There's something appealing about having a portable photo printer to take along on vacations and trips to visit family and friends. You can share the...

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There’s something appealing about having a portable photo printer to take along on vacations and trips to visit family and friends. You can share the pictures you take while everyone’s together, or you can print photo post cards to send.

Alternatively, consider how helpful it might be if your kids had a small, simple-to-use photo printer at home to print the pictures they take.

You may have seen these little printers sitting on store counters next to digital cameras. Recently, I spotted the Olympus Camedia P-10 and the Epson PictureMate printers and decided to try them.

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Olympus Camedia P-10:
The P-10 ($150, Windows only) looks like a 7-inch aluminum cube and prints 3×5 and 4×6-inch pictures.

Setting it up to print directly from any PictBridge compatible camera is easy — just load the Print Pack (with ink cartridge and paper), plug in the power cord, and connect the camera’s USB cable to the printer. Turn on the camera and select Print from the menu.

You may want to review the images in the camera first, and delete any that aren’t good enough to print.

To print from a computer, install the printer driver from the P-10 CD and connect the printer to the computer with a standard Type A-B USB cable (not included).

When I print photos from the My Pictures folder in Windows, the printer occasionally cuts off part of the image when I’ve cropped it on a computer without maintaining the standard 4×6-inch format.

The 4×6 photos print on a satin semi-gloss paper with or without a white border.

Tech specs indicate the printer produces photo lab quality 310 dpi dye-sublimation prints.

The print quality is pretty good — generally as good or better than what I get from the local fast-print outlet.

Similar to other small printers, the P-10 requires a special print pack with an ink cartridge and paper for a specified number of prints. The more sheets per pack, the less it costs per print.

The 100-sheet Print Pack for the P-10 is listed at $65, but can be found online for $39 to $45 from Shopping.com, for example.

Printing with a small printer often is more expensive than using the local print shop or mail-order service, but if you want a quick and easy printing solution without driving or waiting, this works.

Epson PictureMate:
The PictureMate ($199, Mac/Windows) is about the size and shape of a toaster with a handle.

It prints from any PictBridge or USB Direct Print compatible camera, memory card, Bluetooth device (with an optional adapter), or computer.

Setting up and installing a PictureMate is similar to a P-10. Paper in the PictureMate Print Packs is slightly glossier and costs less. The list price for 100 sheets of 4×6-inch paper, for example, is $29 and can be found for a little less online.

If you want to print without connecting to a computer, you can review your images on the camera’s LCD screen, delete the ones you don’t want and print the rest from the camera or memory card (there are slots for most types of cards).

You can also select images to print from the printer’s menu and do some simple edits such as cropping, auto enhancing, dating, and printing in black & while or sepia.

To print from a computer, install the printer driver from the PictureMate CD and connect the printer to the computer with a standard Type A-B USB cable (not included).

My first prints pictured parts of the subject rather than the whole image.

To get the entire image printed (even when cropped to a non-standard size) from a Macintosh with iPhoto, for instance, I go to Print, then Page Attributes and choose Format for: PictureMate; and Paper Size: 4×6 (borders) or (borderless).

Then click on Print, choose Full Page, and click Print. I also click on Advanced Options and under Copies & Pages, Print Settings, check the box beside Quality: Enhance Fine Details.

The printed results look as good or better than what I get from a local processing center.

Comparing the two:
The PictureMate is more versatile and, with its convenient handle, more portable than the Olympus P-10. Picture quality is arguably better on the PictureMate, but neither produces as good results as a photo ink jet printer, in my opinion. Plus, I prefer to print on matte paper rather than glossy.

Cost may be the issue for many consumers. The PictureMate cost per print is around 30 cents while the P-10 per-print cost can be twice that.

Compared to the 19-cent cost per print offered by Shutterfly and Apple online services, for instance, and you see the portable printer’s main advantage is that it can produce prints of your pictures instantly, and it’s easy to take with you.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com; to read other Getting Started columns, go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted