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Canon printer aims at graphics

The digital photography market is said to be stalled while it waits for a printer that can match photographic quality, but Canon is addressing that barrier.

The digital photography market is said to be stalled while it waits for a printer that can match photographic quality. Now Canon Computer Systems says it will not only match the photograph, but beat it.

At Comdex Fall '97 last night, Canon announced a color ink-jet printer, code-named "Aspen," that delivers what Canon says is the ink-jet market's smallest drop size (8 picoliters, or 8 trillionths of a liter) and highest pixel-count resolution (1200-by-1200 dots per inch). The result, according to Canon, is a print superior to a photograph.

But even if the printer lives up to Canon's claims, it probably won't make much of an impact in the consumer market. Expected to sell for about $1,500, or about ten times the cost of a low-end color ink-jet printer, Aspen is aimed at graphics professionals for whom $1,500 is a relative bargain.

Targeting the graphics market is something of a departure for Canon, which has traditionally focused on home users, according to Dataquest analyst Robert Fennell. Graphics professionals typically rely on pricey digital color copiers and line-thermal transfer rather than ink-jet printers like the Aspen, so Canon's success in this segment will depend on one thing: performance.

"At the price, to deliver that quality is a real breakthrough," he said. "The issue then is how long it takes to print. If you have to wait half a day to get a 13-by-19-inch printout, that's not a good solution for print professionals."

Canon said the printer would print at six pages per minute in black, and four pages per minute in color using a letter-sized sheet of paper. Canon representatives demonstrating the product at Comdex reported that an 11-by-17 color print with 85 percent coverage was printing in six minutes at the highest quality setting.

The printer will use what Canon calls dual density inks. One-fifth less dense in color than normal inks, dual density inks yield 17 levels of color gradation with the Aspen printer, which can lay down multiple droplets on the same spot. That nearly doubles the color levels possible with Canon's next-best ink-jet printer, the BJC-7000. Canon also uses a solvent that makes print water-resistant.

Compatible with both Macintosh and Windows platforms, Aspen is scheduled to be available in the second half of the coming year.