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Review | Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer with Zink Technology

The mobile printer market has been getting quite competitive lately, with several products gaining traction with scrapbookers, art journalers, and planner fans. After some initial reluctance to join the trend, last winter I purchased a Polaroid Zip Mobile printer, and decided to give it a first try-out on the road, as it was intended to be used. And this was no ordinary trip – it was a multi-country international trip involving planes, trains, and automobiles!

[Disclosure: Some links in this article are affiliate links that earn this site a commission at no cost to the reader when a purchase is made after a click.]

Traveling with the Polaroid Zip Mobile PrinterPolaroid Zip Mobile Printer

In the photo above, the Polaroid Zip Mobile printer sits on the tray table of my seat on a Deutsche Bahn train between Paris and Frankfurt. Since the printer didn’t come with a case, it’s bundled up in the Polaroid brand neoprene printer pouch that is sold separately for about $10. I found the soft sided neoprene pouch worked quite well for my travel use but there are also hard sided zipper cases available for the printer from other companies if that would make you feel safer toting it around.

All bundled up in the pouch with supplies, the printer was about an inch and a half thick and about the size of my hand, a very manageable size for slipping in a carry-on bag. With no paper inside, the printer alone weighs about 6oz. The total weight of the pouch will depend on how much paper and what accessories you carry.Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer

Inside the neoprene pouch, I carried the printer, thirty sheets of 2″ x 3″ paper (in packs of ten), and the instructions. If you have a phone whose charging cable is micro USB, then you’re in luck and won’t need to carry a second cable for charging the printer. But if you have an iPhone or other non-micro USB phone, you’ll need to carry the Polaroid micro USB cable for charging the Zip Mobile printer. In that event, you’ll need to find another way to carry either the paper or cable (since both won’t both fit in the neoprene pouch together) or buy a larger hard sided case.

Tip – The Zip Mobile comes with a micro USB cable that is about 30″ in length. However, you may want to invest in a slightly longer one if you plan on needing to charge in locations such as airport terminals, airplanes, and trains, as these outlets can be in quite hard to reach locations. A good Amazon Basics 6 foot Micro USB cable can be had for around $6, a small price to pay to eliminate the aggravation of the cable that just barely or not quite reaches an available outlet. You’ll also need a wall charger of some kind as the Zip comes only with the cable to charge via USB from the computer, and not a wall plug.

Of course, a key element in any mobile device’s usefulness is the battery life. Polaroid advertises that the Zip Mobile’s rechargeable built-in battery will last for 25 prints. In my real world testing, it lasted through 17 prints in one printing session and then when I tried to use it again 5 days later, the battery did not have enough charge left to print.

I actually found the first sign of the battery fading was that the Bluetooth connection to the software in my iPhone 6S became very buggy and was failing to maintain connection. Then, after a couple minutes of me trying to troubleshoot the Bluetooth, the pop-up finally appeared in the software for the battery being low.

Tip – If your Bluetooth starts acting flaky on the Zip Mobile, try getting some power hooked up to it to see if it resolves (especially if it’s been in use for more than a few prints or not charged for a few days).

Polaroid Zip Mobile printer

The printer worked very well for me in every setting that I tried it out – on the train (in the top pictures), in the hotel, and on the plane (in the photo above). There was plenty of room to work with it in all of those locations. With the Zip Mobile’s rechargeable battery, I didn’t need to worry about access to power (although several of those locations had power if I needed it).

Tip – The Zip Mobile’s glossy plastic case is extremely slippery. Placed on a smooth surface like a tray table in a train or airplane, it will slip and slide around extremely easily. I recommend adding a small piece of non-slip drawer liner to your packing for the printer and using it as a mat to secure your printer to the table surface.

Printing with the Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer

To print with the Polaroid Zip Mobile printer requires using a smartphone app to send the photos to the printer (similar to printing to from your computer to your regular home printer). Instead of WiFi, the mobile device connects to the printer via Bluetooth.

When I first used the printer last winter, the iPhone app that was required to run the printer was absolutely horrible – so horrible in fact that it had only a 1 star rating on the Apple app store. That didn’t stop me from using and liking the printer, but it was (to put it mildly) a major frustration. Thankfully, that app has recently been completely replaced. The new Polaroid Zip Mobile app, while still pretty basic in functionality, seems to have fixed the major things that were broken in the old one while adding some new functions.

Printing from the Zip Mobile printer is surprisingly easy. I taught myself how to do it while traveling, just from the mini instruction brochure that came in the package. Zink printers don’t use ink, just special paper, to print so before you get started you need to load paper. That’s as easy as sliding the panel that says “Polaroid” off in the direction of the arrow that is on it. Then you open one of the foil wrapped ten sheet packs of paper, and place the stack in the paper cavity in the printer with the blue bar code sheet on the bottom. When you replace the panel and turn on the printer, it will feed out the blue sheet automatically, reading what paper is in it.

To start printing, you just open the Polaroid Zip Mobile app on my iPhone. Then you can scroll through your photos to select the one that you want to print, or you can take a photo from within the app. You can also select from a drop down that gives the option to access photos on a Facebook or Instagram account, or in Dropbox, as well as to filter your photo roll display down to certain types of photos that are on the camera roll (like saved Instagram photos).

Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer app

Once the photo is selected, then you have a selection of some basic editing functions to use. First, there’s the ability to arrange the photo the way you want on the 2″ x 3″ print (cropping). Then there are filters that can be applied (just like on instagram), along with basic editing adjustments such as brightness and contrast. Or you can also embellish the photo with fun “stickers”, and decorative frames. A custom text tool creates text that can be placed anywhere on the photo in your choice of color and font.

