I am so very lucky, with an every-day opportunity to check out the latest Electronic Goodies ‘n Gadgets of my choosing.  So, it was a no-brainer to say yes when Canon offered me some of their latest color printers to have a crack at – the $150 i860 (4-colors), the $200 i960 (6-colors) and the newest, the $500 i9900 (a whopping 8-colors).

In fairness to my readers, because of my past, positive experience with Canon printers, I am predisposed toward liking what Canon produces.  I have not had any problems in the past several years with Canon printers.  As a matter of fact, I have happily and confidently recommended them to everyone without complaints.  So, they would really have to screw up and not deliver the quality and value to which I have become accustomed in order for me to not recommend these to you.  In fact, they have performed flawlessly on my Macs and Windows PCs.

The industry isn’t going to like what I am about to write, however, I owe you more than this.  It is important to me that you also understand my general philosophy when it comes to color inkjet printers. I think they are fine, as a second printer, for most users.  All of them are relatively expensive to operate as compared to any sub-$200 laser printer, such as the excellent models from Samsung and Brother.  Black and white laser printers crank along, printing about 3,000 – 5,000 pages for about the cost of a $60 toner cartridge.  These printers don’t care if you only print once a month or 3,000 copies per month.  There is no ink to dry out or printheads to clog as in some inkjet printers.  Printing cost for as little as 250 pages on an inkjet printer may run as much as about $50 for the ink, and maybe more.  So, do the math.  We are NOT, however, talking about bargain printers here.  No inkjet printer costs as little to print black and white as do laser printers.  The initial low cost and low cost-per-page of mainstream laser printers suggests that these workhorses be designated primary printers in most environments, such as for families and students at home or in dorms, as well as in most offices.  It’s a matter of cost and convenience.  Get the inkjet as a secondary printer when you’ll really use it.  For occasional color printing, including photo printing from digital cameras, I recommend having a friend do it on his printer, doing the job of document printing at the local Kinko’s and printing photos at Costco (if a member or have a member friend do it) for only 19 cents for a 4×6 print that is done with the traditional photographic printing process that is better than inkjet. Walgreen’s also prints digital photos, at a cost of 29 cents for each 4×6 print.  Each of these prices is far less than printing on an inkjet printer.

Of course, inkjet printer makers want to get you into their printers for as little as possible so they can make tons of money on the ink you have to buy to get their glorious results.  That’s the idea, just as it has been since the beginning with razor manufacturers.  Sell the handle cheap and make the money on the blades.  So, with this in mind, let’s move on.

The i860 is the real workhorse of the group, an all-around great choice for both everyday printing as well as color photos for instant gratification and everything in between.  It’s fast, popping out black text pages at a rate of about one every three seconds in draft mode and one every 20 seconds or less in high quality mode.  It is similarly quick printing color pages, but the speed depends upon how much or how little text there is as well as the amount and quality of the graphics in addition to photos may be on the page.  But, it’s fast and satisfying.  A 4×6 borderless photo is finished in under a minute.

One thing that has surprised me is how apparently stingy it is with ink.  In other words, it does not seem to be out of ink every time I turn around.  It just cranks along and when it needs ink, I like that it tells me which one it needs, as each color has its own tank.  This avoids having to replace a cartridge with one empty color and plenty of the others.

Included software is rather impressive, too, though both Mac and Windows users usually have what is needed already.  This is the no-compromise printer you will want when you are looking for good quality printing of all types. Notice I wrote “good quality” and not great.  I guess it’s all a relative issue.

Until I placed the photo output of the i860 next to the photo output of the i960, the i860 looked just fine to me.  Now that I see the four-color photo prints next to those same images printed on the i960, well, even I can tell the difference.

The i960 is a little faster than the i860, and the pictures appear to have somewhat better gradation of colors.  That is, the i960 is capable of greater subtleties and transitions between colors.  So, for not a lot more money, if your objective is to print better photos and color graphic-intensive documents, then I would urge you to choose the i960 with its two additional colors.  If you want to print a lot of 8×10 photos, then opt for the i960.

I should also mention that both are very quiet in operation, whisper quiet actually.  I can’t hear more than the gentle whoosh, whoosh sound of the inkjets traveling back and forth on their rail as they print onto the paper and the telltale little sound of the paper transport that precisely moves the paper through the printer so everything comes out right.

These two printers feature full Mac and Windows compatibility, and they also have PictBridge technology.  This allows digital cameras with this technology built in to connect directly to the printers and to print photos without a computer.  This is a very convenient feature when the goal is instant gratification, which is why most of us have our own color inkjet printers capable of printing photos.

In a class by itself is the outstanding, standard-setting new i9900, successor to the i9100 I used last year to print my big 13x 19 photos from the auto races at Laguna Seca. These two printers are similar in many ways.  Both are capable of all sizes of media all the way up to 13×19, and that’s a pretty big photo!  But, the i9900 is an incredible eight-color model for even better color separation and subtlety of tonal changes.  I printed that same “money shot” from last year on this new printer as I had printed on the i9100.  Now, we thought the results on the i9100 were breathtaking.  I only wish you could see how the colors seem to pop with greater pronouncement on this new printer.  There IS a difference!  Those eight individual color ink tanks make the difference.  Even I can see it.


As far as connectivity is concerned, there are also differences from old to new printer.  The new i9900 features both fast USB 2.0 and FireWire connectivity (Mac only).  I used FireWire on my Macs and it seemed to print large-file photos quite fast.  FireWire is a very fast protocol for sending data to and from the computer.  Mac users will like this connectivity.

Also included is PictBridge printing technology as on the other two featured here, and the sound level is also very quiet, just as on the others.  With this large printer it is not expected that it would print so quietly.  All three printers have the Direct Print Port conveniently located right there on the front.

Admittedly, this printer targets professionals.  After all, at its $500 cost, most consumers will not choose this model. On the other hand, for anyone, anywhere, where simply outstanding color printing is required with flawless results, even breathtaking results, the i9900 is THE printer of choice.  My goodness, these pictures just look fantastic!  I only wish you could see them.  I can tell you that my family and friends all remarked that they had never seen results like this from an inkjet printer.  With a whopping 6,144 nozzles from which to deliver ink, no wonder the results are so spectacular.

Score one, or is it three, once again, for Canon!

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