HP Sprocket Select and Sprocket Studio: A Tale of Two Photo Printers

A girl sitting at a picnic table looking at an image on her phone and printing it from the HP Sprocket Printer.
HP

Want to print photos from your phone or tablet? HP has two new Sprocket photo printers, and both of them can do just that!

All in the Family

HP’s Sprocket photo printers have been very successful. The original Sprocket was introduced in 2016 and updated in October of 2018.

Now, HP introduces two new members of the Sprocket family: the Select and Studio. The 2nd Edition remains in the lineup. And, of course, you can print photos from your phone or tablet with all three models. The Sprocket 2nd Edition and Sprocket Select have internal rechargeable batteries.

You tether the Sprocket Studio to your desk with a power cable. It has an optional battery pack, but the Studio’s larger size might make it less convenient to use as a portable printer. The Studio also uses a different print technology than the other models.

The Sprocket 2nd Edition, the Sprocket Select, and Sprocket Studio all printing the image from the phone screen sitting next to them.
A Sprocket family portrait. HP

Sprocket Select

The Sprocket Select ($149, at this writing) expands on the original and 2nd Edition Sprockets. As with the earlier iterations, it uses color photo paper that leverages Zink technology. Zink paper isn’t unique to the Sprocket—instant photo printers (Kodak, Polaroid, etc.) also use it.

The original and 2nd Edition Sprockets use sticky-back paper that results in a 2- x 3-inch photo—just the right size to put in an album, journal, or on any other surface, like the refrigerator door. The Sprocket Select is similar to the Sprocket 2nd Edition, but it increases the size of the print to 2.3 x 3.4 inches. The pack of 10 sheets is color-coded, which makes it easier to find the right size for your printer. A pack of 20 sheets costs about $8 (or about 40 cents per print).

The Sprocket Select printing a photo.
The Sprocket Select. HP

Unlike the original Polaroid photos you had to let develop before you could see the image, the Sprocket uses thermal technology to print the photo as it ejects the paper. Once they’re printed, the photos are relatively heat-resistant. Even if you leave one on the dashboard of your car on a sunny day, it should remain viable.

The Sprocket 2nd Edition next to the Sprocket Select.
The Sprocket 2nd Edition (left) and the larger Sprocket Select (right). Ted Needleman

Like the previous versions, you charge the Select via MicroUSB cable. However, it doesn’t come with a charger, so you’ll need a free USB port on your computer or a spare wall charger. It initially takes about an hour to charge the printer before you can use it.

Paper loaded in the Sprocket Select.
Open the cover and drop in the Zink paper. Ted Needleman

After you charge the Select, drop in the paper, download the Sprocket App , and then pair the printer with your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. An LED on the front of the printer shows when it’s turned on, and you can change the color of it in the app. The printer comes in three colors: Black, Blush (pink), or Pearl (silver-gray).

When you choose a photo from your phone or tablet’s gallery, you can perform minimal editing on it in the app. You can also apply borders, frames, and some custom stamps and frames. If you want to print photos on your PC or Mac, you have to transfer them to your phone or tablet because the Sprocket Select doesn’t have a print driver for a computer. You also can’t edit your photo in Photoshop or a similar application when you print from a phone.

The Gallery on the left and a Selected photo on the right in the Sprocket App.
There are only two screens in the Sprocket App.

It just takes a few seconds to print a photo, and then it’s ready to show to your friends. Or you can peel off the back to expose the sticky surface and paste it wherever you want it.

The Sprocket Select printing a photo of a dog.
And out comes a little photo of a little dog. Ted Needleman

I also took a photo of and printed an X-Rite Color Checker (a tool to determine how accurately a printer reproduces an image), and the color reproduction of the Select was almost perfect.

An X-Rite Color Checker next to a print of it from the Select.
The colors printed by the Select are accurate and well saturated.

The Sprocket Select, however, is kind of a one-trick pony. It’s essentially an instant camera, except the printer is physically separate from the camera. While it does produce photos that are slightly larger than the Sprocket 2nd Edition, they’re still more like photo stamps than actual photos.