Polaroid Zip Mobile Printer app

Once your photo is edited and embellished how you would like it, just hit the “print” button in the upper right of the screen. The photo will go right to the printer and print with no further set-up needed, as long as the printer is turned on and the Bluetooth is enabled on your phone. (I’ve noticed that even if I have just printed a photo that I still usually have to turn the printer back on to print. It shuts down automatically to save battery life after a short period of not being used. I can’t decide if this feature is annoying or helpful.)

The Polaroid Zip Mobile app, while workable, is pretty basic. To get prints out of a system like the Zip Mobile that live up to the standards of a photography nerd like me, you have to put the best possible input into the printer. My solution to that is to use my Lightroom mobile app to do most of my major editing on my images, and then I save them to my camera roll and simply print them from the printer. It takes a bit more time but the results are worth it.Polaroid Zip Mobile printsAbove, you can see the difference that editing in another piece of software makes. The top left photo, which was edited in the Polaroid software, loses a lot of detail in the dark areas. The middle right photo was edited in the free Lightroom Mobile app, and I was able to bring out detail in the dark areas while still preserving some of the glow of the lights. On the bottom, that print shows how the Zip Mobile can print black & white, which is a great option with a low contrast photo like this to get some detail and contrast.

Tip – Images that are bright, highly saturated and with a lot of contrast get best results printing from the Polaroid Zip Mobile. Low contrast and dark images can end up looking muddy.

Polaroid Zip Mobile vs Instax Share

The Polaroid Zip Mobile’s major competitor is Fujifilm’s Instax line of products. Although most people are more familiar with the Instax cameras, Fujifilm does have what it calls a smartphone printer called the Instax Share as part of that line as well. I looked hard at both the Zip and the Instax before making my purchase of the Zip Mobile and this is what swayed my decision to the Polaroid printer over the Fujifilm printer:

Better pictures. In my research, and in my experience using a Fujifilm Instax camera and now the Zip Mobile printer, I prefer the image quality of the Zip Mobile.

Image margin. The Instax prints have a very distinctive retro look with the white borders around them that may not always work with what I want prints for. The Zip Mobile app will let me create that look if I’d like.

Image size. The edge to edge prints on the Zip Mobile are 2″ x 3″ in size, but the Instax Share (using Instax Mini film) can only print images that are 1.8″ by 2.4″.

Sticky back. Since part of the appeal of being able to print mobile is to do things like journal or scrapbook on the go, I really like that the Zip Mobile prints have a self-adhesive back. This means I can stick them in my journal without having to carry adhesive with me when traveling.

Cutting. Scrapbookers like to use our scissors! The Zip Mobile prints are scissor friendly, whereas the Instax prints can’t be cut without taking them apart in a laborious process.

X-ray safety. This was a major factor for me in making my choice. Instax prints are film that is x-ray sensitive and so when traveling through airport security must be hand-inspected to be certain that it isn’t damaged. The Zip Mobile works via heat activated ink, so is not x-ray sensitive – avoiding a major hassle dealing with the TSA at security.

Chemical Safety. When unexposed or during the developing process, Instax film contains chemicals that means the film must be handled carefully. No such precautions are necessary with Zink paper.

Speed. An Instax print takes as long as ten minutes to develop, whereas a Zink print from the Zip Mobile is finished the moment it pops out of the printer.

Cost. This isn’t cheap technology to use no matter which printer you select, but the Zip Mobile is the decidedly less expensive of the two mobile printer options to buy and use. The Zip Mobile printer is about $50 cheaper to purchase, and the paper for it (even in the largest most discounted quantities for both) prices to about 10-15 cents a print cheaper than Instax Mini film on Amazon.com.

A mobile printer like the Polaroid Zip Mobile isn’t going to replace your regular home photo printer, but for scrapbooking and journaling on the go, or for special events, it’s a fun tool that can help you get your stories recorded faster. Despite the frustrating start with the old version of the app, I’m happy that I have my printer and look forward to using it for many more projects!

4

Travel Watercolor Set Review & Comparison

Between the planner and journal trend, the rise of mixed media, and growing interest in painting itself, there’s more and more interest in travel watercolor sets. They are an affordable way to invest in a basic set of watercolors for someone who is still learning to paint, as well as a great for taking along for creative time on the go.

[Disclosure: Some links in this article are affiliate links or advertiser courtesy links.]

Travel Watercolor Set ReviewWondering which travel watercolor set you should buy? In this article, we’ll takes a look at five different “student” level travel watercolor sets, and review their quality and design to recommend what is the best set for your needs.

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box Watercolors

This Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box is the heavyweight of this group of travel watercolor sets – in more ways than one. It’s by far the heaviest physically, weighing in at three to four ounces heavier than the others I tested. And it also seems to be by far the most widely available of the tested sets – especially if you include the 12, 18, 30, 36 and 48 color versions that are available of this set.

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box Watercolors

There’s a reason this set weighs so much, though. Inside, you’ll find 24 half pan watercolors, a larger selection than in any other of the tested kits. You’ll also find an entire kit of tools for watercolor painting: palettes, sponges, and a waterbrush. With the large divided palette – which can be made to hang off the side by putting the pins on its bottom in the holes on either side of the set – and the inside of the lid, this set has loads of space for mixing and blending colors. The sponges provide surfaces for dabbing off a too-moist brush. And the included waterbrush, which disassembles to store in the tray at the front, includes a small cap so that water can be kept in the brush even when it is taken apart.

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box Watercolor swatches

This set includes a full rainbow of colors, plus brown, black, grey, and white. Four blues and four greens provide lots of options for plein air landscape painters to mix with. If you’d like to make your own swatch reference after buying this set or another Sakura Koi set, Sakura has published a color chart with an area for swatching on it.

