Taking pictures has become part of life; on our smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, whatever you choose to use, we love capturing every moment. The only downside is images taken in this manner are stuck on those devices, but with Zink paper, you can bring your photos to life.
Zink is a special photo paper that is colored using crystals and heat; no ink, ribbons, or toner is needed. There is only one manufacturer of Zink paper, but there are several brands that sell the paper under their name along with instant print cameras and printers that are compatible with it.
Although social media is a fun way to share pictures, there is something special about holding a physical photograph in your hand. With their compact size, Zink printers and their accompanying paper can let you print off photos anytime, anywhere. You can trade pictures with your friends or create a scrapbook of memories.
What is Zink Paper?
Zink paper was invented by Polaroid and became a separate company, ZINK holdings LLC, in 2005. It is the only company to produce Zink paper, but they license out the technology, allowing other brands like Polaroid, Kodak, Canon, HP, etc to sell it under their name.
Zink paper looks and feels like a glossy photography paper; it is hard to tell the difference. However, what makes Zink paper so unique is that despite looking plain and white, it is covered with microscopic crystals. When put into the right printing device, your images come out appearing in full color, just like magic.
How Does Zink Technology Work?
There are different components of Zink paper that allows the process to produce beautiful, full-color images. All you need to do is look through the viewfinder, press the shutter button, and the camera or printer will do the rest:
Ink-Free (Zero Ink)
Printing technology has not changed much in the past 30 years. Color printers have become more accessible, and the quality has improved, but overall, the process has stayed the same.
The creation of Zink paper is revolutionary. Unlike anything on the market, Zink paper is free of ink. The paper and printer does not use ink cartridges, ribbons, or toners (which also makes it eco-friendly). All you need is a Zink instant camera or compatible portable printer and Zinc paper.
When you print a photo on Zink paper, it is practically magic because the print comes out of the printer quickly in only one pass. Each piece of Zink paper is made of seven layers. These layers are:
- Polymer Coating Overcoat
- Yellow Crystal Layer
- Inner Layer
- Magenta Crystal Layer
- Inner Layer
- Cyan Crystal Layer
- Base Layer
The layers are so thin when combined that they are about as thick as one strand of your hair. Each piece of paper is packed with 100 billion dye crystals waiting to reveal an image.
A Zink paper printing device uses electronically controlled thermal pulses to activate the crystals. There are hundreds of tiny heating elements that create these pulses.
With each pulse, certain dye crystals melt. Each color requires a different heat intensity and duration to melt it. The temperature-time formula for each color is:
- Yellow Crystals = Hi Temperature (200 degrees Celsius or 392 degrees Fahrenheit) and a Short Duration
- Magenta Crystals = Medium Temperature (150 degrees Celsius or 302 degrees Fahrenheit) and a Medium Duration
- Cyan Crystals = Low Temperature (100 degrees Celsius or 212 degrees Fahrenheit) and a Long Duration
It takes about 30 seconds for the Zink paper to print. In this time, 200 million heat pulses take place. Each pulse only melts the intended color crystal as it aligns with the color captured; this means for a low-temperature long duration pulse, only yellow crystals will melt, and the cyan and magenta crystals stay solid.
Thankfully, as these crystals melt, they mix with the layers above and below, combining to make other colors. Even with only three starting colors, thousands of colors can appear by combining the right amount of heat to each base color.
For example, when cyan and yellow crystals melt together, they create green. Magenta and cyan combine to make blue, and a combination of yellow and magenta makes red. If more cyan crystals melt than yellow crystals, the color appearing will look more blue-green.
Once the photo has been ejected out of the printer, the crystals harden and keep their color.
Benefits of Zink Paper
Zink paper’s unique printing process and the construction of the paper itself make it different from other photo papers. Some of the benefits of Zink paper include:
- Long-Lasting: Photos do fade given enough time but you can expect to get years and years of visual enjoyment from your Zink prints before they begin to discolor and fade. Images printed on Zink paper can potentially last as long as those printed using traditional ink or toner. However, you can increase the longevity of your pictures with proper storage by keeping your Zink photos in an album or box out of direct sunlight and high humidity.
- Environmentally-Friendly: Since there is no waste produced from empty cartridges or ink ribbons, printing on Zink paper is environmentally friendly. The paper is also recyclable.
