SLIDESHOW

The Best Snapshot Printers

With one of these compact, dedicated photo printers, you can print pictures directly from your camera or a memory card.

The Best Snapshot Printers

If your printing needs are limited mostly to photographs, a dedicated snapshot printer might be perfect for you. Compact and lightweight snapshot printers hook up easily to your camera, or read from your media card, to print photographs on the spot, no PC required (though they can still print from a computer). Printing pictures on one of these models is cost-effective, and a great deal if you want to output a lot of snapshots. Usually such printers generate 4-by-6-inch prints, though some offer other paper-size options.

Here's a look at the best snapshot printers, as ranked on our latest Top 5 chart.

For more information on selecting a photo printer, see:

* Top 5 Snapshot Printers

* Snapshot Photo Printers (video)

* Shopping for a Photo Printer

* Photo Printers Buying Guide

#1 Epson PictureMate Show

The Epson PictureMate Show is both a snapshot printer and a digital picture frame. Getting two products in one makes the relatively high price ($300 as of January 15, 2010) more palatable. Insert a memory card (CompactFlash, Memory Stick, SD Card, XD-Picture Card) or thumb drive, or upload photos to the 270MB of internal memory, and the printer can display them on its 7-inch color LCD. You can apply any of a dozen slideshow formats, too.

You can also print, of course, and this model does a great job. In our tests it printed color photos as fast as 1.4 pages per minute, with natural fleshtones and vivid landscapes; black-and-white photos showed smooth grayscales.

Epson includes a 20-print cartridge and 20 sheets of paper with the printer. A replacement pack containing a 150-print cartridge and 150 sheets of paper costs $38, which works out to about 25 cents per print--very economical. We wish that the PictureMate Show could print on photo-paper sizes other than 4 by 6 inches. That limitation aside, it's a standout in this printer category.

#2 Canon Selphy CP790

The Canon Selphy CP790, $150 as of December 11, 2009, sports an unusual bucket design: The printer is the lid, and the bucket itself holds accessories and supplies. A 3-inch color LCD sits above five control buttons. The device also has three media-card readers and a PictBridge port for printing pictures (as well as a PC connection). A USB cable, rechargeable battery pack ($80), and Bluetooth adapter ($50) are not included.

The Selphy CP790 prints postcard-size prints (and credit-card-size prints) in about a minute, with good quality (though landscape shots in our tests were too yellow and lacked detail). The printer comes with a five-print starter kit (postcard-size); a 108-sheet replacement kit costs $35 (32 cents per print). A 36-print replacement pack is a bit pricier at $15 (41.6 cents per print).

#3 Epson PictureMate Charm

The Epson PictureMate Charm, $140 as of December 11, 2009, is easy to work with and uses cheaper ink and paper than similarly priced models (such as the HP Photosmart A646). The Charm has a 20-sheet input tray for 4-by-6-inch prints; two media slots for CompactFlash, Memory Stick, SD Card, and XD-Picture Card; and a PictBridge option. Bluetooth is an extra $39. On the Charm you'll find a 2.5-inch color LCD with eight labeled buttons, and the Stop/Clear button takes care of all cancel/back functions.

The PictureMate Charm takes from 54 to 70 seconds to print a 4-by-6-inch photo, but the picture quality is great: Flesh tones appear normal, fast-motion and landscape shots look good, and lights and darks are balanced. The printer comes with a 20-image starter ink cartridge; 150-photo ink-and-paper packs cost $38 (25 cents per photo).

#4 HP Photosmart A646

The HP Photosmart A646, $99 as of December 11, 2009, accepts three paper sizes (most snapshot printers accept only one): 4 by 6 inches, 4 by 12 inches (panoramic), and 5 by 7 inches. It also features a 3.45-inch touchscreen LCD for photo enhancements (including borders, clip art, and filters) and menu navigation. The compact printer has two media slots for Memory Stick, SD Card, and XD-Picture Card, as well as a PictBridge port and Bluetooth support. Though the printer is portable, it lacks an optional battery pack.

The Photosmart A646 is easy to use (with a built-in driver--no CD!), and it prints 4-by-6-inch photos in less than a minute. The image quality is good: In our tests, colors were bright and well balanced (although flesh tones were orangey), and images showed a nice level of detail. The ink is a bit pricey: A 50-photo ink cartridge costs $24 (48 cents per print, without paper), but the 140-sheet paper-and-ink combo pack is better at $47 (32 cents per print, with paper).

#5 Canon Selphy CP780

The Canon Selphy CP780 has a very low purchase price ($99 as of January 28, 2010) and a simple design, making it a good choice for light home use. It offers a 2.5-inch color LCD and intuitively labeled buttons, plus three media slots (for CompactFlash, SD Card, MultiMediaCard, and Memory Stick) and a PictBridge port. The front-loading cassette holds up to 54 sheets of 4-by-8-inch photo paper; to print on 4-by-6-inch paper, you must push the stack to the front of the tray.

Its dye-sublimation technology transfers layers of cyan, magenta, and yellow dye from a roll of film onto photo paper, finishing with a clear-coat layer. Once a photo is printed, that section of film cannot be reused, regardless of how much dye is left. Photos cost a pricey 33 cents each. And because completing a single photo requires four passes, the Selphy CP780 prints slowly, taking about 75 seconds on average (0.8 pages per minute) to finish a 4-by-6-inch snapshot.

Photo quality varies. In our tests, photos of people and objects were a little light-colored but reasonably detailed. On the other hand, a mountain landscape appeared pale and unrealistic, like a bad 1950s postcard.

For more information on selecting a photo printer, see:

* Top 5 Snapshot Printers

* Snapshot Photo Printers (video)

* Shopping for a Photo Printer

* Photo Printers Buying Guide