The Sakura Koi half-pan watercolor paints are fairly creamy and blend nicely. The colors are nice and vibrant while still maintaining transparency, and their saturation means they can be diluted extensively to make lighter colors.

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box Watercolors

Despite its popularity, there are a couple of cons to this set, however. Refills are not available for the Sakura Koi half-pan sets – Sakura recommends refilling them with the Sakura Koi watercolor tubes. However, only 18 colors are available in the tubes, and the colors are not all the same as the half-pans, so some colors won’t be able to be refilled that way.

There’s also an issue that can be seen above that the pans are very close together with no lip separating them, making it easy to contaminate one color with another. See the blue in my green and red? Unfortunately, to keep travel sets small, there isn’t a lot of room to spread out, and this shows the downside of cramming a lot into a small space.

I’ve owned this set for quite some time (and even traveled with it internationally). While this travel watercolor set may be a little larger and heavier than its competitors in this review, the space and weight is put to good use in an efficient design that packs in a lot of utility.

Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box

Price: $21-$60 retail
Availability: Blick Art Materials, Amazon, A Cherry On Top, Simon Says Stamp, plus many other local and online art retailers
Size & Weight: 6.5″ x 4.5″ x 1.125″  9.375oz
Includes Brush?: Yes – Round #6 Waterbrush
Colors: 24 – China White, Lemon Yellow, Aureoline Hue, Permanent Yellow Deep, Permanent Orange, Jaune Brilliant, Vermillion Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Crimson Lake, Quinacridone Rose, Purple, Cobalt Blue Hue, Cerulean Blue Hue, Ultramarine Deep, Prussian Blue, Permanent Green Pale, Viridian Hue, Permanent Green Deep, Olive Green, Yellow Ochre, Light Red, Burnt Umber, Payne’s Grey, Ivory Black.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box

Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher's Pocket Box watercolors

This little box is truly a pocket travel watercolor kit! Slightly smaller than the size of my iPhone 6S (but a bit thicker), it’s also the lightest of the sets I tested. That’s not to say it’s a lightweight, however – it’s built of a sturdy plastic that should stand up well to life on the road.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher's Pocket Box watercolors

Inside the case, the design is spare and efficient. This small of a package doesn’t allow for a lot of bells and whistles. The Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box contains just 12 half-pan colors, along with a very small round travel brush. The inside of the lid is divided and serves as a palette area.

The paints in this case are sunk nice and low into cubbies that have good dividers between them to prevent splash over or inadvertent mixing of colors from one to the next. These half-pans are also in pans that come out (sometimes too easily, as I’ve found them sitting in the lid after the set has been juggled and moved around) so the colors can be refilled. Even though the paints are designed to be able to be refilled, I was unable to find any Cotman refills for sale online (at least in the U.S). I was able to find, however, the professional level half-pan watercolor paint refills from Winsor & Newton. These could be used to refill this Sketcher’s Pocket Box, and of course the box could also be refilled with watercolor tubes.

Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher's Pocket Box watercolor swatches

With only 12 colors in this set, obviously some things have to be left out. This set has no black, and no purple.What colors are included flow and blend beautifully, with the ability to be diluted to very pale tones. The color saturation is nice, although the starting tones aren’t as deep as I perhaps would like. The transparency is good, except in the really dark tones like the Intense Blue.

For those who want more color options (and more working area) Winsor & Newton makes a box with similar features to the Sakura Koi that includes 24 colors.

As portable as this package is, it’s not self-contained. You’ll need access to a water source or need to carry water separately to be able to use it. The easiest option is to carry a water brush, or you could try the Field Plus version of the Cotman sets, which includes it’s own water bottle and rinsing cup!

Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box

Price: $11-$25 retail
Availability: Blick Art MaterialsAmazonA Cherry On Top, plus many other local and online art retailers
Size & Weight: 5″ x 2.375″ x .75″  3.25oz
Includes Brush?: Yes – Small travel brush
Colors: 12 – China White, Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red Pale Hue, Crimson Alizarin, Ultramarine, Intense Blue, Emerald Green, Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber.

Daler-Rowney Aquafine Travel Set

Daler-Rowney Aquafine Travel Set

This travel set is in a round metal tin about the size of a CD (remember those?) that has a hinged lid. Despite containing 18 colors, this set’s construction makes it relatively light, the same weight as several sets I tested with fewer colors.

When you first open the case you are greeted by a plastic flap laying over the color tray that shows the names and numbers of all of the colors in the set. (Although Daler-Rowney makes replacement colors for this line of half-pans, I was only able to find them sold in the U.S. via an Amazon 3rd party seller that appeared to be shipping from the U.K.) This clear flap looks like a great idea until you try to paint with this set, and then it becomes an annoyance because it has to be held back to access the paints – it won’t fold back and stay out of the way on it’s own. After a bit of struggle I cut it off with a craft knife, finding no other way to remove it.

Daler-Rowney Aquafine Travel Set

Inside the set, you’ll find four small mixing wells and a travel sized #4 Round brush. The small wells are removable for cleaning but not very durable as they are made of flexible plastic packaging material. Because it is made of metal, this set lacks the ability to have the inside of the lid double as a mixing area like in plastic boxed sets.

Daler-Rowney Aquafine Travel Set swatches

Of all the sets that I tested, this was the one that frustrated me the most trying to paint with it. These paints were just difficult to use. In my opinion, they didn’t flow, blend, or dilute nearly as well as the other “student” grade kits that I tried out. It took two times loading the brush to do what I could do with one load of most of the other paints.

Overall, for the price, other sets offer a better value than the Daler-Rowney Aquafine Travel set.

