For a budget printer, the Canon i450 is a substantial machine, not least because of its height. Standing over 200mm off the desk, the rear paper tray makes it even taller when filled with up to 100 sheets of A4 paper. Paper feeds through the printer to a telescopic paper tray at the front, though both trays can be folded out of the way when youâ€™re not printing.
There are only two controls on the printer itself: a power button and one for paper feed. Between these a single green LED shows when the printer is on and, by flashing, when itâ€™s receiving data. Power comes from a single mains cable and thankfully doesnâ€™t require a separate power brick. Two more sockets, one at the back and one at the side, take a USB cable (not supplied) for connection to a PC and a proprietary lead for a Canon digital still or video camera.
Cameras that can print directly to the i450 have to be Bubble Jet Direct compliant, which restricts the feature to recent Canon devices. However, the printers that accept memory cards are compatible with virtually any camera you choose.
The i450 uses a replaceable head with two separate ink tanks, one black and the other three-colour. The front and top panel of the printer hinges down so you can fit head and ink tanks making the machine is easy to set up. That said, print head alignment is a manual process, where you have to select the best examples from a series of calibration prints.
The software is easy to install and consists of a comprehensive printer driver and two small applications called Easy-PhotoPrint and Easy-WebPrint. The printer driver includes features like watermark, stamps and multi-page per sheet and even offers advice on the correct settings for particular types of print. The maintenance tab within the driver offers a wide range of options, including those to set the low-ink warning level and reset the print counter.
Easy-PhotoPrint enables you to select images to print, choose the media and quality of that print and pick a layout to make best use of your paper. One interesting option here is to select borderless prints up to A4, so you can easily produce output that looks like the photos youâ€™d get back from a same-day bureau. Easy-WebPrint adds an extra toolbar to Internet Explorer 5 and above, enabling quick and correctly formatted prints of any Web page.
This printer undergoes more cleaning cycles than some of its predecessors, perhaps because of its separate head and ink tank design. In this type of system, as with Epsonâ€™s piezo-electric technology, itâ€™s important to keep the ink tubes free of any air bubbles.
Cleaning cycles take time, particularly if they occur while printing and must be allowed for by the manufacturer when assessing the ink usage of the machine â€“ extra ink should be allowed for wastage during each cleaning cycle.
Print quality from the samples we produced was good for a printer in this sub-Â£100 category. Black text print was clean and sharp and to the untrained eye could be mistaken for laser print. Under a magnifying glass, there was some ink-spread into the fibres of the paper but this was kept to a minimum.
The mixed text and graphics print sample showed visible dot patterns in several areas of solid colour and the shadow of the heading banner was mis-coloured â€“ a driver fault. There was no noticeable banding in this test sample, nor in the top quality photo print, where the hard-to-reproduce graduation in the sky colour was handled well and fine detail in the various shades of green and yellow of the foreground trees was of a high-quality.
There are two top-quality settings available on this printer. The first is to set best quality print in the driver, while the second is to use Canon's print Wizard and tell it you want a high-quality photo print. The two sets of settings are different, with the manual best quality print taking around 45 seconds longer than that from the Wizard. We used the Wizard setting in our timing results, as it was hard to see any difference between the two resulting prints.
We ran usage tests on both mono and colour prints and produced 161 5% cover black pages and 147 20% colour pages before receiving warnings that printing any more could result in damage to the print heads. Although, at that stage, there was no noticeable drop off in the print outs, we stopped printing, reasoning that most people wouldnâ€™t ignore a message of that type.
Using our test figures and typical street prices for ink cartridges and paper, we arrived at a cost of 4.3p for a 5% colour page and 40.5p for an 20% colour page on glossy photo paper. These were the lowest costs among the sub-Â£100 printers, by a substantial margin.