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Canon i900D Photo Printer Review

by Bob Atkins, 2003


Introduction

The i900D was introduced by Canon in September 2003 and I first saw one in action at the Photo Plus Expo show in New York in October. Canon kindly loaned  a sample to photo.net for review and this article is the result. Rather than run the printer though a series of lab test and describe every option and every software screen, I though a better way to review it was to actually use it in the same way a typical purchaser might. Is it easy to assemble? Is the software easy to install and use? Does it make good prints? How long does the ink last? Finally of course, are there any problems or things that have been left out that shouldn't have been. Read on and I'll try to answer these questions.

Canon i900D Technical Specifications

A full listing of all the technical specifications can be found on the specs page. You can also download copies of the printer manuals in PDF format directly from Canon if you want a full technical description of all hardware and software options.

Briefly here are the major features:

  • Photo printer using 6 ink system
  • Inks individually replaceable
  • User replaceable print head
  • Built in memory card reader and LCD screen
  • Printing directly from memory card
  • Printing directly from compatible digital cameras
  • Borderless printing option

Setup

To properly test setup I tried the method most likely used by the average consumer. Dive into the box and start putting things together. Only read the instructions as a last resort. Turns out mechanical assembly of the printer was quite simple. After removing several hundred (well, maybe a dozen) strips of orange tape holding parts in place all that was required was first to open the package containing the print head assembly, insert it into the printer and lock it into place. Simple. Then open each one of the 6 ink cartridge packets and snap each one into its correct slot (all of which are labeled). The only thing here is to make really sure you put the right color ink in the designated (and clearly labeled) slot. If you put your yellow ink in the magenta slot, your prints will look very strange, and it will take you forever to flush the incorrect color ink out of the system.

The only other assembly required is to attach the 4x6 paper holder to the printer if you want to load 4x6 paper at the same time as 8.5x11 paper . Takes 5 seconds as it more or less just drops in place.

At this point you can plug the printer in, load some paper, stick a memory card in the slot and make a print! No PC or camera required. There's a small (2") LCD to tell you what to do (though reading the instruction manual isn't a bad idea). You can select an image, select a paper size, crop if necessary, chose from a few printing options and make your print.

I installed the supplied software on a PC running Windows XP. The most important thing here is that you need to install the software BEFORE you attach the printer. If you don't, XP will recognize new hardware and attempt to install it's own drivers for what it thinks you've just attached. This should be avoided. All you need to do is first load the software CD and follow the instructions to load the printer driver and the memory card driver. When that's all done, THEN you can attach the printer, XP will recognize new hardware and it will use the Canon drivers which you have just loaded to control it.

There were no bugs during installation. Everything went along as the manual indicated it should.

Memory card reader

The i900D has a built in memory card reader that can either be used to transfer data to a PC via the USB link, or the printer can directly print images which are stored on the card. It's compatible with Compact Flash, Microdrives, Smart Media, SD cards and Multimedia cards. Direct printing from the card supports JPEG (DCF/CIFF/EXIF 2.3 or earlier /JFIF), TIFF (EXIF compliant) and DPOF compliant. It does not support Canon RAW files, these have to be externally converted to JPEG or TIFF before they can be printed.

Time to transfer 30 files (94MB) from a Viking 512MB CF (speed not specified) card in the i900D to an HP Pavilion a230n (AMD 2800+) was 150s, giving a transfer speed of 626 kBytes/s. For comparison, the built in card reader in the a230n (which is USB connected also) took 90s for the same transfer, a speed of 1.04 MBytes/s. These numbers no doubt reflect limitations due to the maximum read speed of the CF card rather than the USB maximum data transfer rate. The USB interface itself if 2.0, theoretically capable of up to 400 megabits/s data transfer.

If you don't already have a memory card reader, this is a useful function. Normally it's far more convenient than having to connect your camera to a PC to download images, so this is a positive feature of the i900D.

i900D vs i960

The i900D and i960 are very similar printers. The main difference is in print speed and the presence of the memory card reader.

The i900D has a built in memory card reader which allows you to make prints directly from a memory card, or to transfer the contents of the memory card to a PC. The i960 on the other had lacks the memory card feature, but makes up for it with twice the print speed due a a larger print head. If you don't think you'll ever use the memory card functions of the i900D, then the i960 looks like a better buy. Not only is it faster, but it seems to sell on the street for around $40 less then the i900D.

The Inks and the Print Head

The i900D uses six inks. The usual black, yellow, magenta and cyan, plus photo magenta (light magenta) and photo cyan (light cyan). This is the normal six ink color set used by other printer manufacturers such as Epson. The i900D has a separate cartridge for each ink, so you only need to replace one color at a time. On some other printers the color inks come combined in one cartridge, so if, for example, the magenta ink runs out, you have to replace ALL the inks, even if there is ink of the other colors left. Another nice feature is that the ink cartridges are transparent! So you don't have to wonder if the "low ink" warning is lying to you just to make you buy more ink. You can take out the cartridge and actually see how much ink is left. The ink monitoring is done optically and is supposed to give a warning when less than 20% of the ink is left. This is preferable to a system which counts the number of times the head operates and calculates how much ink should be left in the tank. The ink cartridges are dumb. They contain no chips which monitor usage and prevent you from refilling them. That's your decision. Again a plus for Canon.

One minor problem is that the ink level shown on the printer monitor screen is either full or "empty" (see below). The software doesn't know what the ink level is until it drops to the point where the optical sensor detects that it's low. This isn't really a problem since you can just take out the ink cartridge and look how much ink is left, but it could be confusing if you don't realize what's going on.

Canon I900D photo printer - ink
This is the display when the photo-cyan, photo-magenta and yellow inks were less than 1/2 full

You can see from the image below that different inks are used up at different rates. These images were made after printing quite a few (40-50?) 4x6 color prints. The black, cyan and magenta ink levels looked higher than that shown in these images, in fact they looked almost full. In these images the liquid ink reservoir tank is on the right. The left section of the cartridge, which is directly above the port which supplies ink to the printhead, consists of what appears to be a sponge-like material which fills with ink from the reservoir section.