Daler-Rowney Aquafine Travel Set

Price: $23-$30 retail
Availability: Amazon, plus a few other local and online art retailers
Size & Weight: 5.5″ x 5.25″ x .75″  5.5oz
Includes Brush?: Yes – Mini Aquafine Round #4
Colors: 18 – Chinese White, Lemon Yellow, Gamboge, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Vermillion Hue, Alizarin Crimson, Purple, Cobalt Blue Hue, Coerulean Hue, Ultramarine, Prussian Blue, Permanent Green Pale, Viridian Hue, Sap Green, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, Ivory Black.

Prima Watercolor Confections – Tropicals

Prima Watercolor Confections - Tropicals

Art supply enthusiasts may not recognize the Prima brand, but I included this set because Prima’s mixed media line – including their Confections line of watercolors – was well reviewed to me by experienced mixed media artists in the paper crafts industry that I know. How, I wondered, would it stand up against fine art brands’ student products?

The answer was that it did surprisingly well. Even after all the recommendations I’d been given, I’ll admit that I was still surprised.

The Prima Confections watercolors come in a palette tin that is about the same size as my iPhone, but slightly heavier and thicker. Twelve half-pan watercolors snap into metal brackets, so the palette’s colors can be arranged in any order, and refilled easily. (Half-pan refills recently started shipping from Prima.) The one slightly annoying thing about this arrangement is that the pans have a tendency to slide from side to side when the palette is moved around. (In the photo below, some of the pans slid when I set up my picture, creating the gap next to the orange, and I didn’t notice at the time.) Also, of course, since the pans are butted directly up against each other, it’s easy to transfer color from one pan to the next by accident.

Empty palette tins similar to this one are available from several art brands to use to create custom travel palettes of artist grade watercolors.

Prima Watercolor Confections - Tropicals

With a fold out shelf with wells, plus a divided lid, this tiny palette has a surprising amount of area for mixing and blending colors. The center area between the pans is large enough for storing a small travel paintbrush, but one is not included with the set.

Prima Confections Tropical Watercolor SwatchesThe color palettes of the five Prima Confections sets are a bit unusual for watercolor paint. They do have one set called “The Classics” that is a traditional rainbow palette. But the rest of the color palettes are basically themed: Tropicals, Pastels, Shimmering Lights, Decadent Pies. Some of the palettes include duplicate colors, so you aren’t building a “full set” by buying all of the palettes. The palettes being themed this way can be annoying if you like to paint lots of different color schemes, but if you to create a specific signature look, having a palette tailored just for it can save a lot of work mixing and blending colors.

I’ll admit I was skeptical about these paints before I tried them, but I ended up really enjoying working with them. They are creamy, flow and blend easily, and the color saturation and transparency are gorgeous. These seemed to dilute forever, to endlessly lighter tones.

Prima Watercolor Confections – Tropical

Price: $14-$25 retail
Availability: AmazonA Cherry On TopSimon Says Stamp, plus local scrapbook retailers
Size & Weight: 4.75″ x 2.75″ x .75″  5.375oz
Includes Brush?: No
Colors: 12 – #13 Island, #14 Coconut, #15 Hurricane, #16 Parrot, #17 Hibiscus, #18 Palms, #19 Pitaya, #20 Reef, #21 Pineapple, #22 Sunset, #23 Ocean, #24 Tiki.

Dixon Prang Half-Pan 16 Semi-Moist Watercolors

Dixon Prang Half-Pan 16 Semi-Moist Watercolors

This set is the only “scholastic” level (versus “student”) watercolor set in the test. It’s designed for high volume, hard use in schools by younger kids. I bought this set for my homeschooled daughter to use on some color exercises for her art class, so she could use these for learning basics before. I included it in this comparison thinking it would show what you get in the difference in quality by paying the price for moving up to a real “student” set. Instead, I was surprised at how much I liked this set!

Dixon Prang Half-Pan 16 Semi-Moist Watercolors

Most of us probably used a set similar to this at some time in our childhood – a big flat plastic case with large pans. Although this set is labeled as half-pans like the other sets reviewed, they are shaped different than traditional pans, so the visible paint surface is larger.)

This set contains 16 colors, labeled to match the color wheel. The pans are replaceable, but because the paints re designed for school use, and are so affordable, the replacements come in packages of 12! Unless you really like a certain color and use a lot of it, it’s really more cost effective to just replace the entire palette when one runs out.

Dixon Prang Half-Pan 16 Semi-Moist Watercolor swatches

These paints are nice and creamy, and flow and blend and dilute quite well for what they are. They are pleasant to work with for basic tasks, and quite saturated and bright. One place that they do fall down is on transparency. These are quite opaque for watercolors, especially when used at maximum concentration. But some people like that look and if you do, you may enjoy these for basic tasks. These also make a great set for portable coloring book use. Throw a pair of waterbrushes with different tips in the center well between the rows of pans, and you have a great tool kit for coloring wherever you may be with a few minutes to kill.

[Note: There are two versions of these paints, one with round pans and one with square pans. This review is of the square pan set.]

Dixon Prang Half-Pan 16 Semi-Moist Watercolors

Price: $8-$18 retail
Availability: Blick Art MaterialsAmazon, plus many other local and online art retailers
Size & Weight: 9.25″ x 4″ x .625″  6.25oz
Includes Brush?: Yes – Round #6
Colors: 16 – White, Black,  Brown, Red, Red Orange, Orange, Yellow Orange, Yellow, Yellow Green, Green, Blue Green, Blue, Blue Violet, Violet, Red Violet, Turquoise.

Travel Watercolor Paint Sets: Compare & Contrast

Now that we’ve seen an overview of all of these travel watercolor paint sets, how do they compare to each other – and which one should you buy?

It was clear examining these travel watercolor paint sets that three of them were in a class separate from the others – the Prima Confections, the Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box, and the Sakura Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box.

