Epson PictureMate Dash PM 260

Epson's PictureMate Dash PM 260 snapshot printer may look like a glorified lunch box, but it delivers where it counts. It's fast and very easy to use; it prints good-looking photos; and best of all, its consumables are well priced.

The boxy unit's lid protects the LCD and control panel when it's closed; when it's open, it acts as the input tray. Push gently on the front panel to make it fall open as the output tray (and reveal the two media slots for most major formats). A PictBridge-compatible USB port is on the back. The control panel consists mostly of a plastic membrane with flat buttons that are marked with icons and clear, plain-English labels. The centrally located navigation buttons are more traditionally mechanical and also clearly marked. The 5-pound printer has a handle for toting to parties. An optional battery costs $50.

The large (3.6-inch), tiltable LCD makes it easy to view and manipulate photos. Settings and prompts display along the margins of your image. Push the menu button, and you can navigate clearly written options on screen. Along with common layout tools and red-eye reduction, you'll find options for changing color photos to monochrome or sepia tones, and for adding decorations, preset phrases, or dialogue bubbles.

Photos we printed on the PictureMate Dash averaged about 1.5 pages per minute; other snapshot printers we've tested ranged from 0.5 ppm to 1.4 ppm. The Dash's output looked good, too. Although the palette was universally pale, this had the advantage of showing more detail in dark areas. Edges looked slightly short of crisp.

The cost per print is an inexpensive 25 cents (based on the $38 PictureMate Print Pack for 150 4-by-6-inch glossy photos). Epson sells its ink and paper in combination packs and guarantees that the inks will last through the last printed page. The fully self-contained, four-color ink cartridge looks like a big candy bar and fits easily into a rear bay.

The documentation for the PictureMate Dash is excellent. The printed Basics guide covers all the features as well as connecting to a computer. An on-screen guide is also exhaustively detailed.

Macworld's buying advice

The PictureMate Dash offers a lot for the money: high speed, good print quality, and an intuitive interface. Other snapshot printers might be sleeker or yield a more vivid palette, but the PictureMate Dash balances all its attributes well, making it a great overall value.

[Melissa Riofrio is a senior editor for PC World.]

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