Automatic duplexing, dual paper trays with a combined 300-sheet capacity, tiny droplets, and decent speed make the Canon Pixma iP5000 a versatile inkjet option for home users who need both text and graphics output. As a four-colour model, it lacks the cred and the quality to compete with real photo printers -- despite Canon's Pixma marketing strategy -- but its photo-printing quality surpasses that of most SOHO competitors, making it a great general-purpose choice. Pity it lacks built-in networking; we might have bumped up the rating into Editors' Choice territory.
Setting up this printer mostly entails installing the printer drivers and the optional image-editing, organising, and Web-page-printing software -- a 10-minute chore at most. Physical setup involves little more than connecting the power cord, linking the printer to your computer through a USB 2.0 cable, and installing the printhead and the five ink tanks.
A sleek 418mm by 286mm by 170mm (WDH) and about 6.7 kg, the Canon Pixma iP5000 unfolds for use, with a flip-up 150-sheet autofeeder tray that needs no extra clearance behind the printer and a flip-down 50-sheet output tray that extends 152mm in front. A second paper source, a 150-sheet cassette (20 sheets if using 4x6-inch paper), expands to accommodate A4 sheets. There's also a cover on the back of the printer that opens to allow unsnarling paper jams; however, we didn't experience any jams during our tests, even when duplexing.
Like that of other Pixmas, this printer's operation is driver-centric. There's a large power switch in the upper-right corner, a PictBridge port, a paper-feed button, and a paper-input-source switch. The power LED flashes in cycles of two to nine bursts to indicate status and error conditions, but it's generally easier to monitor the software status monitor for updates.
Front-panel LEDs illuminate to show which paper tray has been selected, but the printer switches automatically from one source to the other, and the switch setting can be overridden from the printer driver.
The printer doesn't automatically know which size paper is loaded into each tray. As a result, we'd initially choose the wrong source when using two different sizes of stock, repeatedly printing A4 output onto 4x6-inch paper in the cassette or wasting a full-size sheet with snapshot-size prints. That's when we discovered the valuable Paper Allocation feature, which allows you to specify the type of paper loaded into the cassette. When the absentminded choose the wrong input source, the printer switches automatically from the cassette to the automatic sheet feeder. Used correctly, this feature simplifies working with multiple-size sheets simultaneously.
The Canon Pixma iP5000 uses a 1,856-nozzle version of Canon's Full-Photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) printhead, spitting 1-picoliter droplets of ink. Up to 32 droplets form a pixel, for an effective colour resolution of 9,600x2,400dpi. Canon's ContrastPlus ink system uses four dye-based cyan, magenta, yellow, and black inks for photos and a pigment-based black for text. It uses the same BCI-6 colour tanks as several other Pixmas; a BCI-3e black tank handles text. An optical monitoring system tracks usage and offers a warning before each tank is completely depleted.
Compatible papers include Canon Photo Paper Pro, Photo Paper Plus and other stocks in glossy, semigloss and matte surfaces, plus transparencies, plain paper, envelopes and other business-oriented papers.
As with other Pixmas, Canon's printer driver divides key functions among six easy-to-navigate tabs. The main tab supplies drop-down lists for choosing paper type and input source. You can tell the printer to use the default source specified by the its feed switch, override the switch to use the top tray or the lower cassette or choose continuous autofeed to switch automatically from one source to the other when the selected tray runs out. The Paper Allocation feature can be used to specify both the size and the surface type of paper loaded into the cassette.
The main tab's Print Quality settings include High, Standard and Draft quality. A Custom setting lets you trade off between Fast/Coarse and Slow/Fine print quality and specify the type of halftoning applied to photo images. Automatic colour adjustment can be tweaked manually with cyan, magenta, yellow and black sliders. You can also use Windows' Image colour Management (ICM) for software-based colour management or the sRGB colour space for automatic colour matching. There's a check box to select greyscale printing and a wizard-based print adviser to provide help for inexperienced users.
The Page Setup tab sets orientation, duplexing and number of copies. It also allocates a margin for stapling along any edge. The Stamp/Background tab lets you mark each page with a notice, such as draft, or overprint a page with a background image or a watermark. Other tabs add colour toning such as sepia or pink hues to pages, boost saturation of greens and blues to accentuate the foliage and the sky without affecting skin tones, and apply Canon's Image Optimizer settings to reduce artifacts in low-resolution images. Although noise reduction is better done in a digital camera or an image editor, Canon offers that feature, too, as a quick fix. Any of these settings can be saved as a profile for reuse.
The Maintenance tab has the customary nozzle-cleaning and printhead alignment functions, along with a useful bottom-plate-cleaning step that uses a piece of A4 paper that's been folded and straightened out to wipe the printer clean prior to two-sided printing.
The Canon Pixma iP5000 printed CNET Labs' 10-page plain-paper text-speed test quickly, averaging 7.1 pages per minute (ppm). It performed a little bit quicker than its slightly less expensive sibling, the iP4000, which scored 6.7ppm on the same test. The iP5000 printed the Labs' 8x10 colour test photo on Canon's Photo Pro paper in 1.9 minutes -- a good, fast time but a mite slower than the iP4000's 1.8 minutes on the same test. This is likely a consequence of the smaller droplets, which we imagine require a slower movement of the printhead to achieve the correct placement and density.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
NOTE: Products in this test are for comparative purposes only and are not necessarily available in the Australian market.
The gamut produced by the Pixma iP5000's four-colour ink set can't match those of real photo printers. However, its minuscule droplets produced excellent text -- some of the best we've seen -- and allowed the printer to render photos with far more detail and accuracy in the midtones than comparable four-colour models do. Skin tones looked very good, colour gradients showed no colour banding, and small text -- Roman down to 2 points and italic down to 2.5 points -- was surprisingly well formed. We saw a full range of colours with good saturation, particularly in images that had been colour-boosted in Photoshop.