Canon I900D photo printer - ink

Canon ink cartridges sell for around $11.50 each. I've seen 3rd party inks for as low as $3.50 for a single cartridge, or $15 for a set of all 6 colors. Using 3rd party ink can be risky. You may not get the same colors, and even if you do they may fade much more rapidly than the Canon inks. There's also a chance they may clog the print head....however...the Canon printhead is user replaceable. In fact if you remember the assembly I wrote about, you actually install the print head yourself while setting up the printer. So if it ever clogs and you can't unclog it using cleaning cycles, it can be replaced. Not all printers are like this. Epson printers for example require a trip back to the factory for head replacement.

Ink Usage

It's always difficult to say how much ink is used to make a print. Obviously it depends on whether you are making borderless prints of a black cat at night (lots of ink) or a bordered prints of polar bear on snow (not so much ink) and, to a smaller extent, which type of paper you are using. All I can do is give you an estimate of my ink usage printing typical photographic images, most with small borders on Photo Plus glossy paper.

After printing approximately the equivalent of 100 4x6 prints (assuming one 8.5x11 print = four 4x6 prints) I measured the following ink consumption (the ink cartridges are transparent so you can see how much ink you have used!)

Cartridge Ink consumed Cost (@$11.50/cartridge)
Cyan 54% $6.21
Photo Cyan <5% $0.58
Yellow 57% $6.56
Magenta <5% $0.58
Photo Magenta 86% $9.89
Black 14% $1.61
Total = $25.43

Note here that the ink usage is based on the amount of ink left in the transparent ink tank and does not take into account any ink that is contained in the "sponge" filled half of the cartridge. So these numbers are a conservative estimate.

Even when the liquid ink tank runs dry, there will still be some ink held in the "sponge" section, but I don't know exactly how long that would last in terms of the number of prints you can make. I'd guess I've made perhaps 10-15 4x6 prints since the printer started to tell me that the photo-magenta cartridge was empty. Though the clear ink tank is totally empty (and has been for some time), the sponge filled side still looks about 1/3 full of ink! I'm sure it will eventually run out, but it's hanging in there pretty well at the moment.

So, based on my experience, the cost of ink per 4x6 print is somewhere around 25 cents if you buy genuine Canon ink at a typical cost of $11.50 per cartridge, maybe a few cents less if you run the cartridge until it's totally dry.  If you buy the cheapest ink you can find (which I do not recommend), the cost would drop to less than 8 cents/print - but the colors may not be as good and the prints will almost certainly fade faster. If you refilled the ink cartridges with the cheapest ink you could find you could print even more cheaply, but again there are potential problems in terms of stability and image quality.

This analysis also makes it really clear that having individual ink cartridges is a really good idea for this printer! The photo magenta ink is 85% gone, while less than 5% of the magenta ink has been consumed. If all the color inks had to be replaced when one of them (photo magenta) ran out, there would be a huge waste of ink (and money). The disproportionate amount of photo-magenta ink used may in part be a reflection of the type of test prints I made. Perhaps 25% were B&W and 25% were portraits, however a good 50% were "typical" shots, from flowers to wildlife to landscapes. I've seen comments elsewhere on the web that reflect my experience that photo-cyan, photo-magenta and yellow are the inks used most for typical photo printing, so the data I'm presenting certainly isn't abnormal.

The total cost per print obviously depends on how much you pay for photo paper. I found a deal at Staples where they were selling two 50 sheet packs of 4x6 Photo glossy Canon paper for about $13 (the deal ended last week, sorry), so that makes the cost of a sheet of 4x6 paper around $0.13 (though around $0.20/sheet might be a more typical cost if you can't find the paper on special). On this basis, each 4x6 print would cost $0.38. This is cheaper than my local 1 hour photo store (which charges $0.48 for a 4x6 print from a digital file), but is somewhat more than many on-line services. For example, Adorama charges $0.29 for a 4x6 print and $2.99 for an 8x10. With the i900D the ink cost for an 8x10 (or 8.5x11) would be about $1 and Photo glossy paper costs around $0.50/sheet (from B&H) so your total cost would be $1.50, so though 4x6 prints may work out more expensive than from online services, 8x10 (or 8.5x11) prints may be cheaper. Also, you get the print instantly and you have full control over the print quality - and you don't have postage costs to pay. It's not just about cost though, it's also about quality and convenience. Having the print appear right there on your desk is worth something. Having to email the files (or mail a CD) and wait for the prints in the mail just isn't the same!

Ink and Print Stability

Who knows how stable the prints are. The oldest prints I have are only a few weeks old, so obviously I can't make any comments about the longevity of the ink. They certainly have not faded yet! Reports on the web, both from Canon and independent sources suggest that color prints with Canon ink on Canon paper should last several decades when stored and displayed properly (e.g. out of direct sunlight and at reasonable temperatures and humidity). In contrast, tests on many low cost third party inks show print lifetimes before excessive fading from months to a few years.

Canon quote these cautions and conditions for their longevity measurements:

After printing allow the ink to dry completely. Store your images in albums, clear plastic folders, or glass frames in order to avoid exposing them to the open air. Never store printed images in locations subject to high temperatures, high humidity or direct sunlight. Store them at normal room temperature. (Do not use albums with self-adhesive pages to store your images since you will not be able to remove them later on.) Tested on Photo Paper Pro under the following conditions: Temperature: 24ºC; Humidity: 60%; Light source: White fluorescent light 70,000lux; Layer of air and 2mm thick glass on the sample; Presumed conditions: Assuming one day's illumination as 500lux x 10 hours. In-house Evaluation criteria (Based on ISO)-Single color/Composite color: A color change has occurred if the density is under 70% (OD: 1.0->0.7). Process Black: The fading ratio between each color is within 15%, and A color change has occurred if the density is under 70%(OD: 1.0->0.7).

