The Pixma iP4000 is the flagship in Canon's new line of four-colour printers. What does that mean for you? Direct printing from a Canon or PictBridge-compatible digital camera, good print quality across the board, fast print speeds, and best of all, a low price.
Taking a page out of Epson's book, the Canon Pixma iP4000 eschews the bulging-belly design in favour of a rectangular bread-box look. Frankly, neither approach is terribly attractive or innovative, but in the iP4000's case, we appreciate that the top input guide and the front output tray fold into the body of the printer for a clean, uncluttered, 'at rest' look. One unusual feature in a low-cost inkjet is the 150-sheet paper drawer that slides in and out of the bottom of the printer -- generally found only on HP inkjets and higher-end laser printers.
We also like the way the power button is embedded in the right-hand corner of the printer; it doesn't do anything special, but it looks good. When you open the output tray, you'll see a button that lets you toggle between the top and bottom input trays. The change is indicated by LEDs much like those on a photocopier. There are also USB and parallel ports so you can connect the printer to your PC or Mac (no cables included) and a direct-print port for Canon cameras or any camera that supports the PictBridge direct-print standard.
The Canon Pixma iP4000 is a four-colour printer. This means that you get dye-based cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks plus a pigment-based black. You can replace cartridges individually, which saves money and reduces waste because you don't have to throw out the whole expensive colour set every time one hue runs out.
Canon includes a few photo-friendly applications on the installation CD. You can use PhotoRecord to make and personalise a photo album; Easy-PhotoPrint for tasks such as quick, borderless printing and red-eye correction; and Easy-WebPrint, which ensures that you can print an entire Web page without cutting off the edges.
Canon's drivers are extremely easy to use and offer enough advanced options to keep the family digital-photo geek busy. The drivers are organised into tabs. The Main tab lets you adjust print quality, paper type, and colours (including a manual option for regulating individual colour levels and intensity). It also features the Print Advisor button, which asks questions about your intended print job and adjusts driver settings accordingly. Other tabs include Page Setup for paper size, borderless printing, and manual duplexing (printing on both sides); Stamp/Background for adding stamps and watermarks; Effects, which lets you create simulated illustrations and vivid photos; and Profiles, which saves your personal print settings. There's also a Maintenance tab for cleaning, tweaking printhead alignment, and setting the quiet-print mode.
One thing we can say about Canon printers: they're almost always faster than the competition. The Pixma iP4000 manages a brisk 6.69 pages per minute (ppm) when printing text (4ppm to 5ppm is about average) and an extremely fast 1.82 minutes per page when printing a 200x250mm photo, whereas many printers take more than 4 minutes to do this.
Competing printers typically come with a pigment-based cartridge and make a composite black for photo printing out of cyan, magenta, and yellow. In contrast, the iP4000 comes with a dye-based cartridge for photo printing and a pigment-based black for text files. The dye-based black does give the iP4000 an advantage over the competition, but the iP4000's output could still be a problem.
Text looks nice and dark at arm's length, but close inspection by a trained eye reveals a lot of feathering around the edges of the letters. Still, the average consumer probably won't notice the text blips and in fact might prefer the dark text, even if it means sacrificing some crispness. When we printed a mixed text-and-graphics document on high-resolution paper with the driver set to standard-quality/high-resolution paper type, the output looked much better. Black text elements were crisp around the edges, with no feathering visible to the naked eye.
In our test photos, the iP4000 did a good job of capturing tricky details such as the illustration on a postage stamp and the rivets in a robot suit, but we saw slightly more dithering and banding in the background than we'd like. Also, we saw visible dots throughout our test photos, which seriously affected the smoothness of skin tones. For truly excellent photo printing, check out the HP Photosmart 7960 or the Epson Stylus R800.
CNET Labs' project leader Dong Ngo contributed to this section of the review.
Service and support
You can find free, well-written tutorials, FAQs, and downloadable manuals online. Canon provides e-mail support, but we got only automated responses to a few general questions. The Q&A troubleshooter helped to isolate our problem, though Canon could stand to expand the multiple-choice options. Overall, Canon's support site is useful and easy to navigate.
Addtional editing by Tom Espiner