- Adhesive Back: Being able to display your photos on a wall, bulletin board, door, journal, or scrapbook is half the fun of photography. Traditional photographs require you to use tape or thumbtacks to hang your prints, which may cause damage. Zink paper comes with an adhesive back, which allows you to place photos on various surfaces and take them down without destroying them.
- Water-Proof: Zink paper is also water-proof since the ink is inside of the paper itself and sealed with a clear, polymer overcoat that protects the paper from water, heat, and light compared to traditional prints.
- Smudge–Resistant: The layers of colored crystals are safely inside a polymer coating. Once printed, the colors are hardened and set so they don’t change.
- Tear–Resistant: A paper base layer combined with the polymer top coating makes Zink prints resistant to tearing like other prints. However, you can still cut them scissors, if needed.
Zink Printers & Cameras
Of course, to make the most out of your Zink paper, you’ll need to choose a camera and / or portable printer that can use Zink paper. Below are a some recommended Zink compatible printers and cameras to choose from:
Zink printers are quite similar. They generally all use 2 x 3” Zink paper with some using larger Zink paper, most printers use Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone using a specially designed app for both iOS and Android devices. Choosing which printer to purchase comes down to price, color, size, and style preferences.
Bluetooth or Wifi
0.7 x 3.2 x 4.7
2 x 3 in.
0.98 x 3.15 x 4.63”
2 x 3 in.
8.94 x 6.14 x 3.98″
2.3 x 3.4 in.
2.2 x 1.38 x 0.28″
2.3 x 3.4 in
0.9 x 3.2 x 4.6”
2 x 3 in.
3 x 5 x 1″
2 x 3 in.
0.8 x 3.2 x 4.7”
2 x 3 in.
1.9 x 5.3 x 7.5”
3 x 4.5 in.
3.3 x 1.6 x 4.7″
2 x 3 in.
Zink Instant-Print Cameras
While the mobile printers let you print onto Zink paper from your phone or tablet, you can also purchase an Zink instant print camera, which is a digital camera combined with a printer. They are similar to instant cameras from the past and portable instant printers but adds a digital camera, uses varying sizes of Zink paper, adds the ability to save images so you can choose which images to print to save paper, and gives you the option to print images from your smartphone.
Here are the specs for the different top-rated Zink cameras / printers:
0.98 x 4.72 x 2.95″
2 x 3”
1 x 3 x 4”
2 x 3”
up to $400
3 x 0.5 x 1″
2 x 3”
1 x 4 x 6”
3.5 x 4.25″
4.8 x 3.2 x 0.9″
2 x 3”
4.8 x 3 x 1.14″
2 x 3”
1 x 3.11 x 4.8”
2 x 3”
4.8 x 3.1 x 0.9″
2 x 3”
6.5 x 6.2 x 1.8″
2 x 3″
NOTE: See this article for more information about the difference between the Polaroid Snap and the Polaroid Snap Touch 2.0.
Choosing the Best Zink Printer & Camera
Many factors go into determining the best of anything. For Zink cameras and printers, the factors include:
- Photo Quality
- Ease of Use
- Color Modes
- Editing Features
- Print Speed
Since all these devices use the same photo paper, it can be hard to compare them. Based on tests and reviews, however, the devices that seem to come out on top are:
- Best Standalone Printer: HP Sprocket Photo Printer
- Camera with Best Photo Quality: Kodak Smile
- Best Camera Printer Combo: Polaroid Mint
- Easiest to Use Camera: Canon IVY CLIQ
Keep in mind that reviews are subjective so take some time to look at multiple reviews and product details before making your purchasing decision.
Instant Cameras & Printers Not Compatible with Zink Paper
Not all instant cameras and portable printers use Zink paper. For example, the Fujifilm Instax is a popular and inexpensive instant camera that does not use Zink paper. Below are a list of instant cameras and printers that are not compatible with Zink paper:
- Fujifilm Instax Mini Link Printer (uses Fujifilm Instax Mini Film)
- Fujifilm Instax Mini Liplay Camera (uses Fujifilm Instax Mini Film)
- Kodak Mini 3 Wireless Printer (only Kodak’s 4pass paper)
- Kodak Mini Shot 3 Instant Camera (only uses Kodak’s 4pass paper)
- Canon SELPHY QX10 Printer (only uses Canon’s paper / ink)
- HP Sprocket Studio Printer (only uses HP’s 4×6 inch paper / ink)
- Polaroid Hi-Print printer (only uses Hi-Print paper / ink).
