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PictureMate 500 Small-format Photo Printer – Review

PictureMate 500 Small-format Photo Printer – Review

Professional small-format photos the easy way, with a compact portable photo printer roughly the same size as a loaf of bread and engineered like a nuclear powered toaster! It makes digital photography easy and fun for all the family, even the Windows print driver is comparatively simple. This is practically the swan-song for the once lucrative but frustrating and time consuming commercial photo processing market.

The PictureMate 500 is marketed as a printing accessory for any digital camera, it supports direct printing from PictBridge cameras, popular digital camera technologies and a computer is optional for most printing tasks, however it can not execute complex manipulations, such as red eye reduction.

Slightly more expensive and 40% faster than Epson’s original PictureMate printer, this updated model incorporates portability with the stylish look and well-designed functionality of its forefather with an improved menu system to boot.

It recognises JPEG and uncompressed TIFF files automatically, resolutions ranging from 80 X 80 to 4600 X 4600, printing from a camera, a memory card, directly as a printer or from a camera phone via the optional Bluetooth adapter (RRP £59.99); I just use my own inexpensive adaptor.

The stunning quality really is what makes this a good system, everything else is just very nice, if you want to see any slight vertical banding or ink droplets (flaws found on all inkjet printers) you have to look really closely, but unlike other inkjet-based dedicated photo printers which use a 3 colour process, you get professional small-format photos not just photo sized printouts.

It uses an exclusive archival 6 pigment (cyan, yellow, magenta, black, red, and blue) and hi-gloss Micro Piezo inkjet technology contained within a single-piece cartridge which means the prints are of better quality and last two to four times longer than the leading brands of inkjet based photo printer models.

Borderless 4×6-inch (15cm x 10cm), printing at a resolution of 5,760-by-1,440DPI, takes a little under 90 seconds. The print size is limited to 6x4in and it prints relatively slowly compared to regular inkjet models, but the prints have a rated lifespan of 104-years, as opposed to just 75 years for the standard chemical process offered by commercial developers.

It is controlled by 12 command buttons scattered around a 2.4-inch colour LCD (320×240 pixels), it automatically optimises each photo for colour and quality all of which makes this printer a formidable compact personal photo lab.

As well as a set of defaults, it has a range of fun effects, such as adding one of 16 frames, or printing in black and white or sepia tones. You can also zoom in on, and rotate, a specific area, cropping the rest of the image from your photo.

Its LCD screen is good because it allows simple operation without having to have a PictBridge enhanced camera and being restricted to using the camera’s display, where you either use the camera to control printing or ‘mark’ all the images beforehand from the cameras interface, which I find annoying.

The price per photo rivals traditional high street processing. Prints cost approximately 22p each, this may sound relatively high, but it’s quite reasonable compared to other dedicated photo printers – especially dye-sublimation models.

As a comparison, taking your images to Tesco costs 10p per print, but takes an hour regardless of the number of images. My local Sava-centre charge 35p per print (5-colour process), but this takes about 50 seconds each;

Good points:

1) Competitive and cost effective, water, smudge resistant fade free, durable and professional small-format photographs in minutes at a resolution of up to 5760 dpi. (saturation, skin tones, details all good).

2) The economical and convenient consumable packs contain cartridge and paper for approximately 100 glossy 10x15cm photo prints is sold in a combo pack.

3) The 6 printing pigments are contained within a single-piece cartridge.

4) PictBridge enhanced but does not require any specific technologies except for compatibility with one of the supported storage media formats.

5) Easy to use 3 step printing process with an intuitive interface and an improved navigation structure for the printer’s menu system.

6) Selecting only photos on the storage media based on date of creation.

7) Printing and copying directly to/from CD-R/RW, ZIP disk or Flash media.

8) The ability to automatically print various photo sizes including passport sized photos (I haven’t yet attempted to use this feature in anger, but I see no reason why the passport office should refuse the product – the image is up to you. 🙂

9) The largest possible print size is limited to 6x4in, conversely there are none of the paper handling problems associated with multiple paper sizes.

Bad points:

The only negative comments I have are quite superficial and it should be noted that we computer science students seem to have a genetic propensity for pointless trivialities!

Generic issues:

1) It comes with 20 sheets of photo paper but the ink cartridge prints 100 photos. Because the paper input tray holds 20 sheets, that is all they supply, so buy an Epson PicturePack (Includes Photo Cartridge and 100 photo paper sheets RRP £21.50) or an 10 sheet pack or glossy photo paper (RRP £02.50)!

2) The rechargeable battery is not included (AAP £49.99), I would have paid a bit more if it was. Okay, if this wasn’t being marketed as a portable system then fine it is an option, but it is and have you ever bought a laptop without a battery? I have thus not located a supplier within the United Kingdom that sells the optional battery.

3) No USB cable is included (RRP £2.50), maybe they think its unnecessary, but they do supply the computer drivers and have you ever bought a printer without a data cable? I could understand no batteries but no USB cable?

Hardware issues:

1) Like all photo printers I’ve used, it doesn’t automatically resample images, the relative resolution of a digital photo (ie its total output size) is slightly larger than the photo paper so approximately 1.5 cm around the perimeter of the photo is not printed (note that the area to be removed is indicated by a border when previewing photos individually).

2) Media devices can not be accessed concurrently, not really a bad thing but annoying as I would like to setup a print run from 3 memory cards then walk away for a coffee.