Below, you can see that those three diluted to nice gradients (well as nice as my skills in that area would make). The Prang made a pretty decent gradient. The Daler-Rowney didn’t spread or dilute well and to get this level of color that is pretty much equal to the other paints, it took two brush loads of color.

Travel Watercolor Set Comparison

Since we are talking about travel, there are several things to possibly consider when choosing a watercolor set. Size and weight is one issue. The idea of watercoloring in your journal as you make your way around an exotic foreign locale might sound fabulous, but it becomes less fabulous when your art supplies are a pain to lug.

The Sakura Koi watercolor set is great in that it is all self-contained, but it also weighs nearly twice what the smaller Prima and Cotman sets weigh. It’s also a bit too big to truly slip into a pocket the way the two smaller ones are. So, if you want to throw it in a suitcase to leave in a hotel room, or don’t mind a few extra ounces in your backpack, the Sakura Koi is a good option to have lots of colors. It’s also a great option for using on board a plane or train to entertain yourself with everything contained right in the box. If flying, the waterbrush can be brought through security empty and filled with a water bottle on board (or pre-fill it and stash it in your liquids bag).

On the other hand, if you are traveling super lean, or want something that you can slip into a hoodie pocket to grab for a quick sketch, the small Prima or Cotman sets are great options. Both of these sets will require carrying either a water source and/or a brush or waterbrush.

The metal box on the Prima Confections watercolor set might cause security hassles while flying, but has the advantage of being able to contain a custom palette (either by purchasing the themed palette of your choice or by mixing and matching colors from multiple sets into one box). It also has the advantage of providing a very large mixing area for such a small container, and has a thumb ring on the bottom to enable holding it more securely on the go.

The Winsor & Newton Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box is the ultimate in lightweight portability out of all these sets, especially because it includes a brush in the set. This is a great basic set for planner users who want to tuck it in their bag with a waterbrush, for coloring on the go and while traveling, or for plein air painting.

The Cotman Sketcher’s Pocket Box is also the winner to me for pure paint quality, but it’s a small margin over the Prima and Sakura sets. These three are all excellent quality student pan watercolor sets that will be good for coloring, journaling, and quick travel painting.

If affordability is more important to you than paint quality, and you are only interested in using basic techniques with your paint, the Prang Dixon paints are a robust and very affordable option. But at an upgrade cost of only about $3-$4 to go from them up to one of the Prima or Cotman sets if you shop at the right place, it’s worth considering making a minor investment in better paint (although you’ll get fewer colors).

For those who are very serious about their painting, and who want artist quality paints,  the name to look for in travel pan sets is Sennelier, which is made with a high honey content. But be prepared to pay a high price – over $60 for a 14 color set of half-pans.

Whatever set you choose, don’t forget that other things like the quality of your brush and your paper will also affect the results that you get. Next in this series, watch for a watercolor paper comparison coming soon!

Travel Watercolor Sets - Review and Comparison - Which one is for you?

What is the difference between original Distress Ink and Distress Oxide?

Tim Holtz recently announced that twelve new colors are being added to his new Distress Oxide ink line, bringing to a total of 24 the colors available in that line. But this new announcement of expansion in the Distress Oxide color palette may have some of our readers who haven’t tried the inks yet asking “what is the difference between the original Distress ink and new Distress Oxide ink?”

Let’s take a look!

[Disclosure: This article contains some affiliate or sponsor links.]

Distress Oxide ink pads

To run my comparison, I used the six Ranger Distress Oxide inks that I have purchased, along with their matching inks from my collection of original Ranger Distress Inks (some of which were provided to me by Ranger at the time of their release).

As an initial comparison, I stamped the inks side by side on plain white cardstock. I specifically chose these Tim Holtz silhouette stamps because their large solid stamping areas are the type of design that make it challenging to get a perfect impression. Plus they give a really good look at the color tones of each ink.

The male silhouette in each pair below is stamped in original Distress ink, and the female profile is stamped in Distress Oxide ink.

Distress Ink vs Distress Oxide stamping

At first glance, most of the pairs don’t seem that different. The color tones on most are fairly close to each other. However, one thing is evident after closer examination (and has been seen in my other use of the ink). The new Distress Oxide image is cleaner, with fewer light spots, than the original Distress Ink in most of the images. Because the Oxide ink is juicier, it is more forgiving in creating a good quality image with a challenging stamp design and on a less than optimal surface.

Distress Ink vs Distress Oxide stamping

Moving to stamping on manila tags, a better surface for the inks, and the difference in quality is somewhat less obvious between the two inks, but still slightly noticeable.

One of the key features that is being promoted for Distress Oxide is that it “oxidizes” when exposed to water. But what, exactly, is oxidation? According to Wikipedia, oxidation is “the loss of electrons or an increase in oxidation state by a molecule, atom, or ion.” Say what? What does that mean in craft terms?

Distress Oxide vs Distress Ink

Distress Ink (left) and Distress Oxide (right)

Above, these two tags have been dragged through ink that was rubbed on my craft sheet, and then had water dripped on them. Both tags end up with light looking spots where the drips were. But if you look closely at the spots, there is a key difference. When water was dripped on the tag with the original Distress Ink, the spots “bleached” and got light. It’s almost as if all color has been removed from those spots. In comparison, on the Distress Oxide tag, the spots still have plenty of saturated color in them even though they appear lighter from the water. That is what oxidation looks like in Distress Oxide ink!

Distress vs Distress Oxide test

original Distress ink (left) vs Distress Oxide (right)

Another major difference – translucency – becomes obvious between the two inks when I tried doing a direct-to-paper technique on a dark colored background on these animal cards cut from some idea-ology paper. You can see above how much more opaque the Distress Oxide inks are on the bear and the kangaroo cards than their counterparts in original Distress Ink on the pig and elephant cards. The difference is especially obvious on the Cracked Pistachio inked cards. On the elephant card, the original Distress ink is almost completely transparent, just tinting the card but not impacting the visibility of the image. This is a huge contrast to the Distress Oxide of the same color on the kangaroo card, which completely obliterates the image!

