When I saw the Epson PictureMate, I saw more than a toaster-sized inkjet printer—I saw dollar signs. It looked like the perfect device to produce “instant memory” prints for parties and corporate events. I could shoot images, print directly from the media card, and hand out prints for the party-goers to take home.
But would the prints be archival? PictureMate outputs water- and smudge-resistant 4x6-inch prints with archival six-color pigment inkjet technology. The prints are rated fade-resistant for up to 100 years behind glass, 200 years in an album. An independent study by Wilhelm Imaging Research of 4x6 photo inkjet printer output showed a print life of 104 years (www.wilhelm-research.com). That’s archival enough for most events.
At a cost of 29 cents each by Epson’s calculations, PictureMate prints are comparable in price to lab prints, and half the cost of prints from most 4x6 photo printers. Ink and glossy media for 100 prints are available in PictureMate Print Packs for $29 each. If you’d rather supply the paper, ink cartridges alone are available for $24.49, from MediaStreet.com and other sources.
When time is tight, the photographer might need to print every image he shoots at an event, so Epson’s cost-per-print estimate does not include wastage from printing less than optimal image files. However, you can maximize productivity and profitability by using your camera’s Digital Print Order Feature menu to mark files you don’t want to print, as well as files you want multiples of for group sales. You could edit in-camera, deleting all those shoes or ceiling shots.
How’s the color? PictureMate uses pigmented ink rather than dye-based inks, which generally signals a trade-off of saturated color for longevity. I decided to test this supposition. The test image was the difficult-to-print PhotoDisc PDI Target, which I transferred as a 300-ppi, 4x6-inch JPEG file to a Lexar SD card, then printed on various papers at the PictureMate default settings.
The color was superb on Epson PictureMate paper. The flesh tones were rendered accurately, the colors were bright, and the Macbeth Color Checker reference looked correct. Epson suggests Epson Premium Glossy paper as a substitute medium, and aside from a slight difference in texture, it produced nearly identical results. I got similar results with papers from Adorama, Fuji, and MediaStreet. The biggest surprise was Konica Minolta’s Satin photo paper, which produced the kind of lush E-surface prints photo labs used to deliver. Konica Minolta’s Glossy photo paper produced spectacular results.
PictureMate also produces black and white and sepia prints of similar high quality. It can output wallet-sized prints, two-up on 4x6 paper, even with different images on the same sheet (but you’ll have to do the trimming).
The specs claim per-print speed of 2 minutes, but my print time averaged 2:45 for large JPEG files shot with Olympus E-1 and Canon EOS 20D digital SLRs. Having two or more printers onsite for large events would make sense, and the price makes that feasible (MSRP $199). Two of these devices occupy less space than a desktop printer.
The prints are dry to the touch when then come out of the PictureMate. Even with wet fingers, I couldn’t deliberately smudge the prints on Epson and Konica Minolta papers. You’ll need to check the image quality as you print; as with any inkjet printer, the heads can clog. The menu in the printer’s LCD lets you perform the same kind of head alignment and nozzle check you can do when a printer is attached to a computer. Replacing ink cartridges is simple: Just open a hatch on the back of the PictureMate, throw a switch, pull out the old cartridge, pop in a new one, and keep on printing.
My wife and I used the PictureMate during several holiday parties, and displayed the prints on a table provided by the caterer. I can tell you, this can be a great opportunity to do some marketing. Place your business cards in a holder on the table, along with a sign that says “Instant Memories of XYZ Event from ..." Our table was a busy place, with people stopping by a few times each to pick up their photos and look at others.
I wish the PictureMate held more than 20 sheets of paper in the tray and was a little faster, but the prints looked great and our clients and their guests loved them. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
DPOF (Digital Print Order format) is a standard format that lets digital camera owners define which images are to be printed, together with information about the number of copies. It consists of a set of text files stored in a special directory on the memory card. A consortium that includes Canon, Kodak, Fuji and Panasonic originally defined DPOF. (www.panasonic.co.jp/avc/video/dpof/dpof_110/white_e.htm)
Epson PictureMate Specifications
Printing Technology: Advanced Micro-Piezo, optimized for photo printing
Nozzle Configuration: 90 nozzles x 6
Ink Type: 6-color pigment
Maximum Resolution (dots per inch): 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi
Minimum Ink Droplet Size: 2.5 picoliters
Maximum Printable Area: 4x6 inches
Paper Capacity: 20 sheets
Print Longevity: Print life up to 200 years in photo album conditions. (*See Wilhelm-research.com for test conditions.) Up to 100 years displayed in a glass frame.
Built-in Memory Card Slots: CompactFlash Type I and II, IBM Microdrive; Secure Digital (SD) (mini SD card -optional adapter required) MMC; Memory Stick (including PRO, Duo, MagicGate). With adapters: SmartMedia, xD-Picture Card
Special Features: Print photos with/without a computer; color, black and white or sepia-toned printing; crop and automatically resize, no computer required; Save Photo button for backup to external CD-R, Zip drive or USB Thumb drive
Interface and Connectivity: PictBridge and USB Direct Print-enabled digital cameras; USB connection between printer and computer; USB connection for external CD-R/RW drives; Zip drives (750, 250, & 100MB); Flash memory (USB Thumb drives); Bluetooth (with optional Bluetooth Photo Print adapter)
Supported Digital Camera Technologies: PRINT Image Matching (P.I.M.); Exif Print; Reads Digital Print Order Format (DPOF)
Operating Systems: Mac OS & Microsoft Windows U
Storage: 10x 6x 6.4 inches
Printing: 10x 12x 6.4 inches
Weight: 5.5 pounds
Rated voltage: 120V AC; APC Car Adapter
Warranty: Standard one-year limited warranty in the United States and Canada including Epson Exchange program.