Digital Photography Now -  

14th August 2003
HP's No.59 black and white ink cartridge
by Ian Burley
236: HP's No.59 black and white ink cartridge

HP has produced a solution for no-nonsense out of the box black and white printing and it really works

Have you ever tried to print a clean and neutral black and white print using a colour ink jet printer? It's usually a nightmare unless you have meticulously profiled equipment.

HP has risen to the challenge of providing a simple and reliable black and white printing solution in the form of its new No.59 black and white ink cartridge, which will be compatible with selected new HP Photosmart models from next month.

I was fortunate enough to be briefed by HP's Dr. Luanne J. Rolly, Senior Scientist for Research and Development Ink of Chemistry and Dr Nils Miller, Ink/Media Senior Scientist, at a press seminar last month. Dr. Rolly led the team that developed the new grey scale No.59 cartridge and Dr. Miller is responsible for photo paper development at HP.

A great black and white photo.
This is how a great black and white photo should look when printed.
But printing neutral black and white prints is not easy.
But can often can turn out like this, with an unsightly colour cast.

HP Number 59 black and white ink cartridge.HP's new No.59 ink cartridge really does make the job of producing consistently neutral black and white prints easy without having to resort to complicated printer profiling. Indeed, I'm so impressed by the results I have seen, I'd recommend professionals evaluate this offering from HP if they are looking for saleable quality professional mono printing, even though HP is not targeting the pro market here. HP confidently answers some challenges when it comes to print longevity too.

The sample prints I've handled successfully passed the 'metamerism' test extremely well. Metamerism is a sharp visual change in colour cast that is visible when viewing a print under different types of lighting.

The new HP Photosmart 7960
The HP Photosmart 7960 is HP's new A4 range-topping Photosmart printer. Using the No.59 cartridge in conjunction with No.57 and 58 cartridges, this printer can apply no less than 8 different inks to the page. Ink layering is now managed by the successor to PhotoRet IV, PhotoRet Pro.
The new HP Photosmart 7660
The cheaper HP Photosmart 7660 can't boast 8 colour printing, but it can use the No.59 cartridge.

There is a caveat and that is that Dr. Rolly warned the No.59 grey inks are formulated specifically for selected HP photo papers and Premium Plus glossy in particular.

I'll be getting a printer to test in a few weeks and I'll certainly be running a variety of third party papers through it.

Read on for some simple test results and comparisons with a black and white print produced by an Epson Stylus Photo 925 and some explanation as to why HP claims rather longer print life than its rivals.

Vincent Oliver over at Photo-i has started one of his interactive printer reviews featuring the HP Photosmart 7960.

The test of a black and white ink jet photo print - viewing under different lighting

I took one of the sample black and white prints HP provided and scanned it using a Mustek BearPaw 2400TA flat bed scanner. This is a typical cold cathode illuminated colour scanner.

Scanning prints and also re-photographing them, which I also did, is the only way I can convey, visually, what I can see with my own eyes, to you the reader. This helps, but please read my comments too as some of the images below aren't necessarily representative of the eye's view.

Below is the result when scanned in colour. After viewing the