Canon's Selphy ES3 snapshot printer is as cute as the similarly shaped (and priced) HP Photosmart A826. Unfortunately, not everything about the Canon Selphy ES3 photo printer is so disarming and friendly.

The Canon Selphy ES3's strong points are its fairly simple control-panel design and its wealth of printing options. A large, 3.5in colour LCD is flanked by a small array of buttons bearing labels that range from obvious ('Menu') to cryptic ('Disp').

Pressing the Canon Selphy ES3's button labeled 'Creative' enables you to scroll through a wide selection of clip art, borders, effects, and layouts for printing your photo. The documentation covering all of these features is helpful and detailed.

The Canon Selphy ES3 uses dye-sublimation technology, as do two other snapshot printers that we've tested recently - the Canon Selphy CP770 and the Sony DPP FP95. Cyan, magenta, and yellow inks, plus a clear coating, are infused in successive sections of a roll of plastic film encased in a cartridge. Each section of ink can be used only once, regardless of how much color the print actually uses.

For the Canon Selphy ES3, wasted ink is just the beginning. The paper cartridge is united with the ink into a disposable module, resulting in even more plastic to discard. At this writing, Canon doesn't have a recycling program in place for its dye-sublimation printers.

One additional problem involves the Canon Selphy ES3's bizarre paper path. Like other dye-sublimation snapshot printers, the Selphy ES3 moves a sheet of paper in and out of the printer multiple times as it deposits layers of ink. But the paper also emerges from the front of the printer and turns 90 degrees before starting on the four passes - yet another invitation to pull it out before it's ready.

Compounding the issues presented by its dubious design, the Canon Selphy ES3 performed disappointingly. In our tests, 4-by-6-inch photos printed in about 76 seconds each - one of the slower times on record - regardless of content. Flesh tones looked pretty good, but other images suffered from a yellowish cast.

OUR VERDICT

Don't let the Canon Selphy ES3's cuteness blind you to its mediocre print quality and wasteful consumables. Families may appreciate its wealth of printing options, but there's not much else to like here.