HP Photosmart Pro B9180 Printer

    leadpic_HPB9180

    Photo Review 8.8
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    HP Photosmart Pro B9180 Printer

      In summary

      A solidly-built A3+ printer that can produce excellent, long-lasting prints with consistent quality.HP's Photosmart Pro B9180 photo printer is built like a truck: solid, heavy and somewhat clunky sounding at times. It's 5.4 kg heavier than the Epson R2400 and 3.1 kg heavier than Canon's Pixma Pro9000, both of which could be seen as competitors. A comparison of the three printers is provided at the end of this review. The B9180 is designed for HP's new range of A3+ size photo papers and Digital Fine Art media and pigment-based Vivera inks, which produce waterproof prints when used with HP's 'Advanced' photo papers. . . [more]

      Full review

      leadpic_HPB9180

      HP's Photosmart Pro B9180 photo printer is built like a truck: solid, heavy and somewhat clunky sounding at times. It's 5.4 kg heavier than the Epson R2400 and 3.1 kg heavier than Canon's Pixma Pro9000, both of which could be seen as competitors. A comparison of the three printers is provided at the end of this review. The B9180 is designed for HP's new range of A3+ size photo papers and Digital Fine Art media and pigment-based Vivera inks, which produce waterproof prints when used with HP's 'Advanced' photo papers.
      The B9180 is rated to print 1,000 pages per month, which qualifies it as a production machine.

      Setting Up
      Once you've unpacked the printer and removed many strips of packaging tape, setting up the printer is reasonably straightforward. Pressing the left front panel opens the ink cartridge door revealing colour-coded stalls for the ink cartridges. Each cartridge is packed in a plastic tray that is enclosed in a foil bag and it must be shaken vigorously to disperse the ink before you unpack it. Before installing the cartridge you must also remove the plastic caps that cover the contact points. The cartridges themselves lock into place with a firm touch.

      cartridges

      Cartridge installation.
      By the time you've unpacked and installed eight cartridges, you have at least half a wastepaper basket full of rubbish. But there's more! You must then install the print heads. Once the cartridges are in place, the printer will prompt you to open the top door and remove yet another lot of tape and packaging materials (not quite as much tape this time!). The next step is to raise the print head assembly cover and remove the four transparent orange plastic set-up caps that cover another set of contacts. Finally, you must shake each print head vigorously before removing it from its foil sack, detach the orange plastic covers from the contacts and lock the print head into its colour-coded stall. By this time your wastepaper basket is close to overflowing and you've spent between 20 and 30 minutes getting through step one.

      printheads

      Print head installation.
      Why all this packaging is required is anybody's guess but, by our estimation, it's roughly twice the volume of packaging supplied with printers from other manufacturers. And once you've discarded all the rubbish, you still have a way to go before the printer can be used. The next step is calibration.

      waste

      Packaging waste.
      One of the main features that distinguishes the B9180 from its competitors is its closed-loop calibration process, which is designed to maintain constant colour performance. This excellent concept has been implemented in a fairly straightforward fashion. Built-in sensors measure the density of the coloured inks laid down on a test print using light from four coloured LEDs. These measurements are compared with reference values that are stored in the printer and used to adjust the printer to maintain consistency.
      The calibration process is initiated automatically when the printer is first installed and takes between 30 and 60 minutes. A calibration pack of 10 sheets of Advanced Glossy photo paper is supplied with the printer for this operation. With the test printer, the calibration process took just over 48 minutes and used five sheets of paper. HP recommends users re-calibrate the printer each time one of the print heads is replaced and whenever colour deviations occur.

      installation1
      installation2
      Installation3

      Samples of the screens that pop up during the installation process.
      While the printer is calibrating itself you are encouraged to load the supplied software. This takes approximately 10 minutes and includes prompts to register your product and sign up for HP's online updates. Once the printer is calibrated you are prompted to hook it up to your computer so you can take advantage of the embedded Web server for remote maintenance. Two connection choices are offered: via USB 2 cable or via an Ethernet port, which allows network printing from any number of LAN computers, Mac and PC. No Firewire port is provided - but it's not really necessary. An on-screen display tracks the setup process and, finally, you can begin to print.