Paper Feed

The i900D has a conventional paper feed tray which can be adjusted for paper up to 8.5" wide. There is also a removable feed tray for 4x6 paper which allows you to have both 8.5x11 and 4x6 paper loaded at the same time. You have to switch between the two trays manually when you switch print sizes, but this just entails rotating a dial. Much easier than removing one size paper, resetting the paper guides and loading the new paper.

Paper and Panoramic Prints

Canon make paper in 4x6, 5x7 and 8.5x11 sizes for the i900D. All three sizes are available in gloss and high gloss finish, but matte paper is only available in an 8.5x11 size. You can also get 8.5x11 sized transparency film and T-shirt transfers. There us no "semi-gloss" or "luster" finish paper available at present from Canon.

The printer setup software allows you to set the printer to use paper up to 8.5" wide by 23.39" long (you can set wider paper - but it won't fit in the printer - so the driver will scale the image down to 8.5" wide). If you have the paper available, you can make panoramic prints. Canon don't make anything longer than 11" in 8.5" wide paper, but you can cut down Canon 13x19 paper to make two 6.5" x 19" sheets. Epson make an A2 size glossy panoramic photo paper which is 8.3" x 23.4" and is priced at around $1.50. sheet

Noise and speed

This is a very quiet printer. In fact I had trouble telling if it was printing without going over to the printer and listening carefully! There's the usual "clunk" as paper is selected and fed into the printer, but after that noise is very low. There's actually and even quieter mode(!) which can be selected, but that does slow printing down a little. Canon specs that printer noise as 37db(A) in best quality mode. To put this in perspective,  one web site lists bird calls at 44 dB and the lowest limit of urban ambient sound  at 40 dB. By any measure, it's quiet.

The exact print time depends slightly on things like whether the image has a border or not and whether you print at maximum image quality, but in general I found that a 4x6 print takes about 90s (Canon say approximately 75s) and an 8x10 print takes about 3.5 minutes (Canon say approximately 3 minutes). Printing directly from a memory card seems a little slower than printing from a PC, but there isn't a huge difference.

Color Printing

The first thing I'd say is that color prints made on Canon Photo Paper Pro both look and feel like high quality conventional photographic prints. The paper weight is similar, the gloss finish is similar and the colors are vibrant and rich. I was impressed by the quality. Though, like all ink jet printers, the image is made up of individual color "dots", you can't see them with the naked eye. Nobody with human eyesight could. If you look at the print with a 5x loupe you can, but who does that? Even with reading glasses, looking at the print as close as 6", the dots are not visible. In the prints I made I saw no evidence of "banding" or other unwanted printing artifacts.

The results with Canon Photo Paper Plus were very similar. This paper is slightly less glossy and the prints maybe look slightly less saturated, but unless you hold two identical prints side by side you'd be pretty hard pressed to tell the difference. Paper weight is similar. The advantage of the Photo Paper Plus is cost. The Photo Paper Pro costs around $0.80 per 8.5x11 sheet, while the Photo Paper Plus runs around $0.50 per sheet (typical street prices).

Canon Matte Photo paper also gives excellent results. The colors closely match those of the glossy papers. Some people like a matte finish, some don't. The Canon glossy papers certainly look and feel more like conventional photographic prints. However if you mount the prints behind glass, it becomes very difficult to tell them apart. The big advantage of the matte paper is the cost. In 8.5x11 sheets, while Photo Paper Pro is $0.80/sheet and Photo Paper Plus is $0.50/sheet, Matte Photo Paper is only $0.18/sheet, so the saving can be significant if you do a lot of printing. Matte Photo Paper is only available in 8.5x11 sheets. If you are mounting your prints behind glass, there's probably no reason not to use matte paper. I've seen some suggestions that color prints on matte paper tend to be more fade resistant than those made on glossy paper though I don't have any direct evidence that that is the case.

The i900D has a borderless printing option which lets you print right to the edge of the paper. It does this by slightly overprinting, so you do lose a small amount of the image. This amount is selectable (there are 4 settings) to (presumably) cope with slightly different paper or image sizes and perhaps interaction with the print formatting from image editing programs. Printing from Micrografx Picture Publisher for example, I had to use the maximum overprint setting (4) or I'd get a narrow border along the bottom of the print. However printing from PhotoShop v6.0 there was no border at setting (3) and only a very narrow border at minimum overprint (1).

As is my normal fashion, I didn't do any color profiling and I didn't use any color management scheme. This probably reflects the practices of the average consumer! Despite this, the images I printed from applications like PhotoShop (6.0) and Micrografx Picture Publisher (8.0) were a good match for the screen colors. Maybe not perfect but certainly very acceptable and much better than a typical drugstore photo print (though that sets the bar pretty low!). With proper color management I'm sure there would be no problem in reproducing  screen colors more closely. One of these days I'll have to try that. However, with the test prints I made I didn't feel the need to use any special color management and I was pleased with the colors.

The printer driver offers a number of options such as Sepia toning, Vivid Color, Noise Reduction and Smoothing of "jaggies" (Photo Optimizer PRO). While all these function may be better done using external image editors, not everyone has access to such software so their inclusion as options in the printer driver may be useful to many consumers and they are simple to apply (see below). The noise reduction does minimize the "salt and pepper" effect that can often be seen in continuous tone areas of images shot at high ISO settings, though it does slightly soften the image. Prints can be made borderless or with white borders. Borderless prints are made by slightly overprinting, so you do lose some of the image. There are 4, user selectable, levels of how much overprinting occurs. You pick the minimum one which results in no white border for the particular paper and print size you are using.

Canon i900D photo printer
Canon i900D printer driver "effects" screen

I'm not going to go through every screen and detail every function. Suffice it to say that everything you'd expect is there. You can select print quality, paper type, paper size. You can manually adjust color and select monochrome printing (note: this prints a color image in B&W, but it uses all 6 inks. There is no option to use only black ink). You can print various stamps (e.g. DRAFT) on the page as well as print a background. These functions may be more suitable for business letters and party invitations than photo printing though!

