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December 1996 Reviews This Month

12/96 Reviews HW: Canon BJC-4550

Do Double Duty in Four Color

By James Alan Miller

You might say Canon's BJC-4550 color ink jet printer is a two-timer. Its dual-platform feature works-in stunning color-on both Macs and PCs. That combination slips it onto our Recommended List alongside rival Epson's Stylus Color 500.

Using two interfaces, an IEEE 1284 compatible parallel for PCs and an Apple-style RS-422 compatible serial for Macs, the 4550 provides an impressive array of features, including a dual-cartridge system that supports special inks, wide format printing on 11-inch-wide paper, and Canon's fun and functional Creative 2 CD-ROM.

Four interchangeable ink cartridges snap in easily. The BC-21 Color cartridge comes with the printer and has separate black and color inkwells. Specifications rate the color wells for 200 pages at 3.75 percent coverage, at 14 cents per page. The black well produces 200 pages. The ink is expensive: A replacement color tank costs $21; the black is $7.40.

The BC-20 Black cartridge (replacement cost, $35) provides 900 text pages of monochrome output at 5 percent coverage, for 4 cents per page. Optional specialty cartridges, while expensive, provide excellent results. For example, the BC-22 cartridge with photo-realistic ink (an industry first) will produce about 100 pages at 47 cents per page; the BC-29F replacement cartridge, rated for 300 pages of text at 15 percent coverage, costs $42.

You'll need to replace the cartridge printhead, at a cost of $50, after printing approximately 2,000 pages at 30 percent coverage.

The BJC-4550 supports a wide variety of media types and sizes: standard letter, legal and ledger/tabloid (11 by 17 inches) paper, as well as A4, A5, B5, U.S. Commercial number 10 and European DL envelopes. Specialty papers, like the inks, are costly.

The 4550's excellent 720x360-dot-per-inch monochrome and color output easily rivals that of some high-end lasers and wax thermal units. Printouts of photos, using photo ink and high-resolution paper, are very impressive. My only criticism of the print quality is that, up close, text characters appear a little fuzzy at the edges, an effect almost invisible at reading distance.

Like nearly all other ink jets, the 4550 doesn't meet its rated speeds of 5 pages per minute for monochrome and 1ppm for color, especially with larger and more complex documents. With a small color file, it took two minutes to print a photo-not long at all considering the results. A full page 1.2MB photo took a little over 10 minutes. Again, the quality makes it worth the wait. A full page of text printed in about 35 seconds.

My coworkers' comments on the BJC-4550's output were the most enthusiastic I've heard in a long time, especially when I printed with the specialty neon ink. In addition to providing excellent, accurate printouts, this ink is naturally brighter; and when a page printed with it is illuminated by a black light, it appears to glow like a neon sign.

Canon Creative 2 CD-ROM is the most comprehensive software bundled with any ink jet, getting you and your printer to work right away. It includes Design Essentials, an excellent tool with numerous templates and complex graphics for brochures, signs, menus, newsletters and business cards.

--Info File--
Canon BJC-4550
Pros: Excellent output
Cons: Cost of consumables
Platforms: 3x, 95, NT
Canon Computer Systems
800-848-4123, 714-438-3000
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

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