Polaroid ZIP Photo Printer

Today on The London Parchment I’m venturing into a technology review! I take a lot of photographs on my DSLR cameras and iPhone. I love looking back on them digitally but I wanted to find a way to make them more tangible in my everyday stationery pursuits. Adding them into my scrapbooks, preserving a certain moment in my Hobonichi Techo or giving out as little mementos to friends.

There were two options for doing this:

  1. Saving up my photos to print in batches and add retrospectively to journal entries, my scrapbook, etc.
  2. Buying some kind of photo printer to print pictures out as and when I needed.

There are lots of good, convenient options to batch print photos out there where you can turn up and use a machine or have them sent right to your door. Sometimes on daily deal sites there are super cheap options for doing this if you have a keen eye. I have the patience of a saint to create scrapbook layouts, write letters, make envelopes and various other crafty pursuits but for some reason printing out photos is something I wanted to have the convenience to do right now if I wanted to.

I did a lot of research on the various photo printers out there and I settled on the Polaroid ZIP photo printer (and then started saving my pennies). Polaroid is obviously synonymous with instant photos. I decided on the ZIP for two main reasons:

  1. It prints 2×3 inch photos which is perfect for my needs. It fits in all the notebooks I use from pocket to full-sized A4s, into my Hobonichi Techo, into my Oyster card wallet, into the little see-through pocket of my purse.
  2. The photo paper used is sticky backed! No gluing, washi taping or otherwise adhesion required to add photos into your creations.

Size, look and feel

The ZIP is a little thing. It’s pocket-sized and is very light (I’ve read 186g to be specific) which means you can slip it into your pocket or bag very easily. It feels solid though and I wouldn’t feel worried letting it jumble around with other items in my bag if I took it out with me for a day. There are four colour options for the ZIP and I went for black as I tend to err on the side of black with gadgets, particularly between black and white electronic items.

Comparison of the Polaroid ZIP size with some other (coincidentally black) items - a Field Notes Pitch Black and my Hobonichi Techo.
Comparison of the Polaroid ZIP size with some other (coincidentally black) items – a Field Notes Pitch Black and my Hobonichi Techo.
Simple interfaces: branding, indicator light and charging point, as well as a little rainbow touch.
Simple interfaces: branding, indicator light and charging point, as well as a little rainbow touch.

How it works and how I use the ZIP

It’s been really convenient using the ZIP. I’ve downloaded an app on my iPhone where you have several different options and I always choose the “Edit Print” option to make sure my photo is sized exactly how I want it. Honestly I have not explored the full capability of the Polaroid ZIP iPhone app. There are a multitude of different options for photo editing – filters, collages and even a business card printing option. My main use for the ZIP is to choose the photo I want to print, make sure it looks right with a frame or that it’s properly zoomed to fill the whole frame, and then print it.

Technologically speaking though, I think the cleverest thing about it is that it’s heat-activated (Polaroid call this ZINK, i.e. Zero Ink). This means no ink is ever required and there are no uncertain seconds post-print that you can’t touch the photo for fear of smudges; it’s touchable as soon as it’s printed. Inside the printer there is a chemical reaction which creates your photo image on the paper. I connect my iPhone to the ZIP via Bluetooth which is very reliable – sending a picture to the printer takes about 20 seconds worth of transfer and about 20 seconds of printing.

Examples showing how the ZIP prints. Can you see what I mean about the colours being slightly distorted?
Examples showing how the ZIP prints. Can you see what I mean about colours being slightly distorted?

Photo quality

I don’t think that the ZIP prints photos true to the colour that you see on other screens. I’m listing this as a point all on its own because this could be enough to put someone off buying the ZIP. I find it “flattens” colour, gives a slightly faded look to photos, and the sharpness is slightly compromised. Having said that – I really quite like this effect so I haven’t thought of this as a disbenefit. I find that bright colours come out well on it, especially blues and greens. Darker colours have a more muted tone to them and it is slightly more difficult to make out the contrast between darker colours. For photos that I’m printing from my iPhone, I’m careful of what (if any) filters I apply before printing. The paper is glossy and thick and feels really high-quality. Also I think a good sign is that photos I printed nearly three months ago now look exactly the same as when they were printed. For what it is, I think the ZIP photo quality is good.

