A4 ink-jet printers are commodity items and are priced as such, but as soon as you want to print larger than A4, you’re into specialist equipment that can cost a lot of money. Large format printers can easily break the £1,000 barrier, but Canon has split the difference with the A3+ i9950. A3+ is big enough to print right to the edges of a sheet of paper twice the size of A4. With the i9950, you can print that size in full eight-colour photo quality.
The printer is wide and has a semi-circular profile. Paper feeds from a paper hopper with a support which unfolds in three stages from the back of the machine, to a telescopic tray at the front. It can take paper from standard 15 x 10cm photo blanks, up to A3+, and a lever at the front moves the paper-out tray, so you can slide in a CD carrier for direct printing of CD blanks.
Lift the lid and you can get at the permanent print head and its eight plug-in ink cartridges. As well as the basic cyan, magenta, yellow and black ink tanks, Canon adds photo cyan, photo magenta, red and green. The inclusion of red and green inks expands the colour gamut, and should help particularly in printing portraits and landscapes.
Unusually, there are two sockets at the rear for connecting the printer to a computer. As well as the standard USB 2 socket, there’s also a FireWire port. Unfortunately, only Mac users can take advantage of FireWire, as only USB 2 drivers are provided for Windows users.
What is also provided, though, is a PictBridge port, so you can directly connect a digital camera and print from it, without having to interface with a PC.
Print quality from the i9950 is very good, certainly up to the standard of Canon’s well-known Pixma range of A4 machines. The extra colours really do make a noticeable difference to the intensity of flesh tints on the one hand and grass and trees in outdoor shots on the other.
Running costs depend largely on the prices you can find for the ink cartridges and the specialist papers you will probably be printing on. A3 photo paper, suitable for posters and large format portraits, isn’t cheap, but this printer is certainly capable of semi-professional results, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t subsidise your running costs from sales of your prints.Inkjet photo printers are usually cheap to buy, if expensive to run, so the £549 price tag on Canon’s i9950 seems a bit steep. But this is no ordinary photo printer. Its wide carriage, large-gamut inking system, ultra-high resolution and special digital camera support put the i9950 into a different class altogether.
The unit looks like a conventional Canon inkjet in design – a lean-back input tray on top and an extending output tray at the front – but is built much bigger in order to handle large cut-sheet media. The i9950 can print to a maximum sheet size of A3+ (13 x 19 inches) at full bleed: that is, to all four edges of the paper without leaving a white border. Borderless printing is a must-have feature for serious photographers because it side-steps the fuss of manually guillotining the results and avoids the amateurish finish of micro-perforated tear-away edges.
Looking under the carriage hood reveals Canon’s new ChromaPLUS photo inking system which employs no fewer than eight ink colours: cyan, magenta, yellow, black, light cyan, light magenta, red and green. Each colour is installed as an individual ink cartridge sitting side-by-side on top of the print-head.
Working with so many colours is not just a gimmick. The light cyan and light magenta, as found in many photo printers, help reproduce pale colours with less dottiness, while the additional red and green expand the colour gamut of the printouts considerably beyond standard CMYK.
Canon likes to quote impressive numbers in its specifications. Print resolution, for example, is rated at 2400 x 4800dpi, while the ink droplets are said to be a mere 2 picolitres in volume (half the size of droplets in most other photo inkjets). But even if you treat the number game in product marketing with healthy cynicism, there’s no denying that the i9950 produces very high quality output. Print speed is quite good too: most A3 photos turn out in around four minutes, although one of our test examples dropped into the output tray after just two.
Canon’s finishing touches include a front-loading CD media feeder, allowing you to print directly onto the label side of CDs and DVDs along a flat path. Digital photographers will also appreciate the convenient camera input port situated at the front of the unit. Just plug in your camera, select your shots and paper size, then print – no computer required. Inevitably there is a limitation here in that the port only works with PictBridge-supporting cameras. Sony, Olympus and Nikon support this technology as well as Canon, but not in all their camera models. If you own HP or Epson cameras, the port is useless to you.
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