Canon PIXMA iP5300

Canon's latest inkjet printer looks like a winner. But is it?

The Canon PIXMA iP5300 is the latest of its third generation of PIXMA printers. Competitors such as HP, Lexmark and Epson are being pushed to the limit in terms of the speed, print quality and versatility out of the box that the new Canon printers offer.

The 5300 is an improvement over its predecessor the 5200, featuring as it does five, two and one-picolitre ink DROPlet sizes from its Canon FINE print head - plus a new double encoder system to achieve finely graded and very accurate prints at high speeds.

Although Epson printers have been using variable DROPlet size technology for some time via the piezo ejection print head system - a system that enables meniscus control of each DROPlet to vary DROPlet sizes without the need for a variety of nozzle sizes - it’s only now that thermal inkjets are getting to grips with the smaller nozzle technology to allow finer gradations - such as detail in areas like skies with finely detailed clouds.

The combination of such small sized nozzles with a thermal inkjet provides a great level of fine detail control, but the small nozzle size does not compromise speed. A case in point: the 5300 can shove out a borderless 6x4-inch print every 21-seconds, which is remarkably fast.

The five inks used on the 5300 slot into the printer head – once you’ve stripped the printer of its packaging and turned it on. You get cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks with another, larger capacity black ink tank. This is a feature of the ContrastPLUS technology used on the 5300 that’s designed to help give extra depth to the prints.

A single full-out A4 print takes around one minute and fifteen seconds at the same settings as above (the default Normal and Fine settings) to achieve a 6x4-inch print, but fine banding is visible across areas of skin, areas of neutral colour, or featureless areas such as blue skies.

Using the Photo Paper Pro paper, I upped  the print quality to the Super Fine setting, which produced remarkable quality prints. One downside of doing this is that print speeds more than double. Having said that, the 5300 is still faster than most other printers of similar ilk even at its top quality setting.

The sheer versatility of the 5300 is also impressive and although it may lack memory card slots, it does have a dedicated USB port for USB DirectPrint, PictBridge, or DPOF compatible digital cameras. It also has a neat DVD/CD print caddy, which although slightly fiddly to use works well enough.

The printer also sports dual paper trays with a 150-sheet sheet feeder in the traditional place; on top of the printer with another cassette feeder mounted in the base that also holds up to 150-sheets of paper.

You choose the feeder via buttons on the front of the printer or the printer driver and you also have a built-in duplex unit beneath a click-shut cover on the back. I have one gripe around the lengthy installation process: software installation is very slow, and once installed, the auto head alignment that fires up did not work properly.

Not a problem for an old hand like me as I simply went through the printer utility to fire it up, whereby it worked properly. But I can’t help feeling this potentially could be confusing for those coming to such a printer for the first time.

Another problem is the head alignment system takes five sheets of A4 (a special pack of paper is supplied for job, but only had four sheets in it!) and adds another 15-minutes to the process. The first alignment was not right either; I had to do it twice over, thus killing around half an hour. However, these relatively minor gripes don’t detract from the otherwise excellent elements of this printer.

The print head is (semi) permanent (it can be changed if required, but it is not supposed to need it) so if at all, it will only ever need replacing infrequently.

Replacing the inks however will set you back £9.99 for each of the magenta, yellow, cyan and 'normal' blacks. By this I mean that the larger ContastPLUS black cartridge costs £11.99. Or you can buy a better value iink kit with them all in for £39.99.

These prices are average for (original Canon) inks, while the page yield is actually very good indeed. For example the typically most used ink tank - magenta - is able to print up to 290 6x4-inch photos.

Actual yield figures will vary depending on the content of each image and Canon’s yield figures for the remaining tanks (again on 6x4-inch photos) are: 4340 for the large ContrastPLUS black tank, 1600 for the small black tank, 436 for cyan and 331 for the yellow.

Overall, print quality is superb, particularly at the super fine setting where all of that 9600x2400dpi resolution and the tiny ink DROPlet technology is put through its paces. ContrastPLUS works well enough; none of my prints lacked punch and using Adobe RGB source image files output using Canon’s own printer profiles for the 5300 provided very accurate colour that matched my screen as well as can be expected without professional calibration.

The slightly frustrating niggles with the set up process aside, the Canon PIXMA iP5300 can produce pro quality A4 prints at a reasonable £129 price. It works quickly and, thanks to the ChromaLife100 inks, your prints will last up to 100-years as well. Excellent stuff.