Canon doesn't make completely unrealistic claims for the speed of the PIXMA MP540, stating 7.3ppm for black print and 5.5ppm for colour. Having said that, they're still some way out from the day-to-day speeds you might expect, particularly if your print runs are short. This is mainly due to the amount of fidgeting around the printer does before starting to print.
It sometimes takes as much as 29 seconds making squeezing noises before the paper starts to feed. This kind of initial housekeeping is excluded from the ESAT measurements in the ISO standard, which only look at page to page speeds. With short print runs - the average office document across Europe is just four pages - initial processing times are a noticeable proportion of the time for the whole print job.
We measured a speed of 3.95ppm for our five-page black text document and this rose to 6.09ppm for the 20-page one. The black text and colour graphics job, again five pages, returned a speed of 2.94ppm, so only the longer text document got close to the claimed speed.
Photo prints are particularly quick, with a 15 x 10cm print taking 1:48 in Best mode and 1:03 in Standard mode. Only when you need really top quality reproduction do you have to switch to anything other than Standard mode.
One anomaly in the use of the PIXMA 540MP, which we've noticed with other Canon all-in-ones, is directing paper from specific trays when printing. In trying to print our 20-page test document from the cassette, rather than the rear tray, we set it to cassette in the printer's menu, in the Option dialogue of the driver and in the Paper Source field in the Main driver tab, but it still printed from the rear tray.
Eventually we found a Paper Source field in the Paper tab of Word's Page Setup dialog, which appeared to over-ride all the others. Why on earth does it need to be set in four different places?
The quality of prints from this machine is pretty good throughout. Black text looks clean, though it's not up to laser standards and coloured graphics are bright and attention grabbing, with good registration of black text over the top. Even a colour photocopy produces workable colours and clean text, though there's some slight blurring of black text over colour.
Our test photo on Canon's top of the range Platinum photo paper is superb, with beautifully smooth colour variations, plenty of detail in areas of shadow and natural colours throughout. Even on the slightly less expensive Pro paper, photo images are natural and have a good range of detail. These are the best photos we've seen out of any machine under £100.
We couldn't find any source for the five ink cartridges that was cheaper than those we used for our MP620, so we get costs of 3.89p for black and 9.12p for colour on both. Neither of these costs is particularly low, but you always expect to pay more when printing on a machine with a cheap purchase price.
There aren't many all-in-one printers at under £75 which do as good a job as the MP540 and none which offer twin paper sources as standard and output quality as high as from this machine. It may not have a couple of the bells and whistles of the MP620, but it has more than most of the competition from other manufacturers.