Photo printers that can produce ‘regular’ size prints without the need for a PC are becoming increasingly popular. Most of them, such as those from Epson and HP, are scaled-down inkjets, but Canon has taken a different route, offering a series of miniature printers based on dye-sublimation technology. The CP-500 sits high up inside this new range, but can still be had for just over £100 at street prices.
Dye sublimation uses a solid layer of ink on a very thin plastic film, which stretches the full width of the print. This is held in a plastic cartridge which has repeating bands of cyan, magenta, and yellow and a transparent covering layer for protection of the print. Each print has to pass through the printer four times, to take the three colours and the protective layer, which are transferred in turn to the print cards, using a thermal print head.
The head also runs the full width of the print, and the dye-based ink sublimes – turns immediately from solid to vapour without passing through a liquid phase. The vapour condenses on the paper, so although the printer is rated at 300dpi, there are no visible dots in the process. It’s what’s called continuous tone.
The Selphy CP500 is about the size of a thick paperback, though there’s a separate black power supply block and a cassette carrying the 6 x 4-inch postcard blanks, which clips in at the front. You also need to allow a space on your desk at the back of the printer, to accommodate each card as it’s fed out during the printing process. Various other paper sizes, including credit card, are available, with separate cassettes and ink film cartridges for each.
A sprung door at the side gives access to the ink film cartridge, which slides in easily, though you have to be careful not to snag the thin carrier film. At the other side are sockets for USB 2 connections to any PC and to a digital camera conforming to the DirectPrint or PictBridge standards. Using this link, the printer doesn't have to be connected to a computer to be able to generate prints.
There are no controls on the top of the machine, just a small window showing the size of paper cassette fitted. This glows blue around its edges when the printer is powered up and flashes when it’s printing.
The Selphy is quite capable of printing from graphics files on your PC and Canon's ZoomBrowser software provides photo management functions, though it doesn’t always find all the folders on your drives, let alone all the pictures within them.