      Printing
      The B9180's driver is fairly standard, with most of the controls you would expect from a sophisticated photo printer and full support for the Adobe RGB and sRGB colour spaces. When you elect to print, you can choose features from four tags: Advanced, Printing Shortcuts, Features and Colour. The Advanced menu handles certain printing functions and will probably be ignored by most users.

      desktop

      More interesting is the Printing Shortcuts page, which has pre-sets for borderless and bordered printing plus settings for making B&W prints, fast proofs, printing on rigid media and document printing. The Features page carries the settings for the quality, paper type, paper tray, orientation and paper size plus the preview button. The Colour page lets you choose between colour and greyscale output and set the colour management properties.

      printing_shortcuts

      Full support for ICC profiling is provided, along with a generous suite of 'canned' profiles, including profiles for HP's new 'Fine Art' media (see Specialty Papers below). HP also caters for users who wish to print on non-HP papers, allowing you to download paper profiles and apply them in the driver. The Add Custom Paper menu contains some interesting choices, such as Coated inkjet, Watercolor, Rigid Photo Rag, and Rigid Canvas. Matching the options to your paper can be a challenge because popular options like heavyweight matte or lustre papers because no profiles are provided for them.

      Add_Custom_Paper

      There's also a special plug-in for Photoshop that combines the settings from the printer driver with Photoshop's Print with Preview dialog box to enable you to make prints with minimal hassles. It's compatible with Photoshop CS2 - but not with the beta version of CS3, which we have been trialling recently. (Doubtless an update will be released when CS3 is launched.)

      PhotoshopGUI

      If you're a Photoshop user we recommend you use the Photosmart Pro Print interface, which is located in the File>Automate dropdown menu. Trying to print from Photoshop by any other route will lead to endless frustrations and time-wasting. There is some linkage between the regular driver settings and the Photoshop plug-in driver so if you change from the regular driver to the plug-in, the settings in the dialog box may revert to previous settings. Consequently you could end up printing in monochrome when you actually want to print in colour.
      One irritating factor of the printer driver's Photoshop Pro plug-in was its tendency to default back to the factory settings. You can overcome this by registering your own defaults but these must be adjusted each time you change the paper type or size. Another minor irritation is the screens that pop up periodically, recommending you check for updates or look for additional help via the HP Product Assistant. You can easily close these windows - but they're annoying nonetheless, especially when HP's website doesn't provide advice on critical issues like how to identify the printable side of its fine art papers.
      We wondered how much the resolution setting influences print quality so we compared prints made with the Best and Maximum DPI settings (the Normal and Fast Draft settings can't be used for photo printing). It was impossible to see any difference between the prints, although we suspect the Maximum DPI setting used more ink. However, without accurate ink monitoring, it was impossible to tell for sure.
      If you don't use Photoshop as your image editor, the driver supports both application-based and printer-based colour management. The latter uses built-in colour controls but users can choose between two colour space settings: Colorsmart/sRGB and Adobe RGB, allowing them to match the colour space setting of the image capture device (camera or scanner). In both cases, ICC profiles are side-stepped - although they are required for application-based colour management.

      driver_interface

      Regardless of which software you use, we recommend you check the Print Preview box each time you print to avoid wasting paper. It will extend your printing time because the printer takes several minutes to produce the preview. But it will save money in the long term, given the driver's tendency to re-adjust settings. It's particularly important if you swap between the main paper cassette and the Specialty Media tray (see below) or change paper between prints.
      It took just over five minutes to produce an A3+ print with half-inch borders, using the 'Best' setting and just over three minutes for an A4 print. Changing to the 'Max dpi' setting extended printing times to six minutes and 20 seconds for A3+ and four minutes and 13 seconds for A4 prints.
      HP recommends you leave the printer switched on continuously because this allows the printer to keep its maintenance schedule working. However, the printer will consume about 10 watts when it's idle so there's a cost in adopting this practice. If you elect to turn the printer off it takes a while to ready itself for printing again and goes through some clunking and shaking in the process.

      Paper Handling
      Capable of printing on a wide range of sheet paper sizes, the B9180 has two paper feeds: a main paper cassette that holds up to 200 sheets of paper with a maximum size of A3+ plus a Specialty Media feeder that takes one sheet at a time and can handle papers that are 330mm wide by a fair range of lengths and thicknesses (up to 1.5mm thick). Roll papers are not catered for.
      The main paper cassette is easy to load and is adjustable to suit all common paper formats. The paper is stacked printing side down and the paper guides are adjusted to keep the stack in place. A3+ paper is a tight fit in the cassette, which is a good feature when you use double-sided paper for printing book pages as it ensures accurate placement of the image.
      The Specialty Media tray is accessed by pulling down a door above the paper cassette. The tray accepts single sheets of paper one by one. To load a sheet paper, push it carefully into the slot with the printing surface downwards, lining the right side up with the right side of the tray and matching the trailing edge of the sheet with a dotted line at the front of the tray.
      Pressing the OK button causes the printer to draw the sheet of paper through the printer, which happens with a ferocious 'clunk'. If the paper isn't lined up correctly, it will be savaged! Make sure there's enough free space behind the printer for the sheet to pass through in preparation for printing, especially when you're printing on thicker media.
      When you print on specialty paper, the B9180 vibrates and clunks throughout the printing process so it's probably wise to install it on a fairly solid desk before you start. (There's much less vibration when printing A4 sheets from the main cassette.) When you wish to return to printing from the main cassette, simply lift the Specialty Media door back into place.

