The picture that started SnapJet

October 07, 2014

Snapjet turns any smartphone into an instant film printer. Just place your phone on top and press a button. It’s that simple.

How did we decide to make SnapJet? It all comes down to this picture. See the little dark blur next to the red arrow? Can you guess what that is?


My brother Isaac and I struggled for a few minutes to figure out what it was. But as soon as we did, SnapJet was born.

Answer: It’s my ring finger. This is what happens when you go into a dark area, and flash your phone on and off quickly on top of a fresh Polaroid or Instax photo. You can try this at home!


This photo was taken in September 2013. I had recently left my position as a trading desk developer to apply to grad schools and try some entrepreneurial ventures.

My brother and I had been talking about how cool it would be to have a slim, portable printer to go with our iPhones. Something like this imaginative design by Mac Funamizu:


We ruled out ink cartridges because they were too bulky for a portable printer – we wanted a solution where the ink was part of the paper.

We also wanted something that was ultra-high resolution – like a printed version of Apple’s Retina display. Everything out there seemed to just do the bare minimum, producing washed out, fuzzy, grainy images. These products also took forever to print, or were super-clunky to set up.

Polaroid film immediately came up in the conversation. So, on a hunch, we decided to run a few tests…


We set up a laughable “darkroom” in my bathroom, using an iPhone with the screen displaying all red. (Naturally it didn’t work, so we resorted to working in complete darkness.)

What we did was:

  1. Turn off the lights
  2. Place an iphone on top of an undeveloped polaroid photo
  3. Turn the iPhone on and off as quickly as possible.
  4. Use a rolling pin to burst the photo’s pouch and spread the development agents

The image that developed looked indiscernible at first, but then viola, I could see my fingers gripping the screen of the iPhone. Another test revealed that colors were also registering:


At this point, we were pretty excited. We kept tinkering with the process, and finally got a blurry face to show up four days later.


Now things were rolling! At this rate, I thought it would just be a few more days before we got a perfect image … Boy was I wrong. It would be months of repeated tests and literally hundreds of exposures before we got it just right.


Lesson learned: Igorance can be advantageous

In the beginning we had no idea what other products were out there. Strangely, that initial ignorance actually worked to our advantage: When we finally got more serious about market research, we realized that we had already solved many of the problems current products were suffering from. Paul Graham outlines this phenomenon of ignorance quite well in his “Student’s Guide to Start-ups.”

We went out and created new materials to focus light in a tiny space of 1mm, completely eliminating all lenses from our setup. This made our print mechanism slimmer than anything else on the market. We also designed our printer to work without any apps, which massively improved our user interface.

SnapJet is the only portable printer that works with a single button press, produces stunning quality images, and is only an inch thick. We’ve made something visual artists, creative designers, and photographers would consider amazing. So how good is our resolution exactly? Click here to find out!


We can’t wait to share it with you!


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