Distress vs Distress Oxide comparison

The more that you handle and manipulate these inks, the more subtle differences that you notice. For this test above, I rubbed the ink pads on my craft sheet, spritzed the sheet with water, and then dragged the tags through the ink. Both tags resulted in a marbled look with this technique. But if you look closely, you’ll see on the right above that the Distress Oxide ink pooled and flowed more, whereas the original Distress maintained more structure. You can even see striations in the tag on the left from where it was dragged, whereas the other tag is more shapeless in design.

Distress Ink layered tag

Distress Ink layered tag

Another of the things you will notice is how differently these inks layer. One of the big advantages being touted by Tim Holtz in his Distress Oxide demos since the product’s introduction has been that the product can be layered without getting muddy, and you can see in these examples I created how that works.

Above, I created a tag with five different original Distress Inks that were applied in three different layers, by swiping on the craft sheet, spritzing with water and then dragging the tag through. You can see that by the last layer, at least part of the tag had turned to muddy brown.

Contrast that to the tag below, created with the same five colors of ink but in Distress Oxide, and using the same technique. Although original Distress got muddy at three layers, this tag is still showing vibrant color after five layers of inking with Distress Oxide.

Disress Oxide layered tag 2

Some of the differences are subtle, and some not so subtle. But they add up to Distress Oxide being an ink that is an excellent complement to original Distress ink. Used together, the two inks give paper crafters and mixed media artists the ability for almost granular control over the properties of the ink at each stage of their project. Do I want my purple to blend or pool? Do I want my green to be transparent or opaque? Do I need my colors to layer, or not? You can decide the look, and select the appropriate ink – while staying inside the Distress palette.

Distress Oxide ink pads

Ranger Tim Holtz Distress Oxide ink pads have an MSRP of $5.99. Twelve colors were released in Winter 2017, and an additional twelve colors have just been announced and are currently shipping to stores. Distress Oxide is available at Scrapbook.com, A Cherry On Top, Amazon.com, and other crafts retailers.

Paint a Patriotic Flower Pot for the Porch!

I’m so excited to be sharing my patriotic flower pot project today to help kick off the annual Red, White & Blue series at Sugar Bee Crafts, which is being run as a sort of month long blog hop this year! I look forward to seeing what all the other talented bloggers who are taking part will contribute.

[Some links in this article are affiliate links which pay a commission if a purchase is made after a click. I am part of blogger programs at Cricut and Plaid, who each provided me some products used in this article.]

patriotic flower pot

Supplies Needed:

To start my patriotic flower pot, I used the white paint and a foam paintbrush to put two coats on the rim of the pot.

painting flower pot

While my white paint was drying, I used my Cricut Explore Air 2 machine to cut out five stars from Cricut stencil vinyl. I used the Cricut Design Space basic shape tool to do this, and sized the stars so they would fit nicely on the rim of the pot.

Once the paint was dry on the rim of my patriotic flower pot, I stuck down the stars, I used a tape measure to get them evenly spaced around the rim. I measured the rim, divided it by 5 to get the spacing. I then stuck down a star, and measured from the left side of it to get to the starting point for the next star. I made sure to rub the stars down really firmly, especially at the edges, to avoid paint seeping under the edge.

star masks on flower pot

The next step once the stars were in place was to paint over the white with the Apple Red paint. While I had only put the white on the exterior of the pot, I carried the red over the rim down a distance into the interior of the pot so that the pot would be red above the soil line. This detail helps make the pot look “finished” no matter what angle it is viewed from.

It took three coats of paint for me to get solid color coverage over the bright white color. Remember when brushing your paint on to brush out from the center of the star masks so you aren’t pushing paint under the edges of them! (If you do find paint under the masks when you remove them, the areas can be touched up with a small brush and the white paint.) Once the red paint was dry, I peeled off the star masks and my white stars were showing through the red paint!

To finish my patriotic flower pot, I used painter’s masking tape to tape around the bottom of the red rim of the pot. Then I painted the bottom of the flower pot in two coats of cobalt blue, and removed the painter’s tape.

patriotic flower pot

Once all of my paint was dry, I added a few cute annual flowers that I bought at the local garden center. My patriotic flower pot was ready to beautify the table on my back porch. Now, if only I can remember to water my poor flowers regularly!

Would you like to see more fun patriotic crafts? Visit the Red, White & Blue series at Sugar Bee Crafts, or my Easy Melt & Pour Patriotic Soap!

Easy Melt & Pour Patriotic Soap

Not too long ago I discovered a new craft obsession: soap making! This red, white and blue melt & pour soap project that I’m bringing you today was one of my first soaping projects, so it’s perfect for beginners or soap makers of all levels.

[Some links in this article are affiliate links that pay this site a commission at no cost to the user when a purchase is made after a click.]

Red White & Blue SoapTo make this, you’ll need:

These items can be found at local soap specialty stores, ordered online, or are available at some local craft stores.

You’ll also need a kitchen scale, some spatulas, and a couple of Pyrex or other microwave safe glass bowls or measuring cups to melt your soap in.

To start, you need to chop up the clear glycerin soap and put it in a microwave container. I use large Pyrex measuring cups for melting my soap. Using 30 second bursts (or shorter when the soap is nearly melted so you don’t burn it) in the microwave, melt the soap to a liquid. Be careful not to boil it, though, by overheating it!

measuring melt and pour soap

Once the soap is melted, follow package instructions to add your fragrance. After the fragrance is mixed in, divide the soap evenly into two containers. Color one of the containers with blue and one with red.

