If you’ve ever dreamed about printing on pretty much anything, the Selpic S1 printer might be the answer. But it’s expensive, and it has so-so documentation and a few quirks.
Yes, You Can Print on That
Inkjet and laser printers are amazing devices, but they are both designed primarily to print on flat sheets of paper. You can print on other materials using transfer paper, but the shape of the object that you are printing on will often make it impossible to get a decent print.
The Selpic S1 is a handheld printer with a small half-inch wide printhead that you can drag across many different-shaped objects and print a swath in one of several different colors with the interchangeable ink cartridges that are available. It can also print bar codes and QR codes, and it works on glass, leather, and cardboard,
In the Box
There’s really not much to setting up the Selpic. In the box is the 4 x 4 x 1.5-inch printer, a cover for the bottom that protects the printhead when an ink cartridge is loaded (a separate plastic cover protects the cartridge and embedded printhead when the ink is stored externally), a microUSB cable for charging the device, and a black ink cartridge.
Ink cartridges hold 40 ml of ink, which is enough to do a lot of printing considering the half-inch swath the Selphi can lay down. Inks are available in six colors: black, red, blue, yellow, green, and fluorescent. White ink, so you can print on dark materials, is on the way.
There’s also a tiny, very hard-to-read user guide. Fortunately, there are videos online which show how to load the ink cartridges and use the printer, though it’s pretty much a no-brainer. The ink cartridge also contains the print head, so you get a new one with each refill. Refills, at $76, are very expensive, but each goes a long way. The vendor claims you can print up to 900 A4 pages at 5% coverage. What this works out to be with single line prints is beyond my ability (or desire) to calculate. Just figure that you have a lot of single-line prints you can do before you need a new cartridge.
The Selpic doesn’t work like a standard printer—it requires its own app, with versions of the app available for iOS and Android. Windows is not supported as of my testing but the vendor claims it is coming soon. The app also has embedded documentation, though I had to discover this by accident. A separate printable manual is also available online.
Putting it to the Test
Before you can actually print anything, you need to load the ink cartridge into the printer by popping open the top of the device and dropping in the ink cartridge, then charging the internal battery using the included microUSB cable . Selpic does not include a wall-wart 5-volt charger, but you can use pretty much any cellphone or tablet charger you may have lying around. The red power LED blinks on and off while the device is charging, but doesn’t stop when the device is fully charged. A set of four tiny LEDs located directly above the USB charging port indicates the battery level.
Once the printer is ready, which takes only a minute or so, you need to connect it to your phone using Wi-Fi. The documentation is not really clear how to do this, but after some frustrating experimentation, I was able to accomplish this. When you’ve got this connection working, you’re ready to enter text and graphics, transmit it to the printer, and actually print. The editor on your phone or tablet is a single line, and you can add some of the limited graphic figures included with the editor, or pull in a photo and digitize it to include in the print.
The editor also lets you specify a photo if you want to have it digitized. The result is kind of crude, but it is recognizable in most cases.
The editor also allows you to generate a bar code or QR code. Of course, the vertical size of these codes is limited to the half-inch height of the print head integrated into the ink cartridge.
Creating a bar code in the Selpic Editor.
Once you have what you want to print entered into the editor, you need to turn the printer on by pressing the power switch on the rear of the device, and transmit the text and/or graphics from your phone or tablet to the printer.
Take the printer off of the magnetic base, which is there to protect the printhead and keep from accidentally staining whatever the printer is resting on. Position the printer at the left edge of whatever object you’re printing onto, and press the print button on the left side of the Selpic while slowly dragging the printer to the right. A set of four rollers in the base of the printer keeps the device pretty much going in the right direction, but it takes a bit of practice learning how to keep the printer from veering off course.
I did finally get the hang of it, but it took a fair amount of practice, and had I tried it directly on the object I wanted to print onto without that practice, I probably wouldn’t be happy with the results. And to top it off, the first cartridge I used, with red ink, had a problem with the printhead as you can see in the photo above. Wiping the printhead with an alcohol swab didn’t fix the problem.
Not Quite There Yet
The Selpic S1 is a clever gadget, but it’s not the only handheld swipe printer available. There are several similar printers in different price ranges, and all use a similar, though not identical inkjet technology.
I also had some difficulty getting perfectly aligned prints. The printer has a tendency to veer somewhat off the straight and narrow, especially on curved or uneven objects. And the ink cartridges last a long time—I never emptied one during the testing. It’s a good thing, as replacement cartridges are really expensive.
After I started testing, Selpic announced a “Plus” version of the S1, which has a multi-line one-inch print capability. If you have enough use for something like this, the “Plus” version might be a better choice. But the Selpic S1 I tested is strictly a one-trick pony.
Here’s What We Like
- Can print on items other than paper
- Prints on odd shaped objects
- Half-inch print coverage
- Can print QR and Bar Codes
And What We Don't
- Documentation is mediocre
- Ink cartridges are also expensive
- Hard to get perfectly aligned prints on uneven objects