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.