printers have, such as the ability to print from an SD card or your computer. There is no screen on the printer itself for computer-free operation. While not dealbreakers, I have a Canon Selphy CP760 that I bought in 2009 that’s still making prints via its SD card slot (it also has CF and Memory Stick!) and screen, even though it could never hook up to an app, and drivers to print on a computer have been unsupported for years.
If C+A Global (the company that licensed the HP brand name for the Sprocket line and companion app) ever stops supporting the app, you’ll be left with a printer that will become an expensive paperweight. That said, the Sprocket line has been around since 2016, so it does have quite a few years behind it already, and HP is one of the most well-known names in printing.
One more quibble that’s a problem in the immediate term is the design of the paper tray. It can catch the first print, but if you make multiple prints, the paper curls up just enough so that each subsequent photo pushes the last one off the tray and onto the floor. Good thing dye-sublimation prints are fairly durable and waterproof.
Since you’re forced to only print from a phone or iPad, at least the Sprocket App is one of the better ones I’ve used. While I’m a bit annoyed that my regular HP.com account that I use for my printer/scanner doesn’t work for the Sprocket (since it’s developed by a different company using the HP name), thankfully the app doesn’t force you to make an account to make prints. The benefits of an account extend to ordering paper and printing cartridges directly from the app, something that’s easy enough to do through a website.
The app connects through Bluetooth or WiFi, and unlike some other printers in this class I’ve used, the WiFi connection plugs in through an existing network rather than directly connecting to the phone. This is useful because it means that your phone will still be able to use the internet instead of it being taken over by the printer. I much prefer this connection method.
There are in-app editing options, text tools, frames, stickers, and other tools that users might find helpful to customize a print, but initially, I couldn’t get collage or tile functions working. I just kept getting a message saying the Studio Plus didn’t support that feature. It turns out the printer needed a firmware update, so make sure to do that if it’s a feature you want. There’s also a photo booth mode that counts down for four photos and makes a print.
By far the best part of the app is its easy integration with Instagram, Facebook, and Google Photos, so you’re not limited to printing from your phone’s album. While it’s not hard to get a DSLR or Mirrorless image onto a phone, it’s easier to have these options built-in.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Taking a look at the 4x6 dye sublimation competition, in this case, Canon and Liene, print costs are as follows: The HP comes in at about 44 cents per print (80 prints at $34.99), Canon comes in at 34 cents per print (108 prints at $37) and Liene at 50 cents per print (80 prints at $39.98).
While I’d argue that the Liene edges out the Canon and HP in print quality ever so slightly (Canons seem to crush the blacks a bit, and there’s a slight greenish/yellow tint in the HP to my eye), the cost per print is significantly higher and the initial cost of the printer is only $22 or so less than the HP. If you print a lot, this could come into play, but for all intents and purposes, you’ll get about the same mileage out of the HP as the Liene while getting a better app and a more established brand name with HP.
The elephant in the room is the Canon Selphy. It offers a cheaper initial purchase price ($99.95) and a far lower cost-per-print. The cheap Selphy also gets a screen and SD card reader. Viewed in that light, it becomes a bit harder to recommend the HP Sprocket Plus studio.
For all of the one line about image quality I mentioned up there, the simple fact is all three of these printers will give you lab-quality prints that you’ll be happy with. The actual differences in print quality are very, very small and most people won’t even notice. That’s why analyzing the cost per print here is an important consideration.
The HP Sprocket Studio Plus is a great 4x6 dye sublimation-based photo printer. It works without a fuss, has a great app, and does exactly what it’s supposed to do.
The problem is, so does every other printer in this category, and while the Sprocket App is better than most for prints, it’s ultimately limiting that there’s no other way to print or use this printer.
That said, HP is a big name in the industry, and for some, that trusted experience is enough to go with an established brand. If you’re OK with printing exclusively from an app, then the HP Sprocket Studio Plus is a fine choice, but it’s not necessarily the most cost-effective one.
What I Liked
- Well-designed companion app.
- High-quality materials.
- Prints are as good as a lab.
What I Didn’t Like
- App is the only way to print. If it stops being supported, that’s it for the printer.
- Paper tray is poorly designed and prints are pushed off by each subsequent print.
- High price and cost-per-print compared to the competition that in some cases offer more features.
To purchase the HP Sprocket Studio Plus, click here.