Epson PictureMate

29 Jul 2004

Product: Photo printer
Price: €230

When I first agreed to review the Epson PictureMate, in my innocence I thought it was a digital camera. The box the PictureMate digital photo printer arrived in looked more like one of those combo radio/CD players that would grace most kitchens, offices and teenagers’ bedrooms.

With the advent of digital photography I immediately saw the merits of self-editing and not having to spend hard-earned cash on rolls of film. The advent of camera phones has resulted in people everywhere being able to spontaneously capture special moments or historical events and in many ways is leading to an interesting renaissance in photography. I know a journalist based in Moscow who is orchestrating an exhibition of pictures taken on camera phones from around the world. He’s still waiting for my pictures of Dublin.

When I popped in the ink cartridge and switched the printer on it was with an 8MB SD memory expansion card from a Sharp GX30 phone that I decided to test the photo printer with. The photo printer can produce digital pictures from cameras or PCs through a variety of means, including a USB port, SD memory cards, Compact Flash type I and type II, SmartMedia, Secure Digital, xD and Microdrive. Within minutes of switching it on I had already printed off a few high-quality glossy shots.

The best way to get started is to print off an index of shots from the memory card/camera you are using and choose what you want. Unfortunately, the machine doesn’t allow you to pick photos from a screen on top, but it nonetheless follows specific and easy-to-use commands.

The PictureMate is a serious piece of kit if you want fast and reliable production of 10x15cm glossy photos in less than 45 seconds. Epson claims that prints from the PictureMate are superior to lab prints and quotes research from Wilhelm Research Laboratory.

It claims that they resist fading about two to four times longer than the leading brands of photo lab prints and up to 20 times longer than competing photo printers. The photos are also supposed to resist fading for up to 100 years if displayed in a frame and are also water, smudge and fingerprint resistant.

In terms of photographic output, users can enjoy up to 5,760 dot per inch print resolution. Using the PictureMate’s photo wizard, users can print shots with or without borders; print in colour, black and white or sepia tones and can also print the shots in a variety of shapes and sizes.

The device can be connected to a PC or Macintosh but it is primarily a device that is more of an extension of a digital camera or a camera-enabled mobile phone. The device comes with an optional Bluetooth adapter for printing wirelessly from mobile phones or other mobile devices such as PDAs or laptops.

One of the primary drawbacks for people using photo printers is the excessive cost of consumables such as printer cartridges and photo paper. However, Epson is aiming to get around this problem by introducing its innovative €45 PicturePack, which includes paper and cartridge and is claimed to reduce the cost of printing photos to 43 cent per photo.

The Epson PictureMate has a provisional introductory price of €230 including Vat and comes with a one year warranty. The device will retail in most good computer stores, including Compustore and PC World.

Overall, it is an impressive and easy-to-use piece of kit that focuses on reducing the economies of scale and advancing the flexibility of personal printing. Expect such devices to grace more and more homes and offices in the months and years ahead.

By John Kennedy