Portable vs Desktop Typewriter - Which one should I choose?

If you are looking to invest in one of these much-loved machines, choosing between a portable or desktop typewriter can be a stumbling block.
There are so many factors to choose from, which is better and what should you know before you buy?
Well, let’s explore them together!

What is a portable typewriter?

Portable typewriters have cropped up throughout the history of typewriter manufacturing, however, we will be focusing on the height of their popularity from the ’60s onwards. We chose to focus on this era as these typewriters include all of the functions you'd come to expect, whereas portable models pre-60's will have reduced functions to make up for portability.

These portable models are notable for their retro streamline bodice and diverse range of colours, they were manufactured to be lightweight and easy to take anywhere on the go. Usually sold with a carry case made of plastic or a light leather for protection; making them easy to carry around like an ordinary handbag or satchel.

Red Portable Typewriter
Olympia Splendid 33 with custom red paintwork

What is a desktop typewriter?

In this article, we refer to Desktop and Semi-Portable models within this category which are the traditional and often older models that we're built for sitting on a desk and are rarely transported due to their heavier weight. These models were popular to find from the 1900s until the early '70s, designed to last they are made mostly from metal with a small inclusion of bakelite or plastic for platen handles and the keys of later models, making them robust and reliable even up to 100 years on. They come with a carry case similar in silhouette to a briefcase that is reinforced with either wood or metal to accommodate for their size and weight.

Image: Tetyana Kovyrina

Weight Difference

Weight is definitely one of the most important aspects that is worth considering when looking for a typewriter if portability is your focus.

Portable: Average of 5kgs
Desktop: Average between 11 and 17kgs.

Typing Experience

Of course, when you buy a typewriter you are looking for a tool that you can use comfortably. The question of which typewriter is best to type on often comes down to personal preference for usability and style.

Portable: Keyboards are designed ergonomically being much closer to what you're used to with a modern keyboard. The majority of the 70's onward keys shape to the curve of the finger, usually made in a light plastic, making it lightweight with a bouncy key response for faster typing speeds.

Cormac McCarthy used an Olivetti Lettera 32 throughout his career, writing over 5 million words. This model was designed for journalists and other travelling people who needed a machine to type wherever they were.


Portable Typewriter Keyboard

Brother Deleuxe 250TR keys

Desktop: Keys on desktop typewriters are typically made from a metal-rimmed flat glass top or heavy plastic. On average a desktop typewriter requires a heavier press to function which results in a more authentic and auditory experience from the typewriter as it’s mechanisms display their masterful engineering in motion which can be looked past with the “smoother” experience of their portable counterpart.

Imperial Good Companion Keyboard

Imperial The Good Companion Keys

Design and Style

Portable: Made of either thin metal or plastic which became popular during this era giving a boost to cost reduction, mass production, and keeping the weight of the finished product low to produce the portable typewriter era.
You can find bright hues such as dandelion yellow and hot red, which makes them attractive to retro aficionados and collectors.

Typewriters around this time were no longer an early or moderately adopted item, they were in every house and office. being manufacturing during the height of hippies, artistic expression and vast cultural changes, they were quick to respond in their marketing to the emerging fashion and style trends of their time with a variety of colour schemes, forms and cases compared to their desktop counterparts of the yesteryear.

.Brother Deluxe Orange Typewriter

Brother Deluxe 250TR in Orange

: From the 1900s through to the 1940s these models are a concoction of being an early adopters item and the result of manufacturing during the war-time era. Reflected in their limited colour schemes of black and grey, you can find some non-European brands during this time producing other colours such as red, but are rarer to come by. With limited changes in design throughout those years when manufacturing was limited, this resulted largely in the classic desktop typewriter identity of monotone stoicism.

As for their case, models towards the early 1900s often come with a completely wooden case. The '20s onward have an outer layer of leather for style and during the '50s-'70s you can find full metal or thick leather akin to that of a portable.

Desktop models produced after the war from the '50s onwards featured glamourous and glossy colours such as deep red, cream, metallic blue. 

Collection of Imperial Good Companion(s) through the ages.


Portable: For practicality, a portable typewriter is a better instrument for a first time or on the go writer who needs a lightweight companion that can travel well. Their vibrant colours and stylish flair can be a real eye-catcher to start a conversation and will ensure to put a smile on your face every time you open its case.

Desktop: For a rich typing experience of those who love classical craftmanship a desktop typewriter is the ultimate writers fantasy brought to life. place it on a mighty wooden desk and let the novel-writing begin.
The stoic presence of a hefty desktop typewriter will dominate any desk and demand only the most authentic typing experience from you.

Both portable and desktop typewriters have their pros and cons, but one thing they both share in common is their power to emphasize a living space. Showcasing both style and an appreciation for one of the greatest inventions for a fellow writer, it'll make your home an extension of your interests and passions of which you can draw inspiration to create, work or simply use for decoration.

If you’re interested in buying a portable or Desktop/semi-portable typewriter, we hope to have provided you with information to help you determine which type will best suit you. If you want more inspiration, check out our collection. Our team is happy to answer any questions you may have about any models and provide advice.

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