The printer properties page also has the usual maintenance and diagnostic programs such as head cleaning and head alignment.

Color printing can be done in a number of ways

  • From a memory cards via the built in card reader
  • From a compatible camera via a USB connection
  • From an application (such as PhotoShop)
  • From the Canon Easy-PhotoPrint software

Canon i900D photo printer
Here's 4 images on one page (with borders) printed with Easy-PhotoPrint

Easy-PhotoPrint is a software application supplied by Canon which allows you to select one or more images and print them on a single sheet of paper. You can print with or without borders, you can place one, two or 4 prints (see image above) on a page. You can also make index prints containing 20, 40 or 80 images per page If you're printing on letter sized paper you also have the option of 9 wallet sized prints per sheet or 3 prints which include some EXIF recorded data. The software is very easy to use. Here are a few examples:

Canon i900D photo printer
Here's an automatically generated index print in the 20 images/page format

The printout with data doesn't seem to include all the data present in the EXIF header. For example when printing images from a Canon EOS 10D, only the image size, date, color space, exposure compensation and ISO speed were printed. Images from an A80 includes aperture and shutter speed as well as exposure mode and white balance. There was no way that I could see to select which data was printed.

a80info.jpg (59297 bytes)   Canon i900D photo printer
A80 image info page (left) and 10D image info page (right)

Canon i900D photo printer
A80 info page (detail)

Printing directly from a Camera or CF card

Printing directly from the camera and directly from the memory card worked just fine and results were the same as printing from an external application such as PhotoShop or Easy-PhotoPrint. You have a few less options than printing from an image editor and using the Canon printer driver, but if you just want quick prints, the procedure is pretty simple. When printing from a CF card you use the printer's built in LCD screen and software to select print options. When printing directly from a compatible camera via a USB connection to the printer you use the LCD screen and software in the camera to select print options.

Black and white printing

Printing B&W images on a color printer using color inks is always a little tricky. There is sometimes an overall color cast, but that can pretty easily be dealt with by deliberately introducing a color cast of the complimentary color. For example I found that B&W prints made with the i900D on Canon Photo Paper Pro had a slight magenta cast. By adding a slight complimentary green cast to the image this was easily neutralized. The same situation was found when using Canon Photo Paper Plus Glossy. A slight magenta cast was present which could be corrected by turning a monochrome image into an RGB image and applying a slight green correction.

A more difficult problem is when different shades of gray appear with different color tints. In that case correcting one often makes the other worse, so if your 70% gray zones have a magenta cast but your 30% gray zones are neutral, if you correct the 70% zone, the 30% zone will turn green. I found that printing on Epson Archival Matt paper showed this problem. Grey zones from about 50% to 85% had a slight magenta cast, but from 0-50% they were pretty neutral. This can also be corrected by more complex color mapping in an image editing program, but it takes some work.

On Canon Matte paper there was a similar magenta cast, but it was more uniformly distributed than on the Epson paper in that the lower densities (<50%) also showed the magenta bias. In this case it's easier to make a correction by converting the B&W image to RGB and applying a slight overall green bias to the image. The Canon matte paper was slightly brighter (whiter) than the Epson Archival Matte paper and also slightly thinner (8.5mil vs 10mil) and lighter (170 g/m2 vs 192 g/m2).

Note that the type of illumination used when examining the image can be important. The magenta bias of "monochrome" prints was accentuated under tungsten light, but was less evident when viewed under fluorescent light (which itself has a slight green bias).

While there's little point in displaying a monochrome image showing slight color casts since the monitor you are viewing the image on may not be color calibrated - plus web browsers generally don't reproduce accurate color anyway, here's an example of a B&W image. This is a flatbed scan of a 4" x 6" B&W print made on the i900D. You'll have to take my word that the original looks pretty good and shows no noticeable color cast - don't judge color on the basis of the image below. The scanning process itself can add false color, so any reproduction of a B&W print is doubly suspect! Tonal gradation was good. with both highlight and shadow detail being preserved in the print.

Canon i900D photo printer
Flatbed scan of B&W print (read text for color comments)

Of course the other way to deal with color casts is to deliberately tone an image. If you make it sepia for example, that will overwhelm any subtle coloration you might see in a "neutral"print.

Canon i900D photo printer
Sepia toned "B&W" print

Really serious digital B&W printers (i.e. people who print) don't use 4 or 6 color inks. They use ink sets with 4 or 6 shades of gray, so there's no chance of anything but a neutral print. As far as I know, no printer manufacturer provides such ink systems as a standard product, but 3rd party ink suppliers do (e.g. Lyson) and piezography.com sells some fairly expensive software/hardware combinations for B&W printing. In the past they have only supported Epson printers, but their website now states that they will also be supporting some Canon printers (though it's not clear if 6 color printers will be included in that support). Of course once you set things up for B&W using gray inks, you can't print color anymore, so you have to dedicate a printer. If you're going to do this, the Epson printers have a larger B&W support base than Canon printers and so at this time may be a better choice.

From piezography.com:"PiezographyBW ICC replaces the color inks in your EPSON (soon Canon) printer with a light gray, medium gray, dark gray and black ink - all made with only 100% pigment and a clear vehicle for trouble-free printing, unprecedented longevity, and without metamerism"

What's Good, What's not so Good?

Well. it's pretty much all good. The printer produces excellent color prints on super glossy, glossy and matte paper. Getting absolutely neutral B&W prints is a bit more difficult, but that's true for any multicolor ink printer. With a little work or toning I was also very happy with monochrome prints. Printer setup and operation is simple and fairly straightforward. Software installation under Windows XP was easy and hassle free. The ability to change individual ink cartridges, and to actually be able to see the ink level so you know when to change them, is certainly a big plus. The ability to print directly (without a computer) from memory cards or from compatible digital cameras is also something many consumers may find useful.

