- Review Price: £170.00
Photo printers, or as Epson chooses to call them, portable photo labs, are popular accessory for the home-based digital photographer. Epson’s new pair of printers, the PictureMate 240 and PictureMate 280 are similar machines, but the more expensive 280 model includes a CD-RW drive, so you can back up your photos from camera or memory card.
Looking like a small cool-box, or perhaps an isotope container, and coloured a silver-grey, the PictureMate 280 has modern, functional styling. The lid, which inexplicably has a small, clear window in it, lifts to become the support for up to 20 sheets of 15 x 10cm photo paper. This loads at the back of the top panel and feeds out to the front, where the drawbridge-like front cover becomes the paper output tray.
With the drawbridge down, you can see two memory card slots, which between them cater for all the main card types, though you’ll need adapters for Mini SD and several of the MemoryStick variants. There’s no PictBridge socket alongside these card slots; for that you have to go to the back of the printer, where it sits next to the USB 2.0 socket. The Pictbridge socket can also take memory drives for direct print.
At the base of the printer, on the right-hand side, is a slot loading CD-RW drive, which can be used with both CD-ROMs, for reading image files into the device, and CD-R/RW discs, for offloading and backing up files from cameras or cards.
The control panel on top includes six big buttons, for major functions like power, saving to CD-RW and starting and cancelling print jobs, and the usual four-way button ring for menu navigation, with an OK button in the middle. Finally, there are two function buttons, which work with changing legends on the display.
You can use the PictureMate 280 straight out of the box, without the need to connect to a PC and there are options for Bluetooth and battery power for extra portability. Mains power is provided by a black brick, so you need to carry this and photo blanks around with you, as well as the printer.
PC software installation is straightforward and Epson provides its Creativity Suite and a couple of minor utilities. It’s all pretty simple stuff so you’ll need a separate photo editor to make any serious changes to your images.
Printing from memory cards is very straightforward. You can preview thumbnails on the LCD screen or print out index sheets, with up to 20 images on each. There’s nothing unusual in printing from a PictBridge camera, but printing from a CD is less commonplace. You slot the disc into the drive and the images are pulled up onto the display, rather quicker than from a memory card. You can view and select images for printing in the same way as from a card.
Writing to a CD-RW disc is as simple as loading both memory card and CD-RW and pressing the Save button. You are given the opportunity to print index sheets for the images on the disc, which is a neat extra.
Epson claims a fastest print speed of 42 seconds, and while we couldn’t achieve this, our fastest time was 48 seconds, which isn’t far off. None of our tests took over a minute, except for saving 10MB of photos to the CD, which still completed in under two. 10MB is typically 10-12, 4-megapixel shots, so you should be able to empty a complete memory card in around 15 minutes.
Print quality on Epson glossy photo paper is very precise, with well-defined edges and natural colours. The printer automatically enhances shots, independent of source – though you can turn this off – and generally, the enhancements are an improvement. In one or two of our test pictures dark areas were a bit over-dark, but this is nit-picking in what are high-quality images.
It couldn’t be much easier to work out the running costs of the PictureMate 280. You can buy either a 50 or 150 print pack, which contains sufficient paper and ink for all your photos. The single, four-colour cartridge slides in at the back and is lever-locked in place. The 150 print pack, which offers better economy than the 50 print one, costs around £27, giving a cost per print of just 18p, which is lower than most rivals.
This is a very convenient, portable photo printer and Epson has worked hard to make it supremely easy to use. It would have been useful to have had the lithium battery included in the package, to make it truly portable, and some way of carrying paper and power supply without a separate bag would also be handy. Even so, print speed is good and print quality is excellent, so there’s little to fault. CD backup is the icing on the cake.
Score in detail
Print Speed 9
Print Quality 9