Liene may not be a name that immediately comes to mind when you think of photo printers, but its first U.S. offering, the Liene Photo Printer makes the case that it should be. It's a strong entry into the niche market of 4x6" photo printers.
If Liene’s new 4x6" Photo Printer took a selfie with its nearest competition, the Canon SELPHY, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. In form and in function, the two devices are very similar, but Liene’s take on a small dye-sub printer makes a few improvements on the tried-and-true formula that make it a contender.
Liene’s photo printer puts out excellent quality photos in a premium-feeling package. You won’t be unhappy with the output of this printer. That said, there are a few points to consider when purchasing.
Affordable consumer dye sublimation printers have been around for more than a decade, so when Liene approached me about reviewing this type of printer, I wasn't expecting anything earth-shattering, and indeed there isn't new ground broken here. However, the company managed to take a tried-and-true formula and improve on what's already available on the market. The improvements are meaningful enough to make it worthy of a look for even the professional photographer crowd.
The way the technology works is by processing the photo in three different color layers (cyan, magenta and yellow), pulling the paper in and out of the printer as each color is printed, and then putting a sealing layer on top of the photo. The end result is a lab-quality photo that’s water-resistant and looks great. If you really wanted to know, the resolution of the photo is 300x300, according to Liene, but it's not a number that you'd be able to notice with your eyes.
What I did notice is that the printed image on the Liene seemed very sharp, with neutral colors at default settings. To my eyes, it was even sharper than a print of the same image from my much more expensive Canon PIXMA Pro-10, a 10-ink, pigment based professional printer that cost roughly four times as much in its heyday. Colors were different across each printer, but I wouldn’t say any of them looked more or less accurate than the other.
The dye sublimation printers in this category are generally all very similar, printing 4x6 photos using proprietary cartridges and paper designed to play nice with the printer's rollers, and Liene is no different. The cheaper initial costs for the printer nets you great print quality at the one size, while a professional printer such as the aforementioned Pixma can go to 13x19". If I'm looking to print 4x6 specifically, the Liene is a better choice at that size because of the liquid and scratch resistance afforded by the technology used in the printer.
Compared to the Competition
At first, I was ready to pan the Liene based on its lack of a screen compared to other printers in its class. But, even when it was new, the Canon SELPHY that I own (the older CP760) really needed the screen. The setup was needlessly complex, needing to putz around with drivers and other nonsense until I just gave up and inserted the SD card directly to print. I found the newer Canon models with WiFi just as complicated due to poorly designed apps, and Canon often frequently sunsets its printers by cutting driver support artificially. My old SELPHY works on modern Mac OSes with open source drivers just fine, but Canon doesn't support it with software anymore.
By contrast, using the Liene was seamless. I plugged it into my Mac with a USB-C cable (which unfortunately isn’t provided) and it just worked. No drivers were necessary. There was literally no setup involved and prints looked great.
Liene’s Photo app for the iPhone worked just as easily, connecting wirelessly to the printer without a fuss. It allows for some easy editing options, if filters are your thing. ID card photos are also an option. Print quality was just as good from the app as plugged into the computer.
The printer also generates its own hotspot, and so computers and phones alike can connect to the printer and print to it right away. Initially, this seemed like a weird way to go about connecting to a photo printer, but in practice, it's not unlike connecting to a camera with a smartphone. It worked without a fuss.
There was one hiccup during setup that I hope Liene addresses. To sign up for the app, I needed to supply an email and the company emailed me a code to activate the app that I had to input within 60 seconds. That’s a really tight of a timeframe, but once I got past that it was smooth sailing.
Of any of the professional and consumer printers I’ve used over the years, and that includes models from HP, Epson and Canon, this was the smoothest process. It’s a strong selling point for the printer.
Also a strong selling point for the printer is its design. Fit and finish is top-notch. Once I experienced how easy it was to set up, I could forgive the lack of a screen. Inserting cartridges and paper is simple, and there’s even a handy tray molded into the top of the printer to store the paper when it’s not use, a handy space-saving feature. No complaints here.
Prints took about 2 minutes, a minute of which was processing time on my iMac and Photoshop after I hit the print button. About average, and not bad considering the price.
So what are the compromises? You’ll notice I talk a lot about the Canon SELPHY here. It’s hard not to, as this printer is a direct shot across Canon’s bow.
Print quality is excellent, but it does come at a cost. Literally. Canon sells cartridges and paper in packs of 108 that cost about $34, or about 30 cents per print. Liene sells the equivalent package in a $20 for 40 prints version, which works out to 50 cents per print. That’s not a small difference, though it’s worth noting that the printer is frequently priced at $115 or so with discounts, which is a lower price of entry than its competitors. For comparison, HP's Sprocket series of paper/cartridges work out to about 43 cents per print, and Kodak's version works out to 38 cents per print (based on Amazon.com pricing at the time of publication).
For my own SELPHY experience, I've found Canon's driver support to be lacking, which turns my printer into an expensive paperweight. At least on a Mac, the Liene didn’t need any drivers, and the app just worked. That said, while nothing else (easily) works on my very old SELPHY, I can always plug in an SD card directly to make it go, something that’s not possible on the Liene.
Liene is off to an excellent start on the software side. If there is a chance that the relatively new (the company came to the U.S. last July) can keep up the support through all of Apple and Microsoft's operating systems, that alone would make it worth the price of admission.
But all of that is dealing in what-ifs. As it stand now, what’s in front of you is a solid photo printer at a reasonable price. For both casual and pro users, the Liene makes a very compelling argument to add a dye-sub printer to the mix when it comes to making prints.
Liene’s rep also pointed me in the direction of a model with a rechargeable battery. If you’re considering this printer, or any dye-sub printer, I’d actually argue that this is the one to get. At only $20 more than this model, a rechargeable battery means you can use this printer on the go or for photo booths or travel. Considering Canon charges $86 for a rechargeable SELPHY battery, the cost-per-print can be overlooked for the cost-savings up front, and the price argument gets stronger in favor of Liene. The more usable app support makes a strong case for the Liene as well.
Liene’s entry into the U.S. market is a winner and definitely worth checking out.
What I Liked
- Decent price point
- Good build quality
- High quality, premium feeling prints
What I Didn't Like
- Cost per print is higher than the competition
You can purchase the Liene Photo Printer by clicking the link here.