Slight downsides may be the inability to print monochrome images using only black ink. However on printers that do allow that, quality drops and in fact though I have Epson printers that can print with black ink only, it's a feature I hardly ever use. Another slight downside is that if you are using Canon photo paper, your local office supply store (e.g. Staples or Office Max) may not have too many choices in stock. However if you get your supplies by mail order, there's no problem. Canon don't produce a panoramic paper size (for long 8" prints), but you can certainly use the Epson panoramic paper or cut down the Canon 13x19" paper. Canon do not currently have a "luster" or "semi-gloss" finish paper available, though there are 3rd party choices available. The tray which supports the finished prints seems a little flimsy. It certainly does the job just fine - but I'm looking for for things to complain about, and there isn't that much!

Conclusion

I really liked this printer. For me, I'd probably chose the very similar i960 because I don't need another memory card reader (I already have three) and I doubt I'd ever need to print directly from a memory card, however for those who do need these functions, they both work well and it does save yet another USB device and cable. The i900D is an excellent printer capable of real photographic quality prints. I'd have no hesitation recommending it to anyone who needs an inexpensive printer for home use, yet wants true photographic quality prints. The i960 is essentially the same printer but with double the print speed and no memory card reader. It's also slightly cheaper, so if I were buying a printer I'd probably lean towards the i960. There's also a 13" wide version for 13x19 prints, the i9100. It's quite a bit more expensive (more than double the price), so if you don't think you'll be making 13x19 prints it may not be cost effective.

Where to buy

This printer is available from many electronics, computer and photo retailers. Obviously photo.net would greatly appreciate it if you purchased from one of the photo.net sponsors who contribute a small percentage of each sale to photo.net - and that's what keeps this website up and running and enables us to bring you news and reviews, as well as provide forums and gallery space.

All text and images are (©) Copyright 2003 Robert M. Atkins   All Rights Reserved

Readers' Comments


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Scott Cragg , December 04, 2003; 09:35 A.M.

Excellent review.

A quick comment to all those using Canon (and perhaps other inkjets, although I don't have experience with them).

Illford makes a glossy printer paper "printasia" that you can purchase from BJ's warehouse in 75 packs for around 20 dollars, coming out to ~ 25 cents per 8.5x11 sheet (or ~8.5 cents per 4x6 print).

The amazing thing is that Printasia is the one of the best photo papers I've ever used with my Canon i850... hands down. Great finish, extremely vibrant, good color response - overall just an excellent and enjoyable paper to work with. For comparison I've tried Canon, Red River and Kodak's Ultra offerings and found them all inferior. The only paper I've used that Compares to Printasia IMHO is Illford's professional line of papers, but I have honestly been hard-pressed to see a difference between to two (Illford's pro line runs 25 sheets ~ 12 bucks).

The only downside is Printasia is only offered in 8.5x11 Glossy... (no Matte I'm afraid)... but as a generic run-of-the-mill photo-paper- For both price and performance, it can't be beat.

Brainbubba Motornapkins , December 04, 2003; 10:30 A.M.

Very well-written, as usual. My next printer may well be a Canon -- I was very impressed by the print quality I saw in our local camera store. The individual inks, where you can actually see the ink levels, chipless cartridges and replaceable head are a huge issue. Canon has been listening to consumers -- unlike Epson.

I guess I'm a little concerned that Canon is not offering pigment inks, with (alleged) superior archival longevity -- does that mean their print heads are incompatible with pigment inks (as is my 1270)? I suppose in theory they might come out with a pigment system that could be retrofitted via the replaceable head. Anyway I've probably got a few more years left in the 1270, so hopefully that will get sorted...

edit -- just saw that MIS is now selling "Glossy Pigment" [GP} archival ink for the 1270 and many other epson models. http://www.inksupply.com/index.cfm?source=html/arcink_gp.html

Greg Chappell , December 04, 2003; 01:59 P.M.

I have now owned the i960 for about 3 weeks and had to replace the photo cyan and photo magenta cartridges after about 25 or so 8x10's and around 70-80 4x6's. The warning signal had just come on, so I probably could have made a few more prints- I will see with these next cartridges how many prints I can squeeze out. Shortly thereafter the Yellow cartridge had to be replaced. The other three colors seem to be used MUCH less. The prints I have made so far are impressive, indeed. I am very happy with this printer.

Lakhinder Walia , December 04, 2003; 02:13 P.M.

Canon Photo Paper Pro is one of the best paper I have seen. I have tried it also on Epson 1280-- I use a customized profile for Epson Matte paper on Epson 1280. The results were very crisp, despite the usage of a different profile. Six ink system is the way to go. Canon was the first perhaps, to do that in consumer printers.

Pete Su , December 04, 2003; 02:50 P.M.

The new HP 7x60 printers come with a Photo Gray catridge that makes neutral B&W prints using 3 grays.

Out of curiosity, I bought one of these, and the grayscale prints are nice, but I couldn't make color prints work at all.

Just FYI.

S. Fisher , December 04, 2003; 06:03 P.M.

Jon- I was surprised as well with Bob's experience with the ink level indicators. My S820 acts just like your S9000 and i950. Perhaps there's something funky with the sensors of that printer?

Jon Austin , December 04, 2003; 06:14 P.M.

I own both a Canon S9000 and an i950. Both use the same ink tanks as the i900D, i960 and i9100, and the printer property windows are virtually identical.

I was suprised to read Bob's observation that "the ink level shown on the printer monitor screen is either full or 'empty'." On both the S9000 and i950, each of the on-screen representations of the six ink tanks in the Printer Status window shows several levels between full and empty; perhaps six or eight discrete levels each.

Futhermore, when any tank gets low, I get a warning each time I execute a print job, indicating which tank is low. Clicking on OK enables the printer to continue as usual.

The printer driver will then report when the low ink tank is finally empty, at which time I replace the tank. The sponge in every empty ink tank I've replaced retains the cast of the ink color, but looks pretty darned dry.

I've never taken an ink tank out of the print head until the driver reports it empty. I've also never attempted to do any additional printing before replacing a tank that the driver has reported empty.

