Portable printing on a picnic table

Blognosticator Head

School is out, and I am on summer vacation! My bride and I are on a three-week journey through northern California and southern Oregon. We have stayed in two California State Parks, two National Forest camps, and two commercial RV parks. We have driven about 1,200 miles so far, and we’re about half way through our journey.

We’re carrying all the requisite technology for camping: a sleeping bag, two iPhones, two iPads, one MacBook Air, a bag of cameras and lenses, two tripods and numerous battery chargers and cables. Ah, I love roughing it!

In the morning, when we have cellular coverage, we start the day with a cup of tea and a lengthy check of Facebook. My wife reads the hometown newspaper online, and we discuss the stories that we are missing by not being home.

We are carrying two bicycles on the back of our vehicle, those providing us with some great adventures when available, and we have our hiking boots, which have served us well on this journey.

When we first bought our camper van a couple of years ago, we decided not to store it like so many people do. We keep it close, and we have promised to use it three days every month (so far we’re doing pretty well!). Many of our journeys have taken us to local campsites, some a bit further from home. We are lucky – in our county there are seven State Parks, several county parks, and a couple of National Forest campgrounds. The closest State Park is less than 20 minutes from our home.

We decided early to keep a journal of our adventures in the van (“Sparky”). We bought a blank book and started filling it in with sketches and items of interest. But it soon languished from inattention. We would pull it out of the door pocket occasionally and say something like, “We really should be keeping this up to date!” – and then we put it away again.

A couple of weeks before our current journey, I decided to do something about that journal. I am always taking photos, and I thought if only I could make small prints of some of those photos, I could bring the journal up-to-date. I researched small printers and found one that looked like it would work for this: the Canon Selphy 1200. It’s a printer capable of making 4 x 6 inch snapshots on glossy paper.

Selphy 1200

This is the body of the Canon Selphy 1200 printer. It has turned out to be an ideal portable printer for our road trip. I use it in camp, usually set up on the picnic table, to print photos of our adventure.

The Selphy runs either on household current or a battery (purchased separately). I placed my order for the Selphy, the battery, and a big box of photo paper and ribbon. It arrived a couple of days later and I began the process of making it work for me. Figuring out the software was surprisingly difficult. I do this a lot, and I was surprised at how frustrating it was for me to make a print. In retrospect, I think it was that I trying to be too conventional in my approach to configuring the software. Canon also uses odd terms to describe things: “Connection Point” is the term for a WiFi signal, for example. At first I was mystified by that, but eventually I figured it out.

Canon Selphy 1200 with tray

With the paper tray attached, the printer is ready to make 4×6 postcard-size prints. The resolution is 300 pixels per inch, and the quality is quite nice.

I can print to the Selphy with a cable from my computer (it uses a Mini-USB cable, not provided). I searched high and low for a driver on the Canon web site, and finally found a file that allowed me to print from any Macintosh. Once installed, the Selphy showed up in the Printers menu on my machine. It looks like any printer on a Mac. Settings are logical and they work well. The only quirk is that the printer must be unplugged and then plugged-in again to be recognized. Odd.

I can also print directly to the printer over WiFi from my iPhone or iPad. That’s easy once you get past the strange software set-up. The Selphy creates an ad hoc WiFi network that you connect to on the iPhone (requires a free app from the iTunes Store). Once that app is installed, you find the Selphy in the WiFi menu in Settings. It shows up immediately, then printing is easy.

After getting past the software installation frustration (I watched a couple of home-made YouTube videos by others who have figured it out), the printer is a joy to use. It’s reasonably fast, taking just over a minute to make a postcard size print. It uses dye-sublimation printing, with a ribbon and glossy photo paper. It prints with cyan, magenta and yellow dyes, then puts a clear protective coating on top of the print. The paper is drawn into the printer from a tray, then it goes in and out four times to complete a print.

Selphy printer printing

Here are three images of a print being made by the Selphy. First yellow, then magenta, then cyan – the result is a lovely color print.

The prints are beautiful. I have been cutting them out and gluing them into my travel journal, then writing captions to describe the photos. I discovered another iPhone app called Pic Stitch that allows me to combine several images on a single print. For a small journal like mine, this is a great tool because a single 4 x 6 inch print is too big for most images. That Pic Stitch app lets me print two panos on one six-inch print, for example, and that is perfect for what I like to do.

The paper and ribbon come in packs of 18 pages, 54 pages and 108 pages. I bought the big box because I knew that I would be using the printer a lot. I’m not even close to running out yet. Cost per print: about $0.35 – which is pretty inexpensive in my book!

Canon offers a battery for the Selphy for about $75. I found a compatible battery from Wasabi for about $30. This battery is equivalent and it has worked perfectly so far (ten days). Wasabi claims that it will last for at leaset 50 prints.

It looks like the Selphy and I will be working together for a long time to come. I get it out and put it on the picnic table in the late afternoon, then I gather my images and choose a few to print and mount in the journal. It’s fun and easy, and the results are very nice. The journal looks great illustrated with these lovely photos from my Selphy printer!

About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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