If you want to print great photos, but don’t want the high ink costs, the Canon PIXMA G550 inkjet printer might be for you. Although it can’t scan or copy, its large ink tanks mean you’ll be spending less time worrying about refills or expensive ink. This printer uses six colours to help produce more detailed and colourful prints. Although it’s not cheap, the results are generally worth it.
- Low running costs
- Strong photo quality
- Decent plain paper prints
- Expensive to buy
- Slow, especially on plain paper
- No auto double-sided printing
- A strong photo printerExtra red and grey inks help the G550 deliver more accurate shading and a wider range of colours
- Ink tanksNo expensive and wasteful cartridges, just tanks, filled using cheaper bottled ink
- Wi-Fi supportConnect and share wirelessly
Canon’s PIXMA G550 is an inkjet printer, aimed at users who want to print great photos.
It doesn’t have a scanner, so you can’t scan or copy, but it does have six inks, letting it produce more accurate colour and black and white photos. Best of all it uses cheaper bottled ink, so prints cost less and there’s less plastic waste.
But does it offer enough quality to make our Best Printer list? Here are my thoughts.
Design and features
- Compact and smart
- Comparatively involved setup
- Simple mono display
For the most part, the Canon PIXMA G550 is a simple printer. It’s a single-function device, which means it can’t help you scan or copy images. Instead, it’s built just for printing, supporting up to A4 or Legal paper. At the back it has a single paper tray, at the front a simple output tray, and there’s no support for automatic double-sided (duplex) printing.
The PIXMA G550 does have a simple mono display, though, together with a smattering of buttons to help you configure and operate its core features. Importantly, this printer supports Wi-Fi networks, allowing you to share it easily across your household.
It doesn’t sound especially impressive, but look again and you might spot the features that set this printer apart. Colourful ink tanks in the front panel reveal that it’s one of Canon’s Megatank range of refillable inkjets. Ink comes in bottles, lasts for ages and is cheap to replace. And instead of the typical four-ink arrangement of black, cyan, magenta and yellow, this printer adds red and grey inks to create a six-ink setup.
On plain paper you’re unlikely to spot the difference, but the G550 is designed to deliver great photos. The extra grey ink helps give it fine shading control, and enhances the contrast of black and white images, while the red extends the range of colours it can reproduce.
This unusual arrangement does make setting up the Canon PIXMA G550 a little more involved. You start by fitting its print heads, which look much like a pair of empty cartridges, then set about filling its six large tanks from the bottles in the box. The tanks are spaced in such a way that you can leave three bottles draining at a time, meaning the process only takes a couple of minutes.
Canon says that a full set of ink bottles will last for 3700 black pages, or 8000 colour pages. When the supplied ink runs out, you’ll pay around £11 for replacement bottles, giving the G550 running costs of about 0.3p per black page, or a penny in colour.
While that’s some way off the lowest we’ve seen in this class, it’s still far cheaper than any cartridge-based equivalent. Canon also says a set of bottles will print 3800 10x15cm colour photos, which works out at as little as 1.7p per shot. Even once you factor in photo paper, it’s hard to print photos for less.
It’s also worth mentioning that printing similar volumes with a conventional home inkjet would typically burn through 10-20 full sets of ink – perhaps somewhere in the region of 100 cartridges. While some cartridges are refilled and re-used, in most cases they end up in landfill, so choosing a tank-based printer can help cut down significantly on plastic waste.
Print speed and quality
- Strong photo quality
- Reasonable plain paper quality
- This is not a fast printer
The first thing to establish is that the Canon PIXMA G550 is not a particularly fast printer. It took 31 seconds to print a first page of black text, and needed one minute and 41 seconds to finish a five-page job – a rate of just three pages per minute (3ppm). It managed exactly the same speed on our longer, 20-page text printing test, although it was no doubt hindered by a 16-second housekeeping pause during the job.
The very fastest rate I timed was 3.5ppm on a 25-page text test: that’s the slowest black text result I’ve measured in more than five years.
The G550 is also slow to print colour graphics on plain paper, although its 2.4ppm on our five-page test isn’t such an outlier: I’ve tested plenty of inkjets that fell below 3.0ppm here.
We test inkjet photo quality at the best available setting, at which they tend to be on the slow side. Sure enough, the Canon PIXMA G550 took six minutes and 44 seconds to print a single borderless A4 photo, and it needed nearly two and a half minutes for every borderless 10x15cm snap.
All this would be for nothing if this printer couldn’t deliver the goods, but the results were generally very good. On plain paper, black text was reasonably crisp and dark, despite the use of dye-based inks, which are at their best on photos.
Similarly, colour graphics were reasonably punchy, although they lacked the impact of the best pigmented inks. I was particularly impressed by this printer’s ability to reproduce smooth shade transitions across the background of our presentation slides. Although they were let down somewhat by very subtle horizontal banding, it’s not something that would bother the typical user.
Given that it’s really optimised for photo printing, it’s no surprise to find this printer delivers extremely good results. With both black and grey inks to play with, it produced a neutral and exceptionally detailed black and white print, about as good as any I’ve seen from a home printer.
I was a little less bowled over with colour prints, however. These had Canon’s hallmark warm tone, which can occasionally spill over into highly saturated colours. It works brilliantly on some subjects, such as our bowl of fruit print, but it can lead to overly warm tones in others, particularly when it comes to skin. Colour prints also lacked a little fine detail in the mid-tones, perhaps a surprise given the G550’s six-ink setup.
To be fair, however, this only became obvious when compared side-by-side with photos from another six-ink printer. The G550’s photos are a clear step up compared to four-ink printers, and very good overall.
Should you buy it?
You want cheap photo printing
The G550 really excels at cheap photo printing, with ink costs of less than 2p per postcard photo
You need an all-rounder
This printer could prove too slow for a busy home, and it’s a shame it doesn’t support double-sided printing
This is a strong photo printer, with commendably low running costs. Even when you factor in photo paper at around 15p per sheet, it can trot out lab-quality postcard-sized photos for less than 20p each. That makes it ideal for keen snappers who want to create and experiment with their own prints.
The Canon PIXMA G550 isn’t bad on plain paper, either, but here it’s noticeably slow, particularly when printing black text. It’s also missing automatic double-sided printing. These limitations could be a problem if you’re looking for a single printer to handle all the printing duties in a busy household, but for a lightly used device it’s less of an issue.
How we test
Every printer we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things including print quality, speed and cost.
We’ll also compare the features with other printers at the same price point to see if you’re getting good value for your money.
Tested printing with monochrome and coloured ink
Measured the time it takes to print with various paper
Compared print quality with other printers
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Yes, and it’s very talented at printed photos.
No, the Canon PIXMA is a single-function printer.