Bright colours work best with the ZIP photo printer.
Bright colours work best with the ZIP photo printer. (The writing you can see is with a TWSBI 580 AL EF nib in Diamine meadow for a springtime zing)
Examples of ZIP prints. Bright colours work best - I think the floral shot at the bottom of this Hobonichi Techo entry looks great.
Examples of ZIP prints. Again this shows how well brighter shades come up – I think the floral shot at the bottom of this Hobonichi Techo entry looks great.

The Upsides

I think the main benefit is how speedy and convenient the ZIP makes photo printing. I love the size of the pictures and it really is instant gratification. I would, and do, take the ZIP along with me to many places I go whether it’s for a morning or afternoon, or a weekend visit somewhere.

Instant gratification: today's Hobonichi entry.
Instant gratification: today’s Hobonichi entry.

Also I think it looks really smart. It’s got a really clean, glossy, rounded finish and looks solid. It’s easy to use too, refilling the photo printer is done by sliding the top off the printer, popping the paper in and replacing the top. It’s simple in design – there’s an on/off button and a light which lets you know its connection status, whether its receiving a picture or whether it needs charging. It has the printing slot and a charging slot and that’s it. Another technological point – I love that it charges via micro-USB. The ZIP does come with a charger but most people have a micro-USB lying around whether it’s from using an Android device, Kindle, etc. I always begrudge products that tie you into one particular charger no matter how great the product is because it could ultimately cause you inconvenience. It doesn’t take long to charge either, about half an hour and I get at least 30 prints out of the ZIP.

Example of an outdoor shot printed with the ZIP.

The Downsides

I buy packets of 3 packs of printer paper at a time (there are 10 per pack) for £15 making the cost of printing a photo 50p. Compared to the batch printing photo option using the ZIP could be considerably more expensive, especially when you take in the initial outlay of buying the ZIP itself and the usual option of photo printing becoming increasingly cheap online the more prints you order in any one session. This cost puts me off the reckless urge to print any old photo out. It does make me consider what I want to print out and use as a keepsake. The printer paper isn’t readily available in shops and you are tied to the Polaroid paper so if you run out you have to be prepared to wait a few days for the next lot of paper to arrive in the post. A risk for the future obviously, as with any gadget and associated accessories, is that Polaroid will retire the photo paper packs that the ZIP uses.

Example of an indoors photo printed on the ZIP.

Obviously when I’m taking photos on any camera other than my iPhone I have to transfer pictures to a Bluetooth device. This means I’ve used it mainly for direct iPad or iPhone to ZIP printing and I do end up doing a bit of batch printing when I settle down to transfer photos from my other cameras.

The ZIP and its photo paper packs: 3 pack box and a single pack (which includes 10 sheets).
The ZIP and its photo paper packs: 3 pack box and a single pack (which includes 10 sheets).

As with all gadgets there are little quirks of using it. When you reload your paper you have to do it a certain way to make sure it all works properly – there’s a blue sheet at the bottom of each paper cartridge which has to be face down and which has to process through the printer each time you reload. It’s not a biggie, just something to bear in mind and something which could potentially catch you out.

As a sidenote, I would recommend that with any gadget you buy that you check its compatibility with the other devices you use. It works perfectly with my iPhone but I’ve heard it’s incompatible with Windows Phones for example. Also, this is my first foray into portable photo printing and I’m expecting it to be my last for a while as it’s not a cheap hobby. I’d love to hear your experiences of other photo printers too.

This photo makes me really happy. I took a shot of my fiancé Tim on Kingston Bridge, printed it out on the ZIP straight away and snapped this picture while he was still looking out at the Thames.
This photo makes me really happy. I took a shot of my fiancé Tim on Kingston Bridge, printed it out on the ZIP straight away and snapped this picture while he was still looking out at the Thames.

In Summary

I’m sure I’m not the first person to point out that the Polaroid ZIP is a nice-to-have and not an essential gadget. Having said that, I’ve so enjoyed having the Polaroid ZIP in my toolbox because it gives me immense satisfaction being able to print out mementos to add to journal entries, scrapbooks, notebooks, to give them to friends. I’ve found it a very reliable device that is well-designed and adds a lot of value to my many interactions with stationery. It makes me so happy being able to print out that perfect shot of my day, however mundane it may be, and have it to look back on – in my Hobonichi Techo particularly, which is evolving as the year continues – using these photos is literally illustrating my life.

