Easy duplex printing, excellent performance, an extended colour gamut, flexible paper handling and an affordable price make the Canon Pixma iP8500 a versatile performer for a broad range of graphics-printing tasks. With its eight-colour ink set -- it uses the same consumables as the medium-format i9900 -- the iP8500 brings the flexibility and the quality of its bigger sibling to those who want the same excellent print quality, but don't need the ability to handle larger paper.
The Canon Pixma iP8500 couldn't be easier to set up. Freed from its foam packing, it can be plugged into a power source, linked via a USB cable to your computer and outfitted with its printhead and eight ink cartridges in less than ten minutes. Add another few minutes to install Mac or Windows printer drivers and you're in business.
The solidly built iP8500 folds up to a boxlike 452 by 170 by 292mm when not in use; it unfolds to reveal a vertical 150-sheet input tray, which doesn't rob you of desk space behind the printer, and a sliding output tray on the front, which calls for an extra 150mm of clearance. A 150-sheet cassette fits flush with the front of the printer when loaded with 100x150mm paper, but projects outward when filled with larger-size paper. At 7.3kg, this printer is light enough to be shifted from one place to another in an office or a home without calling in a removal company.
You won't find many controls to muck about with. A large power switch is embedded in the upper-right corner of the printer, just above a PictBridge port, a paper-feed button and a paper-source switch with LEDs that show which input tray is selected. You can override the paper-source setting in the driver and use the other tray any time you like, so it's easy to keep two different-size paper stocks loaded and to alternate between them. The printer automatically switches from one tray to the other, so you can load up with 300 sheets of the same stock for long printing jobs.
The Canon Pixma iP8500 uses the same print engine and ChromaPlus eight-tank ink system as the year-old, medium-format i9900. If you're looking for state of the art from Canon, check out the six-colour iP5000, with its 1-picolitre droplets, as opposed to the 2-picolitre droplets on the iP8500 and the i9900. But the iP8500's extended colour gamut in the reds, oranges and greens -- the result of adding red and green inks to the traditional CMYK, photo cyan and photo magenta -- is as appealing today as it was when the i9900 was first introduced. You can output all of these colours to a wide range of Canon paper stocks. These include transparencies; semigloss, matte and several varieties of glossy paper; and a semigloss double-sided paper that lets you print directly to the pages you'll include in your album or presentation.
Given the dearth of controls on the printer itself, you'll rely on the well organised, six-tab printer driver to access the basic and advanced features. Clustered on the main tab are adjustments for paper type, input tray, quality and colour adjustment (either automatic or manual, with cyan, magenta, yellow and black sliders), along with a check box to specify greyscale printing. If you're not sure which settings you want, Canon's wizardlike Print Advisor can lead you through all the steps.
Other tabs let you choose duplex printing; specify the edge to use for stapling (and the margins to leave for the staples); apply watermarks or background images; boost saturation of greens and blues to accentuate foliage and sky without affecting skin tones; or add colour toning, such as sepia or pink hues. Two Image Optimizer selections improve the quality of low-resolution images by softening jagged, pixellated edges. If your digital-camera image is fraught with noise, the printer can reduce the multicoloured speckles, too. All your settings can be saved as a profile, so you can print the same type of job later without having to re-enter your preferences.
You can perform all the usual nozzle-cleaning and printhead alignment chores within the driver, along with a bottom-plate cleaning step (using a piece of paper that's been folded and straightened out) that's recommended before starting any duplex printing.
Speed and operation
Each of the iP8500's colours can be replenished separately, so you need only replace the hues that a built-in optical ink-monitoring system determines are empty.
Canon describes the printhead as the world's longest, with the highest nozzle density: 768 nozzles per colour, for a total of 6,144. All those tiny nozzles allow it to spit out droplets of ink at 4,800x1,200dpi in each pass, accounting for the 3.5 pages per minute text speed and 0.6 photo pages per minute in our tests.
Overall, the Canon Pixma iP8500's output looks excellent, with a broad dynamic range and sharp detail rendering in bitmaps. It renders excellent curves and sharp text on coated paper, making this a good candidate for proofing page layouts.
We picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Canon and tested its output with photos of ripe red tomatoes, a carved pumpkin and lots of scenes with foliage. The iP8500 really does produce a surprisingly full range of tones in the reds and oranges, as well as lots of detail in both shadows and highlights in landscapes dominated by grass, trees, and other greenery.
If anything, saturation for these tends to be too brilliant; if you don't want the colours to assault your viewer, you might want to tone things down with your image editor. Skin tones are warm but acceptable and relatively accurate. Oddly, the cyan primary looks more like turquoise, while colours tend to shift slightly under different light sources.
Edited by Lori Grunin
Additional editing by Nick Hide