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I've been a photographer since 2007, but never owned my own dye sublimation printer until March 2012 - I knew all about them, but until I decided to try my hand at on site printing for events, I'd never really needed one. To help me decide if this would be a worthwhile business venture I decided to start off with a small, consumer level dye sub and plumped for this one by Canon.
So what is a dye sublimation printer?
Essentially you have sheets (or sometimes rolls) of photographic paper like you would with a normal printer, but the ink works differently - instead of squirting different coloured inks onto the paper from chambers, the ink for dye sublimations comes in a roller type format. In here are 3 different colours laid in repetition, one next to the other which are then layered up in succession for each image. In theory this gives better quality and colour than you would get from a conventional ink jet.
How do I use it?
The good thing, and what was quite a critical point for me, is that you don't need to use a computer to print from this - there is a small LCD screen and a full compliment of different card slots to enable you to print direct.
If you do want to use your computer it comes with easy to understand, and load, software. I've used it on numerous occasions when I wanted to print something from my computers hard drive and it was easier to hook it up this way rather than copy onto a memory card first. The software is accompanied by a woman with annoying American accent speaking to you, so I just stick my laptop on mute!
When using as a stand along product I found it quick, simple and easy to use - the instruction book was straight forward at showing you how to set up for the first time (where to put the paper tray, loading the ink etc.) There are a limited number of buttons/controls so there isn't too far you can go wrong. The LCD is very small when looking at thumbnails, so good eyesight is a bonus from this perspective.
Of course electricity is a requirement and the printer comes complete with a mains cable. There is however the option to run this via a specific lithium ion battery. This is an option I looked into but the battery cost was around £70 which I thought was a lot of money in relation to the product cost, and the number of prints it would do per charge was rather low. I did however plan to use this printer outdoors so I went another route and bought a device that allowed me to hook it up to my car battery and run it from there - perfect!
What sizes can I print?
This is fairly restrictive in the sense that you can only print up to 6x4 size images, although to be fair most people only print bigger than this on an occasional basis. You can choose to print smaller but the paper is only available in a 6x4 size, so to get smaller images you print multiples per sheet then cut them out. It is capable of going as small as keyring size. If you choose a smaller size eg. 4 per page, it will be 4 of the same image - this machine doesn't seem capable of printing different images on the same page except in the instance of what is termed as a 'contact sheet' (thumb nails with the file name printed below each image).
Is the quality any good?
I'd have to say yes - of course it's not the best I've ever seen, but it can certainly hold its own against prints you get done from any standard printers. Colour, definition and contrast are all pleasing to the eye and pretty accurate looking.
My only problem here would be that the printer does seem incredibly prone to attracting even the tiniest bit of crud and dragging it through with the paper which results in funny coloured score marks across the image. I think this is partially because as the ink is laid onto the paper then shot out of the back and front of the printer multiple times, but this 'area' is located at the base of the machine meaning the paper sort of scrapes along whatever surface the printer is placed on so anything lying on said surface stands a chance of being flicked on top of the paper. As such you need to ruthless about making sure your surface is very clean before use. That said even when I'm very careful about packing everything away in the box and being very clean, the first print of each use usually seems to suffer from some sort of 'scratch' marking, so I'd have to say that it seems like a bit of a design flaw and does of course lead to wasting money.
How big is it?
Without grabbing the measuring tape I can safely say it's quite small, although you would expect this given the optimum size of print it can produce. Certainly it is much smaller than your average A4 inkjet printer.
How much should I expect to pay?
When I bought mine it was retailing for around £100, as I work in the business I managed to pick it up at cost price which at the time was £58. As Canon have now released a newer version (the CP810) cost on this model has gone down and you should be able to pick one up for around the £50 mark or cheaper if you look second hand.
On top of this you need to consider the cost of ink and paper - these have to be purchased together in packs (the ink roller is designed to do a set number of sheets). You can buy a 36 sheet pack for around £14 or a 108 sheet pack for around £34. It's useful to note that both previous and current models of the printer use the same ink and paper set up which is something in Canon's favour. If you buy the larger pack this means you'll be spending around 31p per photo, which to be honest is a bit on the expensive side when you consider that bulk printing online/from shops can cost you as little as 5p a time, although you do lose the convenience.
I do have a bit of a bug bear with this printer - you can't zoom in/crop any images prior to print. This is something I've found lots of people like to do and seems quite a big feature to miss out on - I'm sure it can't have been that complicated for Canon to add. I have a feeling this might have been put into the new model, but don't quote me on it.
So do I recommend it?
I'm in two minds to be honest - on the negative side it's fairly expensive when compared to getting prints from other sources, size of prints is restrictive, you can't crop and it attracts dust and dirt like there's no tomorrow. However it is easy to use, results are good quality and it's fantastic from a convenience point of view - I now also own a much bigger 'professional' dye sub printer, but I still drag this one out when I want to do a quick print or two to send off in a letter or whatever as it's just that much quicker. It's certainly not a bad buy, but not something to get as an impulse purchase - I think you really need to have a specific purpose in mind, like I did, to make it worthwhile.