If photo printing via more traditional means is for you and you’re not fussed by the kick of instant gratification, then just for this satisfaction alone I would urge you to stick with photo printing. However if you want the flexibility and opportunity to print your own mini-pictures then I think the ZIP is a good choice – it’s built for my uses with its size and sticky backs. Hopefully you can tell that I’ve peppered this post with pictures I’ve printed so that you can judge the photo quality for yourself. If you don’t mind saving your pennies to buy the device and commit to the photo paper packs then I would recommend the ZIP; I’m very glad I invested in it and can see myself using it regularly for a long time to come.

I bought the Polaroid ZIP Photo Printer from Amazon for £109.99. It came with 10 sheets of photo paper and I buy 3 pack of 10 refills at a time from Amazon for £14.99.

Annie Leibovitz: Women

Nestled among the wharf buildings and imitation flats in Wapping is the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station where, until 7th February, you can find Annie Leibovitz’s Women exhibition.

I’d never been to Wapping and I really enjoyed discovering it. I loved the architecture, its quietness, position right on the river, busy pubs and narrow main street. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is a fantastic space and seems to have undergone the same sort of renaissance as many other power stations and gas holder sites across London. It is the former home of the Wapping Project which showcased several fashion photography exhibitions and a restaurant space. This Annie Leibovitz exhibition marks its first major arts use since the Wapping Project recently vacated the building.

Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is undoubtedly a London gem. I pray that this building isn’t going to go the same way as Battersea or Lots Road. It is cavernous, clad in red brick and mud-spattered white tiles with elevated, huge windows. Metal remnants and piping of the original power station usages are littered among the rooms. My good friend and I went after work on a Friday and it was pleasingly dark inside, the exhibition lit by retro-style lamps and enormous screens scrolling Leibovitz’s work.

The focus of this exhibition feels like the screen images. There’s a fair amount of seating for people to linger and watch the scrolls of Leibovitz’s most famous and not-so-famous images. One of the most striking was of a young and stripped back Venus and Serena Williams in black and white. The seating is contained by three sets of screens and one wall of prints where you can spot Aung San Suu Kyi, Meryl Streep, Malala’s autograph and probably Leibovitz’s most well-known recent piece: Caitlyn Jenner. This exhibition reads like a “who’s who” of unbelievably famous women. But it also seemed clear to me why these women allow themselves to be photographed by Leibovitz. Not having seen much of her work before, I felt like she really gets the best out of her subject. They all look so confident, but vulnerable, and real.

The second room in the exhibition is in a smaller chamber with a long wooden table on top of which are many, many Annie Leibovitz coffee table books and other art compilations. Spindly chairs are scattered around to take a seat and flick through these publications under the glow of minimalist lamps. There’s also a couple of copies of ridiculously large photography books featuring Leibovitz’s fashion shoots. This room feels like it’s more about Leibovitz’s full spectrum of work including fashion photography and Rolling Stone work. One of the most obvious examples of this are that there are lots of accessible pictures of men rather than just women as the “Women” title of exhibition would seem to indicate. I didn’t much enjoy this room because it was very crowded with people rifling through books quite frantically. I’m not sure anyone I observed was really taking in any of the work, which felt like a shame.

Yes, for me, the best part of the exhibition is in the main room. I enjoyed the lull of watching the scrolling photographs and the opportunity to see Leibovitz’s work outside of portraiture. I also loved the airiness and expanse of the main room juxtaposed against the omnipresent photographs. At the back of the room is Leibovitz’s famous portrait of the Queen which is the only digital static image. It’s like she’s watching over us all as we admire the many other great and good women that Leibovitz has been lucky enough to work with.

I would really recommend that you spend an hour at this exhibition if you can. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the sheer power that Leibovitz clearly commands in this field and to appreciate the common thread that connects these immensely famous women. I didn’t find it informative, but I enjoyed seeing first-hand the images I’ve subconsciously drunk in through my exposure to the media and thinking about them in a new way, without the burden of surrounding words colouring my perception of the person in the photograph.

You can find more information about the exhibition here.