      Specialty Papers
      The B9180 was supplied for evaluation with a range of HP's speciality papers, including both standard and Advanced Glossy, Watercolour, Aquarella and Canvas. Unfortunately, we weren't given any smooth matte paper so we had to use third-party products to compare the output of the B9180 with other printers. Profiles of all the HP products are pre-installed with the printer driver.
      Advanced Glossy paper is a quick-drying 10.5 mil thick glossy paper with a look and feel similar to traditional photo paper. The Watercolour paper is one of several made by Hahnemuhle specifically for HP's Vivera inks. Made with 50% cotton rag, it is 13.4 mil thick, It's also acid-free and has a mould-made, soft-textured surface. Somewhat heavier texturing is found on the HP Aquarella paper (15.9 mil thick), which has a 'naturally white' finish (i.e. slightly creamy). The Canvas media is an 18 mil thick cotton-polyester blend with a special ink-receptive coating that protects the surface from cracking. It's stretchable for framing and produces water resistant prints with Vivera pigment inks.
      Wilhelm Imaging Research rates the lightfastness of the Advanced Glossy and Watercolour papers at over 230 years for prints framed behind glass. Other papers are still being tested.

      Running Costs
      On-going running costs play an important role in most photographers' choice of a printer. Unfortunately, HP does not allow you to see how much ink the B9180 uses when you make a print - beyond providing a bar graph showing approximate ink levels in each of the tanks (see below). However, you can use the printer's menu to find out the percentage of ink left in each cartridge.
      We recommend doing this when the printer tells you a cartridge is about to run out of ink because there's probably more ink left than you may think. When the first warning appeared during our tests, the cartridge concerned actually had 24% of its capacity left! At this point we had produced 29 A4 prints plus 23 A3+ prints.
      A special 'Page Yield' section of the HP website (http://www.hp.com/go/pageyield) provides HP's estimates of the number of pages each printer can produce from individual ink cartridges - or composite ink sets. In the case of the B9180, the figures are approximately 85 A3+ prints or 870 snapshot-sized (15 x 10 cm) prints. However, actual ink usage depends heavily on the nature of the images you print. High-key images are likely to use much less ink than low-key ones so HP's estimates should only be seen as 'ball park' figures.
      The ink cartridges have an RRP of $51.95 so it costs $415.60 for a complete set of inks. Using HP's ink consumption estimates, this works out at around $4.89 to print an A3+ sheet, $1.90 per A4 print or 48 cents per snapshot print - exclusive of paper. The print heads for the B9108 have an RRP of $109.95, which equates to $439.80 per set. Print heads are supposed to last for approximately four years under normal usage conditions. If you made, say, 1000 prints per year, the additional cost of replacing print heads would be less than 50 cents per print.
      Paper costs vary. A 25-sheet pack of A4-size Advanced Glossy paper costs around $20, while an A3+ pack of 25 sheets costs roughly $67. Packs of 50 sheets in A4 size are also available at roughly 50% more than a 25-sheet pack. The Watercolour, Aquarella and Canvas media are supplied in 25-sheet packs of A3+ size, each priced at between $103 and $120 (depending on the re-seller).

      Print Quality
      Not unexpectedly, colour prints made with the HP B9180 printer were very similar to those made with the Canon Pixma Pro9000 and Epson Stylus Photo R2400, although we feel the Canon printer produced marginally better detail and slightly more vibrant colours on glossy paper than its competitors. That's what you would expect from a dye printer. On matte papers, the pigment printers fared somewhat better. However, as you can only see differences when you view prints through a magnifier, trying to pick a winner in the resolution stakes is a pointless exercise.
      The case is similar for tonal gamut reproduction. All three printers are capable of reproducing a full range of tones - provided they are fed images that contain them.
      For B&W printing, the B9180's driver offers two settings: the default composite mode uses both black and coloured inks, while the 'grey inks only' mode uses the grey and black inks only. Although you might think the latter would produce better B&W prints, in our tests its only advantage was colour neutrality; actual prints from a continuous-tone original image were darker and contained fewer tonal nuances than B&W prints made with the composite setting. (This setting might work better with line art and tone dropouts.)
      However we did detect a slight pinkish sheen on glossy B&W prints made with the composite setting, indicating traces of bronzing. No bronzing was seen with other papers. Unfortunately, the B9180's B&W driver provides none of the tonal adjustments offered in the Canon and Epson printers. Photographers who want to adjust tonality in B&W prints must, therefore, make all changes in their editing software.
      We also noticed some colour instability in images printed on glossy paper as they emerged from the printer. However this disappeared within 30 minutes. Glossy papers also showed traces of gloss differential (variations in surface reflectivity), which remained permanent and was noticeable under directional lighting. No metamerism was observed. A couple of tiny flakes of pigment lifted off one of the prints we made on the Aquarelle paper, indicating that the pigment inks sit on the paper's surface instead of being absorbed by the top layer of the surface as dye inks are. This indicates the need for careful handling of prints, especially those on the 'fine art' papers.
      One area of concern was the occasional deposition traces of ink on the top edges of A4 prints and along one edge of images that were printed with borders on A3+ sheets. HP's troubleshooting information makes no mention of either problem. The only explanation we can devise for this situation is that some stray ink was released from the print heads or ink lines at some time during the printing or calibration process. But why it only appeared occasionally on prints is puzzling.