Purchasing Zink Paper
The easiest and most affordable way to purchase Zink paper is on Amazon.com. The paper is usually sold in packets of 10 sheets. However, they can be found in sets of 30, 40, 50, or 100.
Premium Zink Paper vs. Non-Premium
Each brand wants to make money. Since you can use any brand of Zink paper in your device, each brand is going to package their paper to make it look the best. Some brands may list it as “premium”; this is just advertising. All Zink paper is compatible with all Zink products regardless of brand.
Printable Photo Sizes Available
With only one manufacturer of Zink photo paper, there are only a few options for printable picture size. The most common size is 2 inches by 3 inches. If you print with a border, the image is squeezed down to 2 inches by 2 inches. However, there are larger options that use larger Zink film like the Kodak Mini Shot 3 Retro that lets you print images up to 3 x 3 inches and the Kodak Smile that prints images up to 3.5 inches by 4.25 inches.
Most, but not all, of the Zink cameras come with an SD card that saves your photos. If you capture an inspiring image, you can always take the SD card to a local drugstore or go online to have it printed on traditional photo paper if you’d like a larger image.
Best Zink Paper Options
The following are various top-rated Zink paper options from different brands to match your Zink compatible printer or instant camera. Keep in mind that all Zink paper is compatible with all Zink products regardless of brand. The prices might change over time but below is a general idea of the cost for each size and amount:
Polaroid Zink Paper
- 2 x 3” Zink Paper 10 Sheets with Colored Borders and 10 Sheets without Borders
- 20 sheets – $9.99
- 2 x 3” Premium Zink Paper with Rainbow Border
- 20 sheets – $13.20
- 3.5 x 4.25” Premium Zink Paper
- 40 sheets – $39.99
Canon Zink Paper
HP Zink Paper (Generally The Cheapest)
HP Zink paper is known to be the most affordable out of all the options (works with all Zink compatible products), so if you’re on a strict budget, this is the way to go.
Kodak Zink Paper
- Premium 2 x 3” Zink Paper
- 20 sheets – $9.99
Lifeprint Zink Paper
- 2 x 3” Zink Paper
- 50 sheets – $24.95
- 3 x 4.5” Zink Paper
- 40 sheets – $39.98
Prynt Zink Paper
Prynt created a printer that attaches to your smartphone. They offer a monthly subscription for their Zink paper, or you can purchase it one box at a time:
Final Tips for Using Zink Paper
- Each brand is going to recommend using the Zink paper with their brand name or logo on it. This is just to boost their sales. As long as you load the correct size of Zink paper into your device, you can use any brand.
- Each camera or printer is constructed differently. Looking at the instructions or user manual will help you know how to load paper into your device. Since there are no cartridges or other items needed to print, loading paper is simple, no matter what device it is.
- Plain white is the most common color for Zink paper; it is excellent for printing a borderless image, a classic white image, or to show off your creative stylings. However, there are some Zink papers available with colored borders like this paper; this lets you add some pizzazz even if you do not want to spend the time editing a photo in the app.
- Each brand of Zink paper will come with a blue card: this is a color calibration sheet. Each time you purchase a new pack of Zink paper, you must also load the blue card that comes with it. If you do not load it or use one from a different pack, the color and quality of your photos will be off. Do not throw away the color calibration sheet, because you’ll need it for future load-ins.
- Once you open your package of Zink paper, use it up within a week or so. If left in the camera or printer for any longer, it can cause the printed photos to come out dark.
Final Thoughts: Are Zinc Paper, Printers, and Cameras Worth Getting?
Zink paper is an amazing technology that is still being perfected. If you are a professional photographer or skilled hobbyist, the quality of Zink cameras and printers is not worth it. The cameras range in quality, but even the best cannot compete with a high-end digital camera or the sharpness and color vibrancy of the Kodak 4Pass cameras. However, it is worth noting that Zink paper is one of the least expensive versions of instant printing paper.