Epson PictureMate Flash PM 280 printer

Who says you can’t take it with you? Not Epson. Its updated line of wildly popular PictureMate portable photo printers all have handles, and most of them offer optional batteries that allow you to enjoy great-looking prints of photos taken at your nephew’s birthday party right on the spot.

Epson has made quite a few changes to its “personal photo lab” in the last couple of years. The printer’s design is more industrial and boxy, taller, but not as wide as the original (   ). Unfortunately, the consensus regarding this design change—at least around the Macworld office—was less than favorable.

The cost per print has dropped from about 29 cents a print to about 25 cents a print, while the number of inks has dropped from six to four. Luckily, the prints still look great, still dry in an instant, and are still smudge-proof and waterproof. The PictureMate is also still the fastest of the compact photo printers that we’ve tested, including last year’s model (   ). One feature I wish they’d add is the ability to print larger snapshots, say 5-by-7-inch or panoramic prints like the HP Photosmart A716 (   ).

You can connect the PictureMate to your Mac via USB, but most people won’t. Printing directly from your camera or from your camera’s flash memory card is much more convenient. If you do opt to use your Mac, the printer plays well with iPhoto, and memory cards inserted into the PictureMate will mount on your Mac’s desktop for importing. You also get a higher resolution printing option via the print driver, but unlike in the past, the photos didn’t necessarily look any better when using this setting—but they did take longer to print.

The PictureMate Flash has an unusual feature: a built-in CD burner. This clever addition makes easy work of storing your photos. Pushing the Save button on the front of the printer prompts you to insert a CD and choose some or all of the photos from your camera or camera’s memory card that you’d like to save. It will burn multiple sessions until your CD is full. It can also read, but not burn to, DVD media. Disks inserted into the PictureMate aren’t visible on your Mac’s desktop—the way that memory cards are—but CDs burned from the PictureMate will mount and are readable from your Mac’s optical drive.

One annoying thing I found during my testing was that when I tried to print multiple photos, the PictureMate had a tendency to either jam or take two sheets of paper at a time, leaving some ink on the second sheet, and ruining it.

The PictureMate comes in three flavors: Flash PM 280, Snap PM 240, and Pal PM 200. The PictureMate Pal has a smaller LCD than the others (two inches) and costs $150. The $200 PictureMate Snap has a 2.5-inch color LCD, faster print speed, and offers an optional battery pack for $50 that we weren’t able to test.

timed trials

4x6-inch Photo 0:46
Five 4x6-inch Photos 3:49

Scale = Minutes: Seconds

jury test

Color photo quality Very Good

Scale = Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor

specifications

Number of inks 4 inks, 1 cartridge
Cost per 4x6-inch print 25 cents—Glossy Print Pack costs $38 and yields 150 prints.
Connections USB 2.0, Pictbridge USB, CF, xD Picture Card, Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard (MMC), Memory Stick.
Printer resolution 800 x 1200 dpi
Special features Handle, optional battery.

Macworld’s buying advice

Epson’s PictureMate Flash PM 280 isn’t perfect. Its print sizes are limited, there were a few paper jams, and the new industrial design leaves some people cold. But, what it does do, it does very well—which is print the best looking 4-by-6-inch borderless photos of all of the portables we’ve tested, and print them faster as well.

[ James Galbraith is Macworld ’s lab director. ]

Epson PictureMate Flash PM 280

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