Chromalife 100 and Chromolife 100+ Inks

Canon’s Chromalife 100 inks are used in Canon’s Pixma photo printers - some use 4, 5, or even 8 ink cartridges. At the top of the range the A3+ Pixma Pro 9000 MkII uses 8 dye inks, while the Canon Pixma Pro 9500 MkII uses 10 pigment inks including a light grey making it the best choice in the Canon range for monochrome and archival printing.

For most people the interesting part of the Canon range is the 5 ink printers like the Canon Pixma iP3600, Canon Pixma iP4500 and Canon Pixma iP4600 which, although reasonably priced from about 60 - 100 in the UK, are capable of excellent photo prints and are relatively cheap to run. The printers are unique in using 2 black inks as well as 3 colour inks. This may seem a strange set up, but in fact is designed to give you the best of both worlds - high quality photo printing and economical general home or office use. For text there is a large pigment black cartridge which gives excellent text quality and much more ink per cartridge than normal, while for deep blacks on photo paper there is a dedicated photo black cartridge. That coupled with tiny droplet sizes means that prints from Canon Pixma printers using the 5 ink system are almost as good as you will get from photo printers using 6 colours or more and costing several times as much.

In short, Canon’s Pixma 5 ink system is great, really giving you excellent results and reasonable running costs.

Canon Pixma iP5200 photo printer

The Canon 5 ink system traces it’s roots back to the Canon i865 which used BCI6 inks and was followed by the Canon Pixma iP5200 and iP5300 which used the CLI-8 cartridges.

Canon claims a 100 year life for Chromalife 100 prints on Canon media if they are stored in a photo album. 30 years if framed behind glass, but only 10 years if unprotected.

Chromalife 100+ was introduced in 2008 and increases the figure to a claimed 300 years in an album, 30 year light fastness and 20 year gas fastness.   

When Canon initially launched their new Chromalife 100 long life inkset it paid to read their printer specs very carefully, as many of their Pixma inkjet photo printers actually still used the old Canon BCI-6 inks. Only a few, including the Pixma iP4200 and iP5200 used the new CLI-8 inks. Canon’s Chromalife inks aim to address the main weakness of their printers based on the older inks, while retaining the speed and glossy photo abilities that were their greatest assets.

Chromalife 100 inks are claimed to be lightfast for up to 100 years with Canon’s own photo papers. Canon claim a 100 year life for prints stored in photo albums, 30 years for framed behind glass and 10 years for “unprotected” prints. Interestingly Canon claims that most fading is due to gases in the air rather than exposure to light.

Canon Pixma iP5200 photo printer
Although I’m a professional photographer and this isn’t really a professional printer, I’ve made a lot of photo prints with the Canon Pixma iP5200. Even though it only uses 5 inks and 2 of them are blacks, this is one of the best photo printers I’ve ever used.  OK the tonal range may be slightly less smooth than an 8 ink Epson or Canon but the difference is small enough to be almost irrelevant in real world terms. Considering the far lower running costs compared to a 6 or 8 ink photo printer, Canon 5 ink printers are a bargain.

This only applies to Canon 5 ink  printers.

Canon photo printers which only use 4 inks are a different story.    >>> Canon Pixma iX4000 Review

All Canon 5 or 6 ink photo printers are reasonably fast and produce great glossy photos. The system’s main weaknesses are in colour management - the drivers allows very little real control, only allowing you to use Windows own ICM or some sliders that don’t include a lighten/darken, saturation or contrast control. Instead you have “intensity” and  “black” controls. Considering the printer’s tendency to produce oversaturated colours - even with “Vivid” turned off - these are major omissions.  Fortunately most of the time the slightly more colourful than reality look is exactly what is wanted, so it’s only when colours really are bright that it becomes a problem. Many of my pictures are seascapes and if the sea really is that ideal bright blue, prints from the Canon are way too intense and resist all tweaks on the controls, or the image saturation to fix it.

Still printers that give you exactly what you want 99% of the time while set to Glossy Photo Paper and Auto with my favourite Ilford Smooth Glossy or Fuji Premium Glossy papers are hard to resist. If Canon’s drivers included a saturation control I’d be hard pressed to criticise them at all. That, along with single ink tanks that really are empty when the driver tells you so make Canon photo printers great buys.

Unfortunately over the last couple of years, Canon have realised what great buys they are, and have made some changes to the ink cartridges used, introducing the BCI 521 etc to replace the CLI-8 series in most of their printers. As these new cartridges contain almost exactly half the ink that the CLI-8’s hold, it’s not a positive change. However, the new cartridges are slightly cheaper than the CLI-8’s and even with this fairly cunical change, I still think Canon 5, 6 or 8 ink photo printers are great buys - Just stay away from the 4 ink printers.  Canon Pixma iX4000 Review

Canon Chromalife Recommended Photo Papers

Canon Chromalife Photo Paper Fade Tests

© David Gold
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