      Conclusion
      There's a lot to like about HP's B9180 printer. It's solidly built, reasonably priced and capable of making high-quality prints on a wide range of media. The closed loop calibration system ensures output quality remains consistent and the ability to replace worn print heads means you can view it as a long-term investment. Paper loading is relatively problem-free - as long as you adhere to HP's guidelines and you don't have to change cartridges when swapping between glossy and matte papers.
      However, there's no provision for using roll paper and the B&W driver is much less sophisticated than Epson's Advanced B&W driver. We also have some reservations about the need to leave the printer on all the time. Although it doesn't use much power, it's still less than desirable in times when minimising power wastage is high on many people's priorities. And we'd like to see some reduction in packaging waste and the number of irrelevant screens that keep popping up when you install and use the printer.

      Three A3+ Inkjet Printers Compared

       

      HP B9180

      Canon Pixma Pro9000

      Epson R2400

      Ink type

      pigment

      dye

      pigment

      Claimed print lightfastness

      >200 years

      30 years (under glass)

      75->200 years

      Max. resolution

      4800 x 1200 dpi

      4800 x 2400 dpi

      5760 x 1440 'Optimised' dpi

      Min. droplet size

      not specified

      2 picolitre

      3 picolitre

      Power consumption *

      35 W

      20 W

      18 W

      Acoustic noise *

      57 dB(A)

      39 dB(A)

      47 dB(A)

      Time to print A4 photo

      3-4 min.

      <2 minutes

      ~ 4 min.

      Paper handling

      Sheet feed only

      Sheet feed only

      Sheet and roll

      Max. paper thickness

      1.5mm

      1.2mm

      1.3mm

      Ink cartridge capacity

      28 mL

      ~20 mL **

      ~17 mL **

      RRP ink cartridges

      $52

      $27

      $20

      Network capable?

      included

      no

      no

      Dimensions (mm)

      673 x 429 x 241

      660 x 354 x 191

      615 x 314 x 223

      Weight (kilograms)

      17.1

      14.0

      11.7

      RRP

      $1499

      $1099

      $1599

      * when printing

      ** estimates

       

      Specifications

      leadpic_HPB9180

      Printer type: Pigment-ink thermal inkjet printer
      Resolution: Up to 4800 optimized dpi colour (up to 4800 x 1200 dpi colour when printing from a computer and 1200 input dpi)
      Paper sizes: B+/A3+, B/A3, A4/8.5x11 inch, 5x7 inch, 6x4 inch

      Max. paper weight: 800 gsm/1.5mm thick
      Ink cartridges: HP 38 Matte Black, HP 38 Photo Black, HP 38 Light Gray, HP 38 Cyan, HP 38 Magenta, HP 38 Yellow, HP 38 Light Cyan, HP 38 Light Magenta

      Printheads: HP 70 Matte Black & Cyan, Light Cyan/Light Magenta, Magenta/Yellow, Photo Black/Light Gray (user-replaceable)
      Interfaces: Hi-Speed USB 2.0, Ethernet 802.3 10/100 Base-TX
      Power consumption: 35 watts maximum
      Acoustic noise: 57 dB(A) (printing at 2.2 ppm)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 673 x 241 x 429 mm
      Weight: 17.1 kg

       

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      Comprehensive range of digital cameras and accessories online (www.camera-warehouse.com.au) and an online print service (www.royalexpress.com.au).

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      Electronics Warehouse

       

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      Greg Smith's Photo Accessories

       

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      Paxtons

       

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      Rating

       

      RRP: $1499

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 9
      • Features: 8.5
      • Print quality: 9
      • Print speed: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 8.8

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