One of the great benefits of the Canon system is that the drivers will suspend printing when any ink tank runs out. My previous photo printer was an HP DeskJet 722C, which would keep printing even if one or more colors of ink had been exhausted. I'm sure I lost a lot more money in ruined print stock on unattended print jobs with that HP than I have as the result of a few picoliters of ink remaining in one of the Canon tanks.

Incidentally, I usually buy 3 or 6 of any one color of ink at Office Depot, to take advantage of quantity discounts. The tanks are well sealed in the factory packaging, so they have great shelf life (no expiration dates on the packaging, as with HP cartridges).

Bob Atkins , December 04, 2003; 10:48 P.M.


Software low ink warning

The ink level detection system in the i900D consists of a small (retro-reflection)prism in the base of the cartridge. When it's covered by ink, the ink matches the index of the plastic and light entering the prism on one side goes off into the ink!

When the ink drops low enough, the prism is uncovered. Light entering one side is then (via total internal reflection) rerouted out of the other side and triggers some sort of detection system.

Therefore there are only two conditions: Enough ink and not-enough ink. As far as I can tell there's no way in which this system can tell if the ink is 2/3, 1/2 or 1/3 full. It's a binary on-off detection system.

Maybe other printers have some other additional ink detection mechanism, I don't know, but I do know that's how the i900D works (and as said above, the same ink cartridges are used on many Canon printers).

The software does warn you when the ink is low each time you make a print. You can then tell it to go ahead and print. My experience is that you get quite a few prints after the warning. Hard to say exactly how many, but enough to make it worthwhile to keep on printing. I guess if I was doing a 13x19 print on an i9100 I'd be a bit conservative since I wouldn't want to run dry in the middle of a print, but I'm sure I've done 10-15 4x6 prints since the warning!

Bob Atkins , December 04, 2003; 10:56 P.M.


"Empty" photo-magenta cartridge

Here's a shot of the empty photo-magenta cartridge. You can see the small sensor prism on the floor of the liquid ink compartment (which is of course empty!). You can also see that it looks like the sponge filled side is still just under 1/2 full. It's still printing just fine.

Bob Atkins , December 04, 2003; 11:14 P.M.


Light path though ink sensor prism

Here's how the ink sensor prism works.

Yaron Kidron , December 06, 2003; 03:02 P.M.

Bob, thanks for a great review.

Is there a difference in ink consumption if you intend to print matt-finish paper only? Can you use Epson matt paper for smaller size prints? How about other (3rd party) matt finish paper?

Bob Atkins , December 06, 2003; 04:25 P.M.

I don't know if the paper finish affects ink consumption. Not something I can easily test without using up huge amounts of ink and paper!

Color prints on Epson Matte paper look very similar to those on the Canon Matte paper. However for B&W work, the Canon paper works better as I explained in the text.

Most printers can be used with most types of paper with the right profiling. I really haven't tried using anything but Canon paper and the Epson Matte. You might ask in the Digital Darkroom forum if anyone is using 3rd party papers with the Canon i9xx series printers.

Jon Austin , December 06, 2003; 08:40 P.M.

Canon S9000 ink tank status


Here's a screen shot of my Canon S9000's printer status window, showing the state of each of the six ink tanks. Notice that the black, photo magenta and yellow tanks all appear about 1/3 full; the photo cyan and cyan tanks are about 2/3 full; and the magenta tank is full.

Notice also that there's no low ink warning for any of the 1/3 full tanks; I haven't documented the exact increments, but I do believe the fullness of each tank is decremented is at least 1/6 steps, and that the driver reports any tank as "low" when it reaches 1/6th full (or less).

I read the same Canon web site documentation Bob has presented here before buying my S9000, and at first blush, it does appear that Canon's "think tank" system is purely binary; that the sensors would either show "tank low" or "tank not low," but the screenshot and my 18 months' experience with this printer prove otherwise.

Perhaps there are additional or more sophisticated (i.e., more complex than simple binary) sensors in Canon's higher-end inkjets, and only the simplest implementation of the system is documented on their Web site to avoid confusing "the masses." Certainly, using less-complex sensors would be one way to reduce costs in the lower end of their product line.

To Yaron's questions:

- I'd certainly expect the amount of ink dispensed would vary by paper type; otherwise, what would be the point in the driver offering a choice of papers at print time? The only other variable besides droplet size that would matter would be drying time between pages / sheets of stock, and the control for that is separately available in the driver (again, at least in my S9000), under Maintenance / Custom Settings.

- I agree with Bob that most papers can be used in most printers, provided the proper settings are invoked. Some third-party paper makers, such as Kodak, provide custom settings on their web site for their various papers when used on various printers. But I don't imagine a printer maker like Epson is going to be very forthcoming on how to obtain the best results using their papers in other manufacturers' printers!

Bob Atkins , December 06, 2003; 11:47 P.M.

There is a single ink sensor optical source and receiver pair on the left hand side of the i900D. At some point in the printer operation when the print head is moved to the left I presume each ink cartridge is placed over the sensor array in sequence and checked as to whether it is empty or not. There's certainly no way this can be used to measure ink level (other than "empty" or "not empty"). Since I don't have an i9100 to look at I can't comment on how the ink level is checked in that system.

I suppose it could use some sort of software estimation system, since I presume the printer knows when it's using ink of each color. It could save that data and make a guess at what the remaining ink level might be. I think that's how Epson does it. The hardware detection system could then come into play to establish the "empty" signal. That way you'd have some sort of guess at ink usage, but a true hardware indication of when the ink runs out. With the Epson system I think it guesses when the ink cartridge is empty - and I assume it errs on the side of caution, indicating replacement is due before it actually runs out of ink so that prints are not ruined by the ink going dry in the middle of a printing operation.

I don't know that it works this way, but it seems like a reasonable engineering solution.

Jeroen Bollen , December 08, 2003; 07:59 A.M.

A very understanding and honest review. Thanks.

