Our First Take
With all the hubbub surrounding 3D printing, it's rare to see anyone talking about good ol' 2D photo printers. Let's face it: The technology is aging, and it's an expensive piece of equipment to have hanging around, if only for the ever-rising cost of ink. Printers aren't going to command the show floor, nor are they going to grab headlines.
But part of any serious photo setup is a way to get good prints. Whether you're selling them, handing them out to friends and family, or just hanging them on your wall, getting a quality photo print is a necessity for pros and enthusiasts. For many, that means a trip out to a store, buying prints online, or finally taking the plunge on a high-end home printer.
However, Canon recently released a prosumer model that hobbyists should pay very close attention to. Bridging the gap between consumer and professional inkjet printing is the Canon PIXMA iP8720. While we haven't had the chance to try it out under lab conditions, we had some time to mess around with this new challenger at CES. Boasting comparable performance to high-performance printers but making its debut at a consumer price point, the iP8720 is gunning for photo junkies and average families alike.
Design & Usability
Big things are going on under the hood.
At first glance, there's nothing that sets this printer apart from Canon's vast range of PIXMA printers: They all have similarly-styled casings and configurations, and the iP8720 is no different. What is different is under the hood—the spec sheet alone can do the hard sell for those familiar with photo printers, but I'll give you the short version.
Measuring in at 23.3 x 13.1 x 6.3 inches, and 18.6 pounds, this is not exactly a compact printer. However, it should fit on the average desk—just be careful with glass tops. Considering the heft and bulk of high-end photo printers, this is a pretty happy medium for those who don't have the space to give up.
If you're a budget-conscious printer shopper, the utility of individual ink cartridges can't be oversold. Ever use a printer with just "color" and "black" ink cartridges? Didn't it feel like a ripoff when you had to toss the color cartridge because you ran out of cyan, but still had a ton of magenta and yellow ink left? This printer doesn't suffer that problem: If you run out of one color, you just get another cartridge of that color. No wasted ink. (Buying a bunch of individual color cartridges might be more expensive in the short term, but it works itself out in the long run.)
The PIXMA iP8720 can print photos with high detail, with super-fine ink droplets in high density (9600 x 2400 dpi). Additionally, because this printer is large enough to handle 13 x 19–inch photo prints, you can take your shots and have a frame-worthy poster in minutes. That's not just cool, but something your old family inkjet probably can't do.
Though there aren't media card slots on the front of the printer, the iP8720 supports printing over a shared WiFi network, as well as Google Cloud Print. By using the latter, you can print your photos at any size over the internet, from any device that the client supports—smartphones, Canon cameras, and computers can all take advantage of this feature.
Built for pros, but priced for the home
This printer's advertised boost in print performance is thanks to the introduction of two pro-level features: grey ink, and nozzles that can make droplets as small as one picoliter. If that doesn't mean much to you, let me put it another way: With an enormously high dots per inch (DPI) ratio, this printer can make points of ink one-half to one-fifth the size of those made by most consumer printers today.
That's a big deal, but hardly the only design point worth highlighting. The grey ink may not seem all that exciting, but it's very rarely been included in printers at this price point. It used to be that printers would use a series of black dots in different densities to represent values along the greyscale, but when you get to really light shades it didn't look very good. By adding grey ink, a printer can use different dyes to make a more seamless transition from black to white—dramatically improving contrast. You can see this most clearly in black-and-white photo prints.
Beyond the more pro features, Canon has crammed in as many extras as the iP8720 can hold. Offering things like full-HD movie print, CD/DVD printing, and Clould Print, this inkjet has as many ancillary features as you'd find on any of the other top models in the PIXMA line. Though the feature list alone isn't enough to justify the price, the performance appears to be set to pick up the slack.
Printers can be fun, I swear.
This printer has all the specs needed to make a big splash in a stagnant industry. It may be difficult to get excited about a larger-format printer for $300, but the iP8720 is special because it offers features we see on high-end printers at a price point just above that of the average home office printer. If you're a graphic designer or semi-pro shutterbug, this is exciting news.
If grey ink and super-fine droplet sizes don't excite you, this printer probably isn't your style. But if you're creating works of art and care about how they turn out on paper, reconsider that attitude—large-format printers with these features are usually an order of magnitude more expensive than the iP8720.
On the production side of things, outsourcing your can get tedious and expensive, so definitely put the Canon iP8720 on your radar if you need pro-quality prints on a regular basis. But if you're looking for full performance results, you'll have to hang tight until we can get a production model in our labs.