The Canon Selphy CP800, A pocket-size dye-sub printer for go-anywhere photo printing

Travel, Shoot, Print; Portable Mini Photo Printers

Call me crazy, but I think these little guys are a very cool thing.  With Photo Arts Monthly, we hope to have created a magazine experience that’s interesting for the professional and high-end image makers among us.  So why spend time with a $75 photo printer like this, the Canon Selphy CP800?  Because there is still, even in 2011, something special about the tangible products of our bits-and-bytes passion, and super junior printers like this make it possible, on-the-spot and just about anywhere.

Take one to a wedding and send a stack of prints (in a lovely envelope) to the limo with the bride and groom.  Take one to a party and assemble an illustrated guest-book on the spot.  Perhaps, even more than the Fuji Film Instax Polaroid revival (reviewed here) printers like this are the new Polaroid.

Over the coming months, we’ll introduce a few of these micro-sized ink sprayers and we’re starting the series with one that has already won over a few hearts in the studio, the Canon Selphy CP800.  This is, for example, the first product to ever pass through the studious Photo Arts Monthly studio that my wife labeled as cute.  In fact, the first several test prints came straight from her iPhoto library and she has me worried the good people at Canon U.S.A. may never see their traveling test unit again.  None the less, I have commandeered the mini Canon for a rigorous two weeks of testing, on location, in the studio, and from a variety of sources.  Read on for the whole experience:

Click here to check prices of the Canon CP800 at Amazon.com

The Portable Canon Selphy CP800

My wife  is – of course – right: the Selphy CP800 is the cutest printer I’ve ever seen.  In a tough plastic shell, the little guy is free of squeaks and rattles and looks and feels – except perhaps for its pipsqueak size – pretty darn professional.  Uniquely, it isn’t an inkjet, but a Dye Sublimation printer, meaning it packs rollers, not tanks; applies a hot solid, not a liquid; and its prints have a glossy, lab-photo look that emerges in four rounds of excitement, not one boring one.  The first print will look wrong, all yellow (uh oh, a blocked print head!) then it slides back in the cupcake-size box and emerges with a golden tone mixture of yellow and magenta (oh, I see..) then back in for cyan, and one last time for a final high-gloss clear coat.  Bam… a workable 4×6 in half a minute from a box that’s smaller than my camera.

The Good

When stacked against other Printer McNuggets, the Selphy CP800 makes a strong showing.  It accepts a wide range of memory cards, USB, and “Pictbridge” for direct printing.  It is fast, image quality is good, Dye-Sub prints are tough, immediately dry, vibrant, and uniquely smooth and un-inkjet looking.  It is easy to use, looks great (in black or white), and the price is right.  [Amazon has the SELPHY CP800 on sale until the end of February for $75].  It’d make a strong choice for photo-booth duty at a corporate event or as a sling-along printer for the avid location scrap-booker.  By my calculus, 4×6 inch prints cost about $0.27 each at today’s prices, selling in packs of 108 4×6 sheets with ink to match, which is certainly competitive (we’ll know where in the pack that falls as more tiny tinters arrive for testing).

The Bad

Of course, nothing is without compromise.  The printer accepts only packs of ink and paper from Canon.  And there is only one surface option, gloss.  Inkjet ink, by comparison, can be sprayed on an increasingly wide range of surfaces (just see our recent review of photo paper made from Bamboo and Sugar Cane here).  Canon’s dye cartridges for the CP800, it’s worth noting, run only 36 prints (exactly 36, as the rolls contain 36 sheets each of yellow, magenta, cyan, and clear coat).  If you anticipate a flurry of printing surpassing 36, bring extra cartridges and plan to switch often.  It’s easy to do, and there’s no guess work as they’re done after 36, though they’re also pretty big, almost the size of the printer.  Another Selphy critique I’d point out is that sheets have perforated ears that must be torn off before they are really borderless.  The ears come off cleanly and easily, with a snap, but ruin at least a tiny bit of the pro-lab feel the prints might otherwise have.

The Accessories

It is worth analyzing what comes in the box with the minuscule Canon and what doesn’t.  Oddly, it doesn’t include a USB cable or wireless connectivity.  If you plan to use a computer, either order a cable along with the printer (A to B type, with one end boxy and the other traditional flat USB, like this one) or plan to order Canon’s $50 Bluetooth wireless adaptor, available here.  I’ve read elsewhere online that some generic, budget-friendly Bluetooth USB dongles work just as well, but don’t have the experience to comment myself (if you have experience with generic Bluetooth dongles, please feel free to share the experience on our Facebook page).

Finally – and this is pretty cool – the printer can be made battery-operated with the addition of Canon’s NB-CP2L rechargeable battery pack, available here.  As it comes, the printer is powered by a relatively enormous AC adaptor.  Thankfully, though it’s relatively huge and white compared to the small black printer, it will work anywhere in the world, accepting 100-240V, so photographers can take this show on the road (our tester even has a nice velcro strap to keep the cord neat).

The Experience

During a studio shoot testing the new Leica S2 DSLR (coming up in our March 1 issue) I used the tiny Canon to proof images.  The Leica, like several cameras on today’s market, has two memory card slots, in this case one SD and one CF.  I set the camera up to shoot RAW files to the CF and JPGs to the SD.  I was able to stick the JPG-loaded SD card directly in the printer, flip through images and hit “print” for quick, tangible feedback, on the spot.  The printer, it’s worth noting, offers a few processing options, like black and white, red eye removal, color adjustments, etc.  I skipped all that, running straight prints and they look great.

The print surface is uniquely smooth, with a subtle gloss texture and nice depth.  They are sturdy and fingerprint resistant and have nice neutral and vivid color.  Detail rendering is sharp, and the prints have a professional-feeling texture, especially once the perforated ears are torn off.  The finish is slightly reminiscent of metallic lab prints.  I had best results during testing shooting in sRGB instead of my usual AdobeRGB (I figure the RAW files have a more complete color gamut for later processing).

It’s not quite as fast as advertised, not because of printing, but due to time spent processing before printing.  In studio testing, I clocked about 1:15 from pressing “print” to holding a fresh print (granted, these were 38 MP JPGs).  Not counting processing the printer ran about 0:47.

Click here to check prices of the Canon CP800 at Amazon.com

The Conclusion

I look forward to more testing with the Canon Selphy CP800 and its HP, Epson, and Hiti counterparts.  In the meantime, I would happily recommend this printer pequeño to anyone in the market for quick glossy prints, direct from camera or computer.  Prints are made relatively quickly, look pro-lab high-gloss retro, and are good quality.  The process is unique, quick, and a sure conversation starter (whoa, it’s like a quadruple printer!)  I’d like to see third party supply options, an included USB cable or firewire connectivity, a touch more speed, and a more equivelantly-sized power supply, but really enjoy this little guy and the price is hard to beat.

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