Portable Printer Design

A portable label printer and connected smartphone app sit on a work cart while a technician applies labels to a cable.

New Product Development

This project is part of a larger portable printer and mobile app epic.

(6 months)


A manufacturer wanted to leverage the power of a smartphone to drive a new label printer. Previous models of handheld label printers had limited design capabilities, but it was believed that a mobile app could easily accomplish this. Printers normally take 2-3 years to develop.


Design, develop, and manufacture a portable printer in just 1 year.

  • Must have significantly more capabilities and a better user experience than any standalone handheld printer on the market.
  • Must take advantage of a smartphone platform.
Early concept of a smartphone and portable label printer.

Later, these additional requirements were added, going against the UX research for this project.

  • Must include a touch screen.
  • Must include a non-replaceable battery.
  • Must include wearable accessories.


As the UX lead, I was focused on designing the mobile app while guiding my team through the manufacturing requirements and industrial design of the device itself. To account for the extremely compressed timeline, we employed some tactics:

  • Engineering risk was greatly reduced by re-using the printing chassis from an existing handheld model.
  • I used metrics to make the case for Bluetooth support as the primary connection method, despite the need for a more expensive chip set to meet Apple certification standards.

I also directed an art team that illustrated a universal product quick start guide. This guide had no written instructions so it could be used regardless of language. I conducted usability tests of this illustrated guide which required several iterations.

Additionally, I supervised and supported the tech writer who authored the device user manual and online help documentation.

A rough industrial design sketch of a concept portable printer.
Early printer concept by industrial designer on my team.
An early industrial design sketch of a concept portable printer.
Early industrial design that reused some components of a previous model
A colored industrial design sketch of a concept portable label printer.
Further revised industrial design
A 3D model of the finished industrial design of a portable printer.
3D rendering of the final industrial design with a new blue color.


Reusing the print chassis and supply tapes from an earlier printer model was the right choice, saving the engineering team thousands of development hours. The design was sleek and attractive, although much larger and heavier than originally envisioned. Although a wearable sling was developed, it was very unpopular as expected. Users appreciated the Bluetooth connectivity, although they were surprised that it only worked with the mobile app I designed, and was not compatible with other Bluetooth devices or software.

A portable label printer sitting on green grass.
The working printer arrived just 1 week before project completion.