Canon i9900 Photo Printer: Fast, Affordable, Great Quality
In the interest of full disclosure I must admit that, when it comes to photo printing, I have been a devout Epson chauvinist. Yes, down through the years, there have been some very nice photo printers from other vendors, but overall, Epson has always had an edge in terms of quality, longevity, and overall value. Therefore, after several months of using Canon's new i9900 Photo Printer, I'm surprised to say that not only am I satisfied with my prints, I'm a bit relieved to be rid of some perpetual Epson hassles (more on that anon).
The i9900 is a $500 photo printer that can print up to 13-x-19 inch borderless prints. Packing a new 8-color print system, the i9900 offers exceptional print quality at amazing speeds. Although it lacks an Ethernet port for networking, the printer comes standard with both Firewire and USB-2 ports, as well as a front-mounted USB port that makes for easy use of Canon's PictBridge direct-printing technology. If you need, Prior to the i9900 the generally accepted choice for 13-x-19 inch printing has been Epson's Stylus Color 2200. Canon's i9900 makes that choice far less simple.
Big Prints, Small Footprint
The i9900 is a curvy, attractive printer styled in smoky gray tones (see Figure 1). Although it supports paper up to 13 inches wide, the printer itself is fairly small when compared to other 13-x-19-inch printers. At 23 x 14 x 7 inches, the i9900 fits easily on even a fairly shallow shelf. Paper loads from the top, so you don't need a lot of space behind the printer. Setup is very simple and you should be able to have the printer installed and printing in less than 10 minutes.
Figure 1: The i9900 packs a lot of printing in a small package.
Although the printer sports both USB-2 and Firewire ports, we had more luck with the USB-2 port on our OS X-based Macintosh. Given the speed of USB-2, there's no real advantage to using one or the other. As seems to be the norm these days, no cables are included with the printer.
The i9900 does not provide any kind of roll-feed mechanism, so if you prefer roll-fed media to sheet-fed papers, you're out of luck with this printer. Having never been a fan of the curly prints produced by roll feed papers, I didn't miss this feature.
The i9900 ships with an assortment of Mac and Windows software including a driver disk, Canon's Easy-PhotoPrint Plus printing software, PhotoStitch for panoramic stitching, and some other utilities.
Because the printer supports PictBridge, you can print directly from any PictBridge-enabled camera. Just plug the camera into the front of the printer using a standard USB cable, and then use your camera's menu system to select and print an image. Most cameras are not capable of outputting data at high speeds, so direct printing is drastically slower than what you can do from your computer. Nevertheless, if you're in an environment where having a computer is not possible or practical, or if you want to take some snapshots and crank out uncorrected prints, PictBridge is perfectly functional.
Eight Inky Dinks
Most photo printers use a six-color system that augments the usual cyan, magenta, yellow and black cartridges with additional cyan and magenta inks. The i9900, on the other hand, uses an 8-color system that also adds red and green inks. These additional inks allow for a boost in the orange/red and green gamuts of the printer. Canon claims a 60 percent increase in the orange/red gamut over a normal 6-color system, and a 30 percent increase in the green gamut.
Each ink is stored in a separate cartridge, making for more efficient ink replacement. What's more, Canon's cartridges are transparent so it's very easy to see if a cartridge is truly out of ink. Ink setup is very simple and not really any different than what you'll find with any other ink jet printer.
Although the cartridges are very small, I was very pleased with their longevity. I got a good number of prints of various sizes out of a single set of cartridges. After print quality and speed, the most impressive feature of the i9900 was the cartridge durability. I have never had an Epson printer whose ink cartridges didn't suffer if left sitting for too long. Whether powered up or down, my experience with Epson printers is that if you don't use the printer for a few weeks, you'll face repeated cleaning cycles when you finally do get back to printing. Cleaning cycles use ink, of course, so this is more than just a time-waster -- it's an expensive time-waster. On some Epson printers, I've actually had to throw away half-used cartridges, simply because they hadn't been printed with recently.
The i9900 doesn't seem to have any of these problems. In several months of printing I did not have once instance of a cleaning need. In the middle of the review cycle, I had to leave town for 6 weeks. Upon returning I was able to spit out prints without needing a single cleaning cycle. After years of Epson ink hassles, this is a huge relief.
Image quality is what really counts, of course, but speed is certainly a nice luxury and the i9900 is startlingly fast. When printing from Adobe Photoshop, the i9900 performed almost exactly as Canon claims: 4-x-6-inch borderless prints in about 38 seconds; 5-x-7-inch borderless prints in 45 seconds; letter-size borderless prints in about a minute-and-a-half; and 13-x-19-inch borderless in about 3 minutes.
Bordered printing is faster, and print speeds vary depending on settings, of course. But overall I can easily say that this is the fastest photo printer I've ever seen. It's also very quiet, even when handling large media.
Canon has doubled the resolution of its previous generation of photo printers, boosting the i9900 up to 4800 x 2400 dpi with 2 picoliter droplets. Whether it's the result of the small droplet size, the additional photo hues, or a combination of both, the i9000 can reproduce extremely fine detail.
Print quality is simply outstanding. Canon's gamut claims seem to be true, with the i9900 delivering richer tones overall than 6-color Canon printers. Greens fare especially well. When compared to Canon's current generation of 6-color printers, it's easy to see that the 9900 can handle a full variety of green tones with much greater aplomb than the company's other print engines.
The i9900's colors are very vivid with a pleasing brightness that the Epson pigment-based inks can't match. Getting punchy, saturated images out of this printer is very easy.
Although the i9900 lacks an additional black cartridge, it does an excellent job with grayscale prints, producing images that are truly gray, with no discernible color casts. What's more, the printer does not suffer from the metamerism or bronzing effects that can be a problem on the Epson 2200.
Epson makes very extravagant claims about the longevity of their prints. While these claims can be debated and tested, Canon claims are not as bold. Although longevity testing has yet to be completed, Canon says they're trying for the durability of a silver-halide print, and they feel confident that the i9900 inks are very sturdy.
I printed out a series of prints on different media and left them in direct sunlight for several weeks and could not see any discernible color shift (granted, this being San Francisco, it wasn't direct sunlight every day, but there was a lot). Overall, archival quality does not seem to be an issue with this printer.
If the i9900 has a weak spot, it's media selection. Canon produces some beautiful papers, including a matte photo paper, a glossy photo paper, and a luster paper that is especially nice. Unfortunately, not all of these papers are available in the 13-x-19-inch formats. With no watercolor paper, canvas, or other specialized media, the i9900 definitely offers fewer output choices than Epson's printers. Canon claims it's working on media selection, but for the printing needs of most users, the current media assortment will be fine.
If you're looking to output photos larger than 8 x 10 inches, then this is the printer to choose. Offering better quality and faster print speeds than the Epson 2200, the Canon i9900 is truly a great buy.
Read more by Ben Long.