Epson PictureMe Review

By Diane Haddad Premium

Instand gratification is hard to come by in family history. Not so with Epson’s PictureMate photo printer. This cute, portable “personal photo lab” promises digital photographers convenience and long-lasting prints. We think it delivers.

The $199 PictureMate works with $29 Print Packs, each containing a cartridge and enough 4×6-inch photo paper for 100 prints. That’s 29 cents per print—about what you’d pay to drop off film at a traditional photo lab. Technophobes can just plug PictureMate into any outlet, insert a memory card and pick Print All. Technophiles can hook up PictureMate via USB cable to print from a camera, computer files (requires installing the included PictureMate software) or external hard drive. PictureMate even works with Bluetooth-enabled cell-phone cameras and personal digital assistans (PDAs).

Setup was easy, and the unit’s screen prompts guided me through printing a proof sheet, selecting photos and doctoring them up. I flipped through the user-friendly instruction book to see what PictureMate could do, and was soon pressing buttons like a pro. My favorite feature, Fix, adjusts balance and contrast—it turned a muddy photo of my heirloom chair into the sunny picture I remember taking.

Other settings include multiple copies; borderless or white-bordered photos; and color, sepia or black-and-white images. You get 18 preset crop options (based on a vertical photo, even though most people often shoot horizontally), so it can be tough to visualize how the cropped photo will look. It helps to print a crop template, a proof sheet that shows the crop options superimposed on your photo. Cropped photos are enlarged to 4×6 inches; your only other size option is two 2-1/2×3-1/2-inch prints.

My camera, an HP Photosmart 635, offers middle-of-the-road photo quality, according to CNET and other review Web sites. Its “best” setting (about 300 dots-per-inch resolution) produced PictureMate prints comparable to film cameras’. Like photos from a developer, my PictureMate prints were glossy, with bright colors. But when I looked closely at solid-colored areas, such as the wall behind my chair, I could see a slight graininess—a telltale sign that the photo came from a printer. That didn’t bother me, but the prints’ strong chemical odor, which lingered for several days, did.

Epson claims PictureMate prints last 200 years stored in photo sleeves in an acid-free, lignin-free album. Displayed under test conditions established by the photo-longevity experts at Wilhelm Imaging Research, PictureMate prints resist fading in a glass frame for up to 100 years—two to four times longer than photos from labs and other printers, Epson says. I tested a PictureMate print’s water resistance by soaking and trying to smudge it—the photo still lookedl ike new.

My recommendation? PictureMate’s easy to use, and definitely more convenient than Wal-Mart. Its prints are better-looking and more durable than those from other printers I’ve seen, and they’re at least as good as box-camera photos developed at a lab. If you want a dedicated photo printer and won’t need to print pics larger than 4×6 inches, put PictureMate on your short list.