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Canon reckons the PIXMA MP990 can print 11.9 ISO black page images a minute and 9.1 colour page ones. We didn’t see quite these speeds, though we got closer to them than is often the case. Our 5-page text print returned 6.98ppm, which rose to 9.30ppm for the 20-page test. The 5-page text and graphic test gave 5.45ppm.
These speeds are reasonable for an inkjet, though there’s a fair degree of variation because of the amount of fiddling about the printer does before and during printing. On one photo print the machine took 45s before it started printing. On the second run, this preparation time was much shorter, and we saw these kinds of differences on some of the other print tests, too.
When it comes to duplex print, things are a bit grey...literally. The printer appears to use the dye-based photo black ink in place of the pigmented black used for single-sided text print. This is likely to be because the dye ink dries more quickly than the pigmented and Canon can reduce the pause between printing first and second sides of each page.
However, the dye-based ink isn’t as dense as the pigmented, so text appears decided grey in comparison with simplex pages. The colour print head is also shallower than the black, so it takes more passes to print a page, which means printing is slower. As well as the pause between sides, this slower print increased the print time to 7:04 for our 20-side, 10-page test, giving a speed of 2.83 sides per minute, which is slow.
Photo prints, something of a specialism of this machine, come through quickly, with our 15 x 10cm tests taking around 30 seconds, irrespective of the source.
Print quality is generally good, leaving aside the greyness of duplex pages. Black text on simplex pages is dense and generally well formed, with only occasional ink bleed from the pigmented ink. Colour graphics are bright and smooth, with no signs of banding and very little obvious patterning from colour dithers.
Photo images remain among the best we've seen from five or six-ink machines. Colour transitions are smooth, tones are natural and there's plenty of detail in darker as well as lighter areas of images. We printed a couple of black and white photos and mid-range shades are a definite improvement over printers relying on black ink alone. Grey neutrality is good throughout the range and without going to eight or nine-colour machines, is probably the best you'll see.
There’s an extra grey cartridge to factor into the colour running costs for this machine which pushes up the colour cost per page. We calculate a black page cost of 3.18p and a colour page cost of 9.27p, both including 0.7p for paper.
The black page cost is pretty much on a par with those inkjets which don't major on cheap black print – Kodak and Lexmark are those that do. The colour cost is about a penny per page higher than some of Canon's competitors.
As the top-ranking all-in-one in Canon's range, the PIXMA MP990 includes wireless connection, CD/DVD print, transparency and negative scanning and an extra grey ink for improved black and white prints. Print quality is excellent and speeds, though a little erratic, are in the same order as its main rivals. For the given feature set, the price is not unduly high and overall it deserves a recommendation.