Still, while the Sprocket Select isn’t going to replace a photo lab or a true photo printer, it’ll be a hit with its target audience—tweens and teens. They don’t care if they can’t print or edit their photos on a computer. Instant gratification is reason enough to generate lots of prints.

Just be sure to stock up on paper!

Sprocket Studio

If you want to print a photo that looks like it came from a photo kiosk or lab, consider the new Sprocket Studio ($149, at this writing). Unlike the rest of the Sprocket family, the Studio doesn’t use Zink paper. It uses a technology called dye sublimation (Dye Sub, for short). Dye Sub uses a ribbon with four sequential color panels (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). The print head essentially vaporizes the dye, which then deposits itself on the photo paper.

The paper goes back and forth under the print head and prints one color each pass. Like photographic film, Dye Sub printing creates a blended color image, rather than the dots or pixels of colors you get from an inkjet or laser printer. So, the high-quality output looks more like it was processed by a photo lab than printed at home.

 

The Sprocket Studio printer printing a photo of a little girl holding a dandelion.
The Studio is the largest model in the Sprocket family, but so are its photos. HP

The prints are larger (4 x 6 inches), and so is the printer. It consists of two parts: the rectangular core that contains the print mechanism and ribbon, and the slide-in paper tray that holds up to 20 sheets. The printer measures 6.65 x 10.75 x 2.68 inches and weighs 2.05 pounds. The Sprocket Studio requires an AC connection with a power supply similar in size to that of a laptop. An optional battery pack is also available ($90, at this writing).

The Sprocket Studio and its AC power supply and cord.
The Studio’s power supply is almost as large as the printer. Ted Needleman

Supplies for the Studio come in a package that contains two ribbons and 80 sheets of paper. At this writing, it costs about $40, or 50 cents per print. That’s a bit more expensive than many photo labs, but you get the print in just a few seconds, and you don’t have to go anywhere.

The Sprocket Studio Dye Sub ribbon on top of a package of HP photo paper.
The Sprocket Studio Dye Sub ribbon and paper. Ted Needleman

It only takes a few minutes to set up the Studio. You load the paper, open the side door to the base unit and slide in the ribbon, and then plug in the power cord. Turn the printer on, and then link it to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. Download the Sprocket App (iOS, Android), and you’re good to go. You use the same app for the Select, 2nd Edition, and the Studio, so the same editing limitations apply.

The Studio produces larger photos than the other members of the Sprocket family, so it takes a bit longer for them to print. It’s interesting to watch, though. The paper slides back and forth between the top of the paper tray and the back of the printer four times. The printer adds a layer of color with each pass.

Although the Studio uses an entirely different print technology than the Select, the quality and color accuracy of both were nearly identical. The Studio reproduced the color almost perfectly, and on almost all the images we printed, the color was well saturated. The only exceptions were the photos with a lot of red. These tended to have a slightly pinkish cast in the white areas. However, it’s not that noticeable unless you specifically compare the printed image to the one on your phone or tablet.

A photo of a Color Checker printed from the Sprocket Studio next to a Color Checker.
The Sprocket Studio’s color is almost perfect. Ted Needleman

The Sprocket Select’s target audience is younger, but the Studio is more appropriate for an older demographic. It’s easy to use and produces great quality photos. Also, the cost isn’t unreasonable, and the printer is small enough to be unobtrusive.

My one real complaint is that there isn’t an App or driver for a PC or Mac. This seriously limits the amount and kind of editing you can do on your photos. To work around this, you can edit photos on your computer, and then transfer them back to your phone or tablet to print, but that’s an unnecessary kludge.

It’s especially annoying because the Studio is tethered to your desk or table by the AC cord unless you spring for the battery pack. This considerably reduces any instant gratification you get from the phone/printer combination.

Because this printer works only with a phone or tablet, HP has seriously limited its usefulness. And that’s a shame because, with more universal access, the Sprocket Studio would appeal to a much larger audience.

Ted Needleman Ted Needleman
Ted Needleman has written over 4,000 software and hardware reviews over his decades as a writer and editor. In addition to his work for Review Geek, you can find him at PCMag, Digital Trends, and AccountingToday. Read Full Bio »

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