Epson is one of the main manufacturers of photo inkjet printers and its dedicated, small-format PictureMate 500 is interesting not only as a convenient, portable photo lab but also because it prints in six colours, rather than the three colours provided by equivalent HP and Lexmark printers.
Where these small appliance printers are sometimes said to look like toasters, Epson’s looks more like a small loaf of bread and is roughly the same size. A cover at the front folds down to form the output tray while one at the back folds out for input. It takes twenty 6 x 4-inch (15cm x 10cm) blanks at a time and completes a borderless print in under one and a half minutes. This is quite quick, though not quite up to the speed claimed by Epson.
To help you choose which images to print and to navigate the printer’s simple menu system, there’s a good quality 2.4-inch colour LCD screen, with an array of 12 control buttons scattered around it. The right-hand front panel folds down to reveal a set of memory card slots and all the major types are supported, including MicroDrive and xD.
At the back are two further covers, one to conceal the optional £50 battery pack – a pricey extra for true portability – and the other for the six-colour ink cartridge. Epson sells consumables for this printer in a combo pack, with an ink cartridge and enough paper for 135 prints. The price asked gives a cost per print of about 25p including VAT. This is very competitive, even compared with traditional high-street photo prints.
While the three colour print processes used by HP and Lexmark produce high-quality photo prints, the extra colours offered by Epson produced noticeable improvements, particularly in lighter shades. Here the photo-cyan and photo-magenta inks produce brighter and more vibrant colours. Having a true black is similarly good for shots with darker tones.
A couple of minor quirks detract slightly from the PictureMate 500. Loading an image from a PictBridge camera or a memory card initially produces a low-res picture on the LCD, which refines itself only after a second pass. Also, when you click through a set of images using the LCD monitor and then print a single image, the software returns you to the first image in the set, rather than continuing from your previous position. These are irritations rather than major flaws, though, and could be fixed through a firmware update.
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