Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Epson PictureMate Portable Photo Printer

A funny thing happened when we all switched to digital cameras: we forgot to order prints. In the old days you just dropped off your rolls of film at the photo lab and then had a stack of shots to pass around, send to the relatives, and plop into a scrapbook. Now we have more photos, better photos, and a less bulky way to store them, but they're all just bits and bytes that seldom make it into our physical world. We either have to upload them to an online service or fiddle with special paper and settings on a good computer printer to get real photos we can hold in our hands.

Enter the Epson PictureMate Dash printer, which turns the printing chore into something convenient and dead simple. It cranks out amazingly good photos from a variety of media and is barely bigger than a lunchbox. You could easily take this along on a road trip and print out family reunion photos right there on the spot.

The set-up instructions were excellent with a "Start Here" flyer just giving me the basics, then a clear, well-written manual explaining how each function works once it's set up and ready. With the basic PM260 model I tested, you can print photos from a memory card, direct from your camera, from a computer, from a Bluetooth device, or from a USB drive. With the larger PM290 model, there's a CD drive for printing from a disc or saving to a disc.

The only bug I encountered was an inability to print proper photos from the imaging program already on my computer (Ifranview). I got extra white space down the side. I had to install Epson's software that came with the printer, then everything went swimmingly. The photos are crisp, clear, and exactly like what I was seeing on my screen. There's a basic built-in editor on the printer itself too, so in several cases I was able to crop or zoom before printing and improve the image before it printed. Photos took less than 40 seconds each to print and came out dry, ready to hold.

I would advise buying an extra pack of paper and ink when you order this though: the print pack that comes with the machine only allowed 23 prints in my test before running out. (The "low ink" warning started at 19 prints). That will cost you close to $40 for 150 prints. As with any of these photo printers, you're going to spend more per print than you would if you just ordered from Kodak Gallery or Shutterfly, but you get instant gratification and the ability to adjust on the fly. I printed out lots of family pics and vacation pics for the relatives and am in their good graces again. Now if I could just remember to back up my hard drive for the rest...

Overall, this is a convenient, well-designed printer that does one job exceptionally well: the printing of quality 4X6 photos. Epson's photo prints are reputed to last 96 years in a frame or 200 years in an album. It's got lots of cool features a techie would love, but it's easy enough for Grandma to figure out on her own. At a retail price of only $99, this item is highly recommended.

Get the Epson PictureMate Dash at Amazon

Visit the Epson PictureMate site

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