3) Depending on the nature of your photos, the ink cartridge can, under special conditions, only last for a little as about twenty pictures. I regularly get 88-95 prints per cartridge, but I tend to do my photo adjustments with Paint Shop Pro before printing otherwise dark photos

4) The cover protecting the media card slots is slightly adynamic and just not very robust,

5) Unlike the media card slots, there is no cover protecting the EXT/Print and SUB ports, also these ports are quite deeply recessed into the body thus preventing use of less compact flash media drives.

Printing issues:

1) When printing photos, the LCD screen displays the total sheets to be printed and the number remaining, I would like information about the estimated lapse / time remaining. It would also be nice if it displayed the photo being printed as a background for the screen (like it does for the top level menu screen)..

2) Despite any claims by Epson, printing times are variable depending on factors such as ink level, complexity of the job and photo resolution. When printing groups of photos the time taken averages out to about 37 seconds for standard 5 megapixel prints. Printing 4 different Passport size photos takes about 1 minute and 64 seconds and index prints (20 photos per sheet) takes about 1 minute and 5 seconds (not including ink charging time with is about 20 seconds) .

3) The index view does not show how many sheets are required to complete the total job, this is normally 1 per print but in the case of index, passport and double formats this is not true. This information is included when previewing photos individually.

4) This may sound like a strange complaint but, apart from photo enhancement being set to ‘off’ by default, there are no economy or resolution options. You could say it’s a photo printer, so why create ‘bad’ prints? However, I often want to quickly print a ‘throw-away’ photo on cheap paper. You can get economy paper so why waste ink on poor quality paper (and remembering the less ink you use, the quicker the process)?

5) Good computer driver interface, but does not include all the photo effects & options available from the printers interface. Note that the host applications native printing configuration overrides critical orientation, page area and aspect ratio settings which need to be manually adjusted.

6) The preview option of the computer interface does not allow changes to the settings, you can only cancel. Although this isn’t hard, it is slightly annoying if the host application does not save the last used settings so you must then start again from the default settings.

Interaction Issues:

1) Photos are displayed in descending alphabetic order according to the photo file names, thus photos from a camera will seem to be displayed in the order they were taken, but this is totally dependent on the naming conventions of your camera. This can seem quote disorienting with large volumes of photos organised with real file names.

Most often photos are named with a short prefix then an incremental value equal to the total number of photos taken since it was first used.

2) Cropping photos must be done one at a time, ie there is no way to apply cropping to a set of range of photos, annoying as this is often required for groups of photos and is time consuming.

3) when printing photos with frames, they can not be rotated or cropped and there is no preview when printing photos with frames from a media card, as opposed to the 16 default frames where there is. This means the manipulation must be done elsewhere first.

4) After scrolling through a set of photos and then printing a single image, the index preview returns to the first image in the set, not from the previous position, quote disorienting with large volumes of photos.

5) Scrolling through a set of photos can start at the beginning or from the end of the group but the index view could be more efficient if there was a way to ‘skip’ forward and backwards through each set of 9 photos, in addition to scrolling forward and backwards through the photos individually.

6) There is no way to filter photo formats, all JPEG and TIFF images are shown, I would like to select which types are displayed. Also I would like it to identify any ‘unpaintable’ images (ie too big/small/wrong resolution), instead of ignoring them.

Software Issues:

1) The directory structure of the storage media is ignored by the preview and selection displays, ie all photos are grouped together regardless of their physical location within the storage media.

A file explorer type view or some separation between photo sets would be nice. Note that the display can be sorted by date, but that’s not quite helpful enough for a large volume of photos.

2) The date & time stamp, colour, size and position are not configurable, annoying if photos happen to include yellow, orange or red in the botton right area (depending on orientation). There is no format for a 2 digit year and the most compact format is american ie, (ie backwards and full stop (not slash) delimited)

3) Depending on the relative resolution, photo previews are not generated instantly and initially produce a low-res picture on the LCD but refines quickly – not a real issue but this can be time consuming if scrolling through many preview displays looking for a photo.

4) There is no provision to organise or manipulate the images on the storage media, since the directory structure is totally ignored, but I would like the ability to selectively delete groups by date or selected photos and the ability to format the media, indeed this can be done from the camera but that’s not always possible, I often find someone has taken the media reader and the camera is in use.


Even with the above trivialities, the Epson PictureMate 500 (PictureMate Deluxe in the US) is an extraordinary product that anyone can use. RRP approximately £125.35, 256x154x167mm (2.8kg).

I think this is the most affordable, portable photo printer system on the market. Currently I give it 9.9/10 but I would give it 10/10 if Epson would fix the navigation and preview ‘issues’. I admit it is likely that it would not be commercially viable if all the above ‘issues’ were to be addressed; but most could be easily ‘fixed’ by making relatively small alterations to the firmware.

Box Contents:

Epson PictureMate 500 Personal Photo Lab;

Power Cords;

PictureMate Photo Cartridge;

PictureMate Photo Paper – 20 sheets;

User’s Guide Kit: CD-ROM and User’s Manuals;

Main Features:

Light with easy carry handle;

DC and optional lithium-ion battery power;

Optional Blue tooth print adapter;

PictBridge enhanced operation;

Not dependent a PictBridge camera;

PIM & ExifPrint complaint;

Brightness, saturation, sharpness correction;

Photo enhance, rotate, interference control;

Show/Print index prints;

Special Features:

Show/Print by date;

Printing with/without borders;

Printing 2 photos per sheet with/without borders;

Printing black & white, sepia tone (old-fashioned look);

Printing with/without time & Date stamp (orange);

Digital zoom (cropping);

View memory media as a slide show;

Supported storage media formats:

CompactFlash Card;

Memory Stick;

Secure Digital Card;

SmartMedia Card;

xD Picture Card;

Memory Stick Pro;