i9950 and Pixma iP8500

Introduction

Canon has released a pair of colour inkjet photo-printers that are similar in technology but target somewhat different markets. The Pixma iP8500 delivers fine-quality prints no larger than letter size.

The i9950 also prints well, and it can produce prints as large as 13-x-19 inches. Spending time with these two printers revealed more similarities than differences in colour quality, but variations in the way they operate will determine which model better suits your needs.

Extra colours
Both printers feature Canon’s ChromaPlus eight-colour ink set, which includes red, green, light cyan, and light magenta (the last two are referred to as photo cyan and photo magenta) in addition to the traditional CMYK print cartridges. These extra colours perform two functions: the light cyan and light magenta help add density to lighter colours so pastels and some flesh tones reproduce more accurately, while the bright red and green inks extend the CMYK gamut, giving bright, saturated primary colours more punch.

The ChromaPlus inks deliver some of the brightest colours on the market. And while both of these printers excel in reproducing vivid primary colours, subtle pastels are also well represented. Greyscale images have a warm, slightly sepia cast. Although this is aesthetically pleasing, it’s difficult to get a completely neutral black-&-white print with these inks.

The Pixma iP8500 and the i9950 use identical ink cartridges and print heads, and have an extremely small drop size – 2 picoliters. Maximum resolution is 2,400-x-4,800dpi, and the resolution is chosen in the print driver according to the media and quality setting being used. If your digital camera supports the PictBridge or Bubble Jet Direct standard, you can print directly from the camera without a computer. However, this means that you’re relying on the camera’s colour accuracy alone. Generally, a few adjustments in an image-editing program will enhance print quality.

Pigment vs dye
Unlike Epson, which went with a pigment ink set – for archival permanence – with its UltraChrome inks, Canon has gone the dye route with its ChromaPlus inks. While dye-based inks always lay down a bit more smoothly on paper than pigmented inks, they’re much less permanent than the 100-year archival standard. Their shorter life span is fine for most consumer purposes, but keep this in mind if you have fine-art aspirations.

Setup for both printers is straightforward: just install the driver, align the print head, enter the correct values in the setup menu, and you’re ready to print. In tests, both printers achieved the same speed when printing a 22MB 8-x-10-inch reference print, taking 1 minute and 18 seconds to print via the USB 2.0 port. When printing via the USB 1.0 port, speeds dropped substantially, to 1 minute and 56 seconds.

Via the i9950’s FireWire port, printing was no faster or slower than it was using the USB 2.0 connection. A 4-x-6-inch borderless colour print took 19 seconds to print with USB 2.0 and FireWire, and 26 seconds with USB 1.0. But you’ll hardly notice this breakneck pace, as both printers run quietly.

As expected, the printers displayed identical colour balance on Canon’s Photo Paper Pro, which was a tad cyan and blue in the light areas of the test print and had a somewhat cool overall balance. With a minor correction in the print driver, I was able to achieve a neutral balance – prepare to spend a little time to get the look you want. Surprisingly, I got a slightly more neutral print with the standard settings using Konica Minolta’s Professional Photo Glossy paper.

Sibling differences
The iP8500 is part of Canon’s new Pixma series, which emphasizes appearance, and is aimed at the SOHO market. With all its doors shut, it looks more like a piece of home-theatre gear than a printer, but its design helps keep dust and dirt out of the unit when it’s not in use.

In addition to the standard top-loading paper slot, a paper cassette underneath the printer lets you load additional sheets or perform double-sided printing on Canon-approved paper. You can print text in duplex mode on bond paper, and perform manual duplexing with either of the paper trays.

With its more traditional style, the i9950 has one top-loading paper tray, and it took only 2 minutes and 49 seconds to produce a 13-x-19-inch borderless print at the highest-quality setting. This is impressive.

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