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A large 3.5-inch LCD screen, a built-in card reader, good photo output, and duplex printing of up to 300 sheets between refills make the 9,600x2,400dpi Canon Pixma iP6600D a solid fit for digital camera owners who prize versatility and convenience. However, fuzzy text that can be output no more quickly than four pages per minute limits its appeal for home-office users. It took less than 10 minutes to set up the Canon Pixma iP6600D; I spent most of that removing protective shipping tape and installing the printhead and the six ink cartridges. A handy red lamp illuminates each ink tank from below when it's correctly installed and flashes when that tank is running dry. After that came installing the printer drivers and the optional image-editing, albuming, and Web-printing software from the CD; connecting the power cord; and plugging in the supplied USB 2.0 cable.
At 16 pounds and 7.7 by 16.9 by 12.3 inches, this printer commands quite a chunk of desk space, which grows another 8 inches in front for the flip-down 50-sheet output tray. The flip-up vertical autofeeder tray accepts 150 sheets of paper, as does a second input tray tucked underneath. It fits flush with the printer when loaded with 4x6- or 5x7-inch paper but juts outward 4.5 inches more when loaded with 8.5x11-inch paper.
The top panel is a maze of buttons and lights. On the left, there's a power button and a status LED, a feed switch to alternate the paper source between the autofeeder and the cassette, a Save button that transfers images from a memory card to your computer, an Easy-PhotoPrint Startup button for browsing images on the memory card, and an error light. The LCD, which you can adjust to any convenient viewing angle--mandatory because it was difficult to view off-axis--fronts a four-way cursor-control pad with central OK button. You use the pad to navigate menus, select photos, choose the number of copies to print, scroll the view screen, or specify other print options. To either side of this pad are a menu button, a Back button to return to the previous screen, a search key for sorting photos on the memory card by date, and a settings key that summons two screens of printing options. Choices range from print size to red-eye and noise reduction, as well as optimization features such as Face Brightening and contrast, hue, and saturation enhancement.
But wait! There's more! On the right side there's a Trim button for cropping the displayed image, as well as a pair of zoom buttons, a print button, and finally, a stop/reset key for throwing in the towel and starting anew.
At the far right edge of the front panel reside the IrDA sensor, a PictBridge port, and a cover hiding two slots that accept all common digital camera memory-card formats, as well as SmartMedia, xD-Picture Card, Memory Stick Duo/Pro Duo, and Mini SD with adapters.
As with other Pixmas, the iP6600D supplies versatile paper-feeding options so that it's easy to load letterhead and second sheets into separate trays or ordinary letter-size paper in one tray and photo paper in the other. When the same stock is loaded into both trays, the iP6600D can be set to switch from one tray to the other automatically for print jobs of up to 300 pages. It's easy to accidentally direct output to the wrong tray, so I recommend using the driver's Paper Allocation feature to specify the type of paper loaded into the cassette. Then, when printing jobs from your computer, the printer will switch to the autofeeder automatically if the cassette is not the best choice for the current job. Although text is not one of the Canon Pixma iP6600D's strengths, the automatic duplexing can be a valuable feature for home users who want to output class notes and school reports to both sides of a sheet or (with special two-sided photo paper) print picture sheets that are ready to slip into an album or a scrapbook. The Canon feeds the sheet out the front, then pulls it back in and prints on the reverse. Nothing jammed when I duplexed, but there's a door on the back of the printer for extricating sheets that may become ensnared in the paper path. The printer driver makes it easy to allow space for stapling any side of the sheet.
You can perform most chores needed for directly printing your digital photos, including specifying layout and color balance. But if you want to print images from your computer, you'll find the five-tab driver has the same functions and more.
Canon uses the same driver for most of the Pixma models. The main tab has drop-down lists for choosing paper type and input source, as well as autofeeder and cassette overrides. You can also select continuous autofeed to change from one tray to the other automatically during long print jobs. Choose High, Standard, or Draft quality; there's also a custom setting that lets you select from dithered, diffusion, or auto halftoning, as well as adjust a quality slider for gradations between fast/coarse and slow/fine output.
Although the iP6600D's driver can adjust color balance automatically, you can access sliders that customize cyan, magenta, yellow, and blank intensity, as well as choose between sRGB and Windows Image Color Management (ICM) systems for color matching. Grayscale printing is only a check box away, and there's a simple but effective Print Advisor wizard that quizzes you on what kind of document you're printing, then recommends an appropriate paper.
Other page-setup options include size and orientation, number of copies, border/borderless printing, and whether you'd like to add a watermark or a background image. An Effects tab has settings for optimizing the image, reducing noise, boosting contrast, or adding effects, including sepia, pink, or other colors. You can save any of your settings as a profile for reuse during another printing session.
The Maintenance tab is dotted with buttons for nozzle cleaning, printhead alignment, nozzle checks, and other tasks, including a bottom-plate-cleaning function that uses a folded letter-size sheet to tidy up prior to duplex printing. Like most of the other models in the Pixma line, the iP6600D uses Canon's Full-Photolithography Inkjet Nozzle Engineering (FINE) printhead, which emits droplets as small as 1pl for each of the color inks--cyan, magenta, yellow, photo cyan, and photo magenta--and 5pl for the black ink. Canon claims its ChromaLife 100 ink system will resist fading for 30 years when used with Canon Photo Paper Pro and Photo Paper Plus Glossy and framed in glass or 10 years when not framed. Seal your prints in an album with a plastic cover sheet and keep them in the dark, and Canon says they'll be preserved for viewing 100 years from now.
Separate ink tanks improve economy, but you can expect to pay almost $86 for a full set of refills. The CLI-8 inks, also used in several other Pixmas, cost about $14.25 for each tank. The retail prices for Canon-recommended paper stocks range from $12.49 for 50 sheets of the 4x6 glossy photo paper to $15.99 for 10 sheets of a semigloss double-sided paper for duplex photo printing.
As you might expect, this six-color printer's output quality fell right between the results we got with the four-color iP4200 and the flagship eight-color (which adds red and green inks to the mix). The colors themselves were excellent: quite neutral and fully saturated. If anything, there was a bit of oversaturation in the reds, quite pleasing for photos of hot air balloons or extraripe tomatoes but garish in subjects that required more subtlety. On examination through a 10X loupe, those picoliter dots were easy to discern, however, and we spotted some jaggies in diagonal lines.
Jaggies weren't the only problem with our black text output, however. Bleeding ink adhered like a coat of lint around the edges of most text characters, even when we switched to a premium paper to reduce wicking significantly. If you're finicky about your text output, don't cut corners on paper quality with this printer, and don't expect the text to approach laser printer sharpness.
During informal testing, the iP6600D delivered 4x6-inch photos in about 45 seconds, 8x10-inch prints in a hair less than two minutes, and monochrome text at a roughly 15-seconds-per-page clip.
|Photo speed in pages per minute|
The printed manuals furnished with the Canon Pixma iP6600D are skimpy, consisting of a Quick Start pamphlet, a 74-page Direct Printing Guide that provides orientation for the printer's menus and buttons, and a useful fold-out set of instructions. There's a more complete user guide on the installation CD. Canon's Web site includes a comprehensive set of FAQs and an interactive step-by-step troubleshooting wizard, along with duplicates of the CD manual if you lose your disc. If all else fails and you don't want to wait in a telephone queue, Canon offers an e-mail address for sending questions to live tech-support representatives. We posed a simple question and received an answer from a real person in less than 90 minutes.