Spritz your mold with rubbing alcohol. Pour each color into one section of your soap mold, spritz the top of the soap with rubbing alcohol to pop bubbles that were created during pouring, and allow the soap to cool. (Ignore the round one below – that is a color swirling experiment I made with some extra soap!)

melt and pour soap

It will take a few hours for the blue and red soaps to cool enough to work with. When they have, pop them out of the mold and chop part of them into small cubes. Place the cubes back into the molds, arranged randomly. (You can use the leftover red and blue soap to make more of these red white & blue bars, or as small travel soap bars, or for other soap design projects.)

melt and pour soap

Chop up the white glycerin soap just like the clear glycerin and heat it in the microwave as well using the same method. When it is melted, mix in your selected fragrance following the package directions.

Spritz the mold and the red & blue soap pieces with rubbing alcohol. Then carefully (I highly recommend using a Pyrex measuring cup with a spout for this task) pour the white soap into the mold around the red and blue soap pieces. Stop right before the white soap level reaches to tops of the colored soap pieces, so they will not get covered up. Spritz the top of the soap with rubbing alcohol to pop any bubbles that occurred on the surface from the pouring.

melt and pour patriotic soap

Leave the soap to cool for a few hours and then it can be removed from the mold! Imperfect edges can be cleaned up with a knife or by wiping the soap with a wet cloth.

melt and pour patriotic soap
And now it is time to enjoy your soap! This design makes a great way to add a festive touch to your guest bath or holiday home for July 4th.

This soap making project isn’t just for the 4th of July. A simple change in color scheme could make this a fun school spirit gift – send some off to school with your favorite college freshman!  Or make it in red and green to make Christmas holiday decor for your bathroom. The possibilities are endless, and since the soap comes in 2 pound packs, you can try several versions with your supply purchase! This is a great way to learn the basics of handling melt and pour soap.

I hope you enjoyed my soap tutorial today! If you are interested in making soap, please check out my other soapmaking articles 7 Things I’ve Learned Starting Soap Making and Celebrate Star Wars with Frozen Han Solo Soap to learn more about it!

Giveaway | Happy Birthday to Me and Mod Podge!

Today isn’t just my birthday (although that is cause enough for celebration) – something else special is having a birthday today. It’s Mod Podge’s 50th Birthday!

National Mod Podge Day

Mod Podge is celebrating all day today (Friday) with National Mod Podge Day, starting at 9am eastern. It will be filled with livestreams, projects, and giveaways. To get all of the details visit their special Mod Podge 50th Birthday page.

But why not get the party started here and now? It’s my birthday and I’ll giveaway if I want to!

Thanks to the wonderful and generous folks at Plaid, I’ve got a package of Mod Podge goodies to give away to one lucky Craft Critique reader!

National Mod Podge Day Giveaway

This package is a $50 value and includes:

  • 8 oz. Mod Podge Gloss
  • 8 oz. Mod Podge Matte
  • 8 oz. Mod Podge Dishwasher Safe Gloss
  • 2 oz Mod Podge Photo Transfer Medium
  • Mod Podge Silicone Craft Mat
  • 7 piece Mod Podge Tool Kit
  • Mod Podge 4pc Spouncer Set
  • Mod Podge 4pc Foam Brush Set

HOW TO ENTER: To enter this giveaway, leave a comment below telling me what your favorite thing is to do with Mod Podge! Deadline for entries is 11:59pm eastern time on Sunday, May 21st, 2017. One entry per person. Sorry, US entries only. Winner will be chosen by random drawing.

How to Mod Podge a Travel Shadow Box!

You take that vacation of a lifetime, take thousands of wonderful pictures, and then come back home to the real world. You dive into the hustle and bustle of real life, and those wonderful memories stay hidden away on your computer hard drive, only to be seen when they pop up randomly on your computer’s screen saver.

[Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Plaid, the maker of Mod Podge, but all opinions expressed are my own.]

It happens to all of us, right?

In January, I got the opportunity to do something that I’ve dreamed of for decades – go to Paris! I’d longed to go back as an adult and truly appreciate it, having been when I was in grade school and lacked appreciation for the city’s art treasures and history. I came home from my two days in the city with several thousand pictures, and a determination that they would not waste away in dusty obscurity in the nether regions of my computer.

Part one of that process is creating a shadow box of my trip, with a few highlight photos from those two days. But for a trip this special, it couldn’t be just any shadow box. So, with some help from Mod Podge, I turned a plain white shadow box into a fabulous custom piece that lives up to my vision of housing memories from my trip.

Paris Shadowbox with Mod Podge

Supplies Needed:

This shadow box started with a simple – and very modern style – white shadow box that I purchased for less than $10 at a craft chain store. It was the perfect size for the project I had in mind with my Paris pictures, but far from the right style. But a little Mod Podge and artisan paper I purchased from etsy fixed that right up!

White Shadowbox

The shadow box has a soft fabric covered back in it that is designed to be used with thumb tacks or pins to attach photos and memorabilia. I opted not to use that and instead I cut a 9×9 piece of my craft paper to use as a background. I did this first thing when I started working on this project, to make sure that I could cut it from exactly the area of pattern of the paper that I wanted.

Before beginning to work on my travel shadow box project, I took apart the shadow box completely, the same as if I was putting new contents into it, and then also removed the glass. This meant that I could work without having to worry about breaking the glass, or smudging or gluing it.

The paper I used for this decoupage project, from etsy artisan artanlei is a very heavy paper, more like a heavy gift wrap than the tissue weight that is typically sold as decoupage paper. This weight to the paper is important to being able to easily fit the fit these relatively complex pieces for the frame – creases hold where you put them and the paper holds up well to being handled and marked with pencil for cut lines. Choose your paper carefully to ensure success (and fewer headaches) on a project like this!