I have recently bought a Canon i865 which is very similair to the 900 series, with the big difference it uses 5 cartridges C,M,Y,black and photoblack. When buying it I was concerned about the fact it did not use photo cyan and/or photo magenta, but only after the first print was sold. I have printed a photo of a falcon arest on a pole (losts of blue sky, and ofcourse brown/black) and compared it to the A-4 print from a pro lab. Absolutely no difference there to be found. Furthermore I find that the newest Canon printers have gone mature both in weight and in construction. This results in a high quality printer at a budget friendly price!

Greeting Jeroen

Eric Jeschke , December 09, 2003; 06:29 P.M.

I own the Canon S9000, which uses the same ink cartridges as the printer reviewed.

I live in a different climate than most of p-n's readers: heavy humidity, high and frequent UV, occasional volcanic haze (Hilo, Hawaii), but I have to say that the archival life of unprotected prints using this ink is very low compared to other printers (e.g. Epson, HP) that I have also used in this same climate. With Canon's BCI-6 inks the prints begin to fade and take a reddish/magenta cast in only a few days, even when not in direct sunlight. Prints made from other mfrs printers that I mentioned last for weeks before beginning to deteriorate, and do not deteriorate as fast. This is with Canon Professional Pro Glossy.

What does this mean for folks in more "reasonable" climates? I can't say. But if I were to extrapolate, I'd guess that the Canon prints would do worse than Epson or HP.

Don't get me wrong. I really love the way the prints look straight out of the printer (well, after a minute or two for the inks to "gel"). Unfortunately, unless I put the prints under glass right away (which does help significantly), I am resigned to using this printer as a proofing tool only. I can't even use it for snapshots to give to friends for their fridge since the decay is noticeable in just a few days.

Wishing I had bought an Epson 2000 with the pigmented inks...

Bob Atkins , December 10, 2003; 03:54 P.M.

I've just started running a test of Epson 870 vs i900D print fading on matte paper (Epson for Epson, Canon for Canon) under indoor daylight exposure.

It may be quite a while before I see any changes (at least I hope so!).

Of course I live in NJ where we don't have high temperature and humidity in the winter. However I'll bet our air quality and level of industrial pollutants beats those of Hawaii any day...

William Nicholls , December 12, 2003; 07:17 P.M.

Pollutants aren't necessary to cause rapid fading of unprotected dye based prints. All dye based printers use similar chemistry, and the cyan ink is especially sensitive to oxidation. You don't need high ozone to see fading, just some good airflow and some humidity to facilitate the reactions. I've seen dye based prints stored in very dim light fade in days or weeks in a room that has airflow from an evaporative cooler. Canon's advice reflects the reality that gas fading is a bigger threat to dye-based print longevity than light exposure.

Graham Byrnes , December 15, 2003; 05:12 A.M.

I'm surprised at the ability to continue printing after the printer claimed a tank was empty. My S9000 will simply refuse to print if it believes a tank is empty, as opposed to low. At that point the liquid tank is genuinely empty but the sponge is still saturated to about 1/3 height.

Another comment: Epson glossy photo paper seems to work just fine in my Canon.

Bob Atkins , January 08, 2004; 06:30 P.M.

The Canon just keep on printing!

After the "low ink" warning was on for a while I got a "ink out" warning which said that damage could occur if I kept on printing.

However, I kept on printing. I guess I've made maybe 5 or 10 more 4x6 prints since then, and everything still looks OK. A head check showed all colors still printing just fine.

I suppose I'll break down and replace the cartridge soon, but it just shows you that the ink warnings are pretty conservative.

I don't know what happens if you really do run out of ink. I suppose, as Canon suggest, that the print head could be damaged. It would be best not to get to that point...

Curtis Clegg , January 16, 2004; 10:22 A.M.

I am curious about whether or not Canon plan to allow direct printing of RAW files, either from an attached camera or from CF cards.

It may seem like a trivial thing, but I think that for an event photographer (weddings, Little League games, etc.) it would be nice to have the flexibility to print proofs or quick prints at the event, while still having the ability to make the highest-possible-quality prints from that same RAW file at a later time.

Paul P , January 31, 2004; 03:56 P.M.

Hi All I'm a newbie to this forum but found this review interesting and hoped to offer my impressions of owning a s9000 (and a i9100 replacment) I also would like to clarify some slight errors or mistakes seen.

Firstly, as the canons use up their ink, they take it from the top sponge in the sponge side first (there are two sponges in that side of the cart) It then gets taken from the clear side until that is empty (when you get the low ink warning) and finally gets taken from the bottom sponge. That 'low ink warning' starts a timer of ink usage to determine how much you can safely print from that cartridge. After a certain amount of use, you get the 'no ink warning' and have to remove the cart; this is OK as it leaves a healthy reserve in the bottom sponge and prevents some banding problems (see below)

Also, my 9000 does have several 'levels' of ink. But sometimes it drops from full to near empty seemingly after just one 'use'. Meaning, the last time I used it one colour was full, the next time I went to use it, that ink level was nearly empty. I don't know what or how this bit works but I do trust the 'low ink/no ink' warnings. I spoke to a Canon guy; he said you get the 'low ink warning' when the clear side was empty, the printer then relies on a 'time/print useage' estimate about how much ink is left after the 'low ink warning' first appears. After this 'period of use', you get the 'no ink warning'. You are always left with the bottom half of the sponge full of ink, canon have this as a reserve to stop the head running out of ink, it also stops banding from near empty cartridges. This was my problem for which I got a i9100 replacment. This sadly, had severe banding or lines from new so was returned.

Anyway, this is what we have learnt. You have to be careful of the ink supply for these printers.They have to have a decent 'ink flow rate' to aviod seeing any slight banding in areas of plain colour. I, and other owners who advised me of this, have found this to our cost. We have to remove carts at the first sign of the low ink warning, if we don't we sometimes see banding on our prints. And forget refilling, Canons need a good supply of ink with no restrictions and if you think tampering with cartridges (refilling) will help in this, think again. Again, my opinion but I found this out a hard and expensive way.

