Where HP's portable photo printers look like shrunken versions of their standard loaf-shape desktop inkjet printers, the Canon CP-300 is unusual-looking enough to turn heads. It's a sleek, compact, 6.7-inch-by-4.8-inch-by-2.2-inch (W, H, D) rectangle with a round window on the top panel that holds the power button and a status-indicator light. The light glows a cool green when you turn on the printer, pink when there's an error, and orange when you power it down.
A small panel in front of the printer flips down to receive the included paper trays (one for postcard-size prints, one for 4x6-inch prints); these are slim, unobtrusive gray-plastic cartridges that hold 18 sheets of paper each. On the left side of the printer, there's a little rubber door that hides two USB ports--one for connecting to a Mac or PC, one to receive select Canon or PictBridge-compatible digital cameras or camcorders for direct printing.
Another great touch is the included battery pack, which snaps onto the back of the CP-300. You can also buy a car-adapter kit and a cute, little carrying case through Canon's Web site.
Unlike HP's Photosmart 145 and 245 printers, the Canon CP-300 has neither an LCD, nor any slots for digital media. You'll have to use the camera's LCD to select photos and change print settings if you print directly from your digital camera. Otherwise, any adjustments must be done on your PC through the print drivers.
Fortunately, the drivers are very simple and easy to use. There are only three tabs on the interface to regulate paper size and orientation, color saturation and hue, and utilities. The printer also comes with ZoomBrowser EX and PhotoRecord software, Canon's basic image management software. These apps help you manage your photos, edit them, change print layouts, add a framelike border, and more. Canon's software is reasonably easy to use, but its interface is not quite as logicial as HP's, so you may have to refer to the on-CD user guide.
The Canon CP-300's setup is as easy as can be. The included printed setup pamphlet shows how to load the paper trays and change the ink cartridge. We appreciated the guide's helpful descriptions of what you can do with the CP-300, such as printing a picture directly from your camera, adding captions to photos, and even making business cards.
The Canon CP-300 differs from HP's Photosmart 145 and 245 in two ways. First, unlike HP, Canon uses dye-sublimation technology instead of inkjet technology. This means that instead of spraying tiny droplets of ink, the printer heats and applies wax to the photo paper in layers of color. Second, the CP-300 sucks the paper in and out a few times as it applies each layer, and the ink cartridge (actually a ribbon) looks like a tiny toner cartridge. Fortunately, the layering process doesn't slow the printing process: the CP-300 was quite speedy in CNET Labs tests, printing our test 4x6-inch photo at 1.5 minutes per page (mpp), compared to a sluggish 2.4mpp for the HP 245 and 2.7mpp for the HP 145.
The CP-300's print quality was also good in our tests. Because dye sublimation uses no droplets, you'll see no dithering whatsoever, making for very smooth skin tones and a waxy sheen that gives a filmlike look to photos. We did notice, however, that the CP-300's output was slightly darker overall than our control photo, which is what kept the printer from earning an excellent rating.
Given the high purchase price of the CP-300, we were a bit disappointed to discover that the included ink ribbon is good for only five prints. This means that you'll have to spend an extra $20 on a 36-print ribbon when you buy the printer. However, if Canon's estimates are correct, the cost of printing should run you about 56 cents per 4x6-inch printout, which is decent for a photo printer and about the same the cost of buying and developing a roll of film.
Inkjet color-photo speed test (Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Note: Minutes per page.|
|Color-photo printer quality|
Canon backs the CP-300 with an industry-standard one-year warranty. Toll-free tech support is available for the life of the printer from Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to midnight and Saturday from 12 noon to 8 p.m. ET. Canon's Web site offers other good tech-support options, including e-mail support, driver downloads, a glossary of technical terms, and software instructions.