Using a ruler, scissors, a pencil, and other tools, I dry fitted pieces to cover the four sides of the frame.(Notice how the pieces are holding the creases for the frame’s corners? Those nice creases made it super easy to fit the pieces once I starting gluing!) My pieces wrap from the front of the frame, around the side, and onto the back.

Paris Shadowbox Decoupage Paper

To glue down my paper pieces to my shadow box, I reached for most crafters’ go-to for decoupage: Mod Podge Matte. It goes on smooth, and it dries fast – but not so fast that I can’t adjust the placement of pieces as I put them on. And most importantly, it dries clear and matte, meaning that it wouldn’t leave behind tell-tale shiny spots from accidental glue smudges and smears on my paper.

Since there wasn’t enough time for my brushes to dry between cleanings in doing my gluing steps, I chose to use foam brushes for this instead of my much-loved Mod Podge Decoupage Brushes. (Note to self: Get more decoupage brushes!)

Mod Podge Matte

I glued down the pieces for the sides of my box first, by putting Mod Podge on the box surface and the paper surface. I pressed the paper into place, starting by lining up the edge of the paper along the edge on the front by the glass and smoothing it towards the first crease, bending around the corner to the sides of the box and then finally to the back edge.  To make sure that I got nice smooth adhesion, I used a brayer to roll the pieces as I pressed them on each surface.

Tip: Be sure to get your Mod Podge all the way to the edges of the paper so that you won’t have to go back and tack down edges later!

Notice how the corners of these pieces are square, even though the finished front will appear that the paper pieces have angled corners? By leaving the pieces square on the first pieces that I laid down, I didn’t have to worry about cutting two angled pieces for each corner and making them match perfectly. I could just lay the second, angled piece, over the first piece and it would create the illusion of beautifully mitred corners!

Paris Shadowbox in progress

Once the glue was dry on the first pieces that I had glued down, then I repeated the decoupage process with the pieces for the bottom and top of the shadowbox. See my nice “mitred” corner?

Notice the nice placement of that phrase along the top, and how on the sides the text is going the same direction as on the top and bottom? That’s no accident! I carefully chose the areas of the paper that I cut each piece from so that it would create the look that I wanted for my box. The “de la Republique francaise” – which translates to “of the French Republic” – seemed the perfect title for the top of my box! The positioning of the graphic elements in the bottom right corner of the box was also deliberate as well.

Paris Shadowbox in progress

Here’s a close-up look at how my corners look with the overlap that creates the mitred look.

Paris Shadowbox corner close-up

The paper extends onto the back of the shadowbox. I didn’t bother to mitre the corners on the backside. The extension of the paper to the rear of the box is simply to avoid rough or unmatched edges where the box will meet the wall. Instead, there is a nice fold, and the paper stops on the back.

Paris Shadowbox reverse

Once the box itself was done, then I turned to its contents. First I printed some of my photos from my trip as 2″ by 3″ photos, with a small border on them, and then adhered them to the background paper using Mod Podge Paper and the largest of the Mod Podge Decoupage Brushes.

Mod Podge Decoupage Brushes

Next, I wanted to embellish my box. There wasn’t a lot of room left to work with but the box needed a little something more than just my photos. I had a set of Graphic 45 Cityscapes stamps that have some small Paris themed designs in them, but how to make them dimensional? Mod Podge Podgeable Glass Domes to the rescue!

Mod Podge Podgeable Glass Domes

I stamped several of the Cityscapes 2 images on natural colored cardstock with waterproof ink that is almost exactly the same color as part of the design on my decoupage paper that I bought from etsy. Then I used some of the smaller decoupage brushes to paint Mod Podge onto the back of some of the glass domes and pressed them onto place on top of the stamped designs. Once the Mod Podge was dry, I used a craft knife to cut around the edges of the glass domes to remove them from rest of the paper, and glued them in place (with more Mod Podge, of course) on the shadowbox’s photo layout.

Mod Podge Podgeable Glass Dome

Mod Podge Podgeable Glass Domes

I still needed a few more embellishments, though. See that Eiffel Tower in the close-up above? I just knew that I had to include it in this shadow box – and it’s Mod Podge too! It’s made from the Mod Melts system of colored meltable sticks that can be used in a hot glue gun or better yet a Mod Melter to fill silicone molds to create custom embellishments. For my Paris shadowbox project, of course, I just had to use the metallic pack that contained gold Mod Melts! I used several different Mod Melts molds for my shadowbox, including the Travel and Royal Icons pictured below.

When my Mod Melts were done, I adhered them to my shadowbox by using my Mod Melter like a hot glue gun, so the glue matched the objects that I was adhering.

Mod Melts

For the last touch, I wanted to put the title “PARIS” on my box. I used wooden letters and painted them with the new FolkArt Brushed Metal paint in Brushed Gold. The paint’s color and texture almost perfectly matches the Mod Melts that I made, as well as coordinating nicely with some of the highlight tones in the paper that I used. Once they were dry I attached them to the front of the box with Mod Podge Matte.

Paris Shadowbox embellishments

The last step was to reassemble the box and put the backer in it. I just laid the sheet of paper on top of the fabric back of the shadow box and it held fine when reassembled.
Paris Shadowbox

And now, for some exciting news! Tomorrow is Mod Podge’s 50th birthday! And to celebrate, Plaid will be doing an entire day of live streams, projects and giveaways starting at 10am eastern! Don’t miss it!

Oh, and if you love Mod Podge…be sure to stop by Craft Critique tomorrow as well…hint, hint! [Update: It’s a Giveaway!!!]

National Mod Podge Day