I love my 9000 and all it can do for me but when it misbehaves, I have an expensive enemy. I read above about removing carts to see how much ink is left: a shop saleman said you could do this! Indeed, even stop a print mid-way, change a cart and carry on. I've done this half-way through a page of prints but not half way through a print! (You couldn't do this with an Epson) Everything was fine but my point is everytime the head moves, for whatever reason, the printer does a little ink charge and uses up ink. While this is good, if you want decent economy from your carts, you'll not move the head more than you can. The reason why this little charge is good is because of this, the next time you put an expensive piece of paper in (maybe an A3 sheet of Hannemule Rag, etc) you KNOW that the canon will print this with 99% certanty of a good print! It is this certanty you get from using these canons. I know if I set my 9000 up for an A3+ print with OEM ink, I'll get a nicely executed print job with no smears, banding or a print that runs out of an ink colour half way. It's not easy to explain fully but own one and you'll find out.

Different media (print surface) = different ink usage. Yes, and also setting a different print type does so too! i.e. I've read the 'High Gloss Photo Film' setting is ecconomical but I disagree. I think Photo Paper Pro may be ecconomical with ink. I think the newer Canons (the 'i' series) don't have a setting for High Gloss Photo Film (or the i9100 didn't). You need it for some papers like Ilford Printasia (the first response at the top of this thread) I did get this paper but thought it terrible (like kodak paper) as you get ink 'pooling' (I don't know the proper term) but the ink gathers into small droplets. I think it comes down to the way canons lay ink across a print, they put a background down first and last they put the half-toning pattern down. I believe this half-toning pattern can't be absorbed into the paper (as it already has a layer of ink on it already from the background) So it just sits on the surface and gathers into larger droplets, most unsavory. Other papers work great! Try Ilford Smooth Gloss and Smooth Pearl (not the Clasic Gloss Or Classic Pearl) Again, my opinion and FYI.

Lastly, I agree with the others who have quoted ink usage and output: I get about 40 - 45 A4s or 8½ x 11 in prints from a set of 6 carts. I tallied up until I had used up and removed 3 carts: my thoughts was the ink from the replaced carts would equal out the ink usage so I would have a result for the six carts. I've read others say this figure too!

Just one thing about 6 carts: while it is a good idea (and better than Epsons arrangment) you will find that you spend half of you printing time looking at some sort of 'low/no ink warning'! Fact, it seems to a user that you are continuosly replacing the carts though you are not, it just seems that way!

Again, even allowing for the last horrible 6 months when I had terrible microbanding (indeed, for which Canon sent me 2 replacment printheads and a new replacment printer) I would get a new canon again. My only caveat is you need to be careful of the ink supply arrangments. There are continuous ink supply systems for these printers that have been taken off the market now! I'll bet these systems couldn't supply ink fast enough to keep up with the printers! I haven't read this anywhere! I'm going by my own experience with OEM carts where I had terrible problems (I put compatibles in the same printer and all the banding went!). I know you need a good ink supply! Again my opinion.

I do know canon have a good warranty service too! It's a pity printheads didn't solve my problem (as they sent me two and offered me another) but I had to find out the cause of the problem myself using web forums. I've detailed it above. bUt they did send a new replacment, I can't say if it was dropped, etc but I can say it didn't work and I still have the 9000 printing faultlessly with compatibles. I have also used OEM ink again and that was OK too, Go figure. I hope this helps someone.

Chen Edward , February 28, 2004; 11:21 P.M.

I routinely use Epson Premium Glossy Photo Paper, available from epson.com for $13.99 per 100 sheets of 4x6. They are great and produce prints more vibrant than kodak premium picture paper. They are also the exact same size as canon 4x6 paper and fit the special tray. I usually use the glossy photo paper setting. Anyone else use the epson premium glossy photo paper?

Alberto Freire , May 14, 2004; 03:37 P.M.

Great review, I just wanted to add something about the ink tanks. I own the s900 which uses the same ink tanks and I can get the no name brand tanks for $1.90 each which makes it super cheap to own. I printed using canon ink and the cheap stuff from places like ebay and can't tell the difference between them. I have a second canon at work and have printed thousands of brochures with it using the cheap ink and still works fine

Sandi B , July 25, 2004; 12:20 P.M.

I must agree with Paul P. I have had consistent problems with my Canon S9000 printer with banding problems. I actually need some advise - is there anyway to fix this problem? Problems with this printer are definately expensive. If anyone can help me, please advise.

Peter Allamby , July 12, 2006; 04:11 A.M.

I had banding problems with my Pixma i5000 which was otherwise a superb printer. Eventually Canon tech support sent me a new set of print heads which cured the problem. In retrospect the earliest prints i did which I saved from when I had the canon papers profiled profesionally showed just a hint of banding at new. With the new printheads no banding at all. I have a Pixma I8500 6 ink system against the i5000 4 inks, thers little difference, the i8500 had no banding at new, obvioulsy had a faulty set of printheads. Having your printer profiled and using the printer settings correctly so the profiles and further changed by ant printer settings gives you lifelike colours without any hint of colour casts, great investment.

Bill Tuthill , August 16, 2006; 08:22 P.M.

Bob, now that it's been a few years, how would you rate color longevity on Canon Matte Photo paper?

babs hughes , December 28, 2007; 09:03 P.M.

Quick question. So I've had this printer for about a year (and absolutely love it) but I just switched my computer from a Dell to a Mac and I printed one thing and it trned out fine and now I'm trying to print again and I keep getting an "Error 6000" message. What is this and how do I fix it?

John McMullen , June 18, 2010; 10:56 A.M.

several rears later....

I've had the canon i960 for 6 years or so. The prints are great on any quality paper, and I've had no problem with "generic" inks. However, and this is a BIG however to me. It uses a LOT of ink just sitting parked! We don't print a lot of photos or documents, but like the convienience of availability to do so. We've found that the tanks will empty in 6 to 9 months even if the printer is not used.  Where does the ink go? When I start a print there seems to be a lengthy "cleaning cycle", I assume, and then the print produced is usually flawless.


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