The photographic industry has been banging its head against a brick wall since digital photography reared its head in 1995 when Casio launched the first consumer digital camera. How to ensure the mass market consumer prints digital pictures with ease. In 1995 Casio also introduced a compact printer and, although fairly revolutionary, it wasn't very good. Since then we've had all kinds of products and incentives to make digital photography easy, including in store kiosks, online options and many more home printing options, but none quite so simple as the Epson PictureMate.
This 5760x1440dpi printer takes what Casio started, and Canon, Fuji and Sony followed with, and rounds it off to be the simplest method of getting photos out of your camera. The upright squat design, with rounded corners makes it look like a compact portable CD player - it even has a handle to carry it like one.
Most of us take digital photos and then either don't know what to do with the pictures stored and ditch the camera in favour of the old film favourite or we fill our computer hard disk with files we can't be bothered to print because of we don't want an A4 size or struggle with the technology. Several printers helped remove the computer from the equation but the PictureMate, with its built-in card reader and simple loading ink cartridge pack makes printing 4x6prints the easiest yet. The out of box experience takes moments to set up. I'd go as far as saying this is the first printer to be introduced that really doesn't need instructions, or at least just the provided simple set up sheet is enough.
You plug it into the mains, slot the ink pack in, drop a handful of paper into the tray and once the printer is charged (about 3 to 4 mins) you're ready. As soon as you then insert a memory card (it accepts Memory Stick, SmartMedia, xD, MultiMedia/SD and CompactFlash) it asks if you want an index print. If you select yes it takes about 3 mins to rattle of a print with 20 thumbnails photos, each numbered with the original camera created file name and a number from 1 upwards. You then choose the ones you want on the printer's LCD, selecting the corresponding numbers from the index print and the number of copies you want to print. Click okay and the printer goes into action. It's not exactly quick. It took me about 45mins to run off 20 prints but the quality is very good. Most viewers wouldn't know they weren't lab prints. And the best thing is you can leave the printer running your photos off while you go and do something more interesting.
When you become more familiar with the machine and maybe a browse of the more in depth instructions you'll find options to print border or borderless prints or two to a sheet. There's an option to print in black & white or Sepia and a zoom mode that magnifies the centre are by 1.2x or 1.5x. You can add a date or time too.
The printer complies with the latest Print Image Matching (PIM) taking info from the camera's EXIF data stored with the file and adjusting quality to suit how the photograph was captured by the camera. It also accepts data stored as Digital Print Order Format (DPOF) which automatically prints certain files and quantities pre-selected in camera.
The PictureMate can also be used as a direct camera printer using the USB socket and external devices can be used such as the latest portable storage devices like the Archos AV400.
Epson claim the PictureMate's ink gives you photos that will last for over 100 years...that's a bold claim we don't have the facility to test but they have had independent tests done by Wilhelm Imaging Research to verify this.
I printed off 20 family snaps of varying levels of contrast and from different cameras, ranging from point & shoot to digital SLR loaded on a CompactFlash card. It delivered a good set of photos. Colours are good sharpness is good and contrast is good. Blacks look rich highlights sparkle and generally the results are impressive and live up to Epson's claims of "bright colours". The only thing I don't like is the slight etch effect seen if you angle the print in the light. You can't see this when viewing full on so it's not a major concern. Also in borderless mode my prints have a very slight white strip in each corner where the paper hasn't gone through perfectly straight so a 1mm band has appeared.
The PictureMate certainly won't take up much space in the house, it's very easy to use and picture quality is good. The estimated price of 29p per print makes it affordable and inline with the high street printers but sending away can get you a print for as low as 16p if you can be bothered with the additional hassle. What's really good about this is that it does address the print output problem we all face. I now have prints I would not have got round to printing if I'd had to use my A4 loaded with 4x6 paper or resort to an online processing option. We take so many photos and often can't be bothered to go the next step and get the off screen. with the PictureMate it's definitely an easier process. If you want convenience and don't need bigger than 4x6cm prints it's well worth considering.
10 x 15cm
|Ink printing system
||6-colour high gloss pigment
||Up to 5760* x 1440dpi
*optimised dpi on suitable media using RPM (Resolution Performance Management)
||114 seconds (10x15cm photo - standalone mode with borders)
||20 sheets of 10 x 15cm Epson PictureMate Photo Paper
||Direct Print: PictBridge and USB DIRECT-PRINT supported
Memory Cards: CompactFlash® (I&II), xD-Picture Card, SmartMedia, SD Memory Card, MultiMediaCard, Magic Gate Memory Stick, Memory Stick®, Memory Stick PRO, IBM Microdrive. Adapter required for Mini SD Card and Memory Stick Duo.
Wireless Print: Bluetooth® (optional adapter required)
Direct Save: To compatible external CD-R and Zip® Drives
||Epson PicturePack T5570, includes 1 Epson PictureMate PhotoCartridge and 100 sheets of Epson PictureMate Photo Paper)
||Standard (WxDxH) 256 x 154 x 163mm
Operational (WxDxH) 256 x 305 x 163mm
||Microsoft Windows 98/Me/2000/XP and Macintosh
Colour Matching: Epson Colour Management System included in Microsoft Windows and Macintosh drivers: Microsoft Windows 98/Me/2000/XP ICM, sRGB (Microsoft Windows 98/Me/2000/XP), Apple ColorSync 2.0 compatible
||USB 1.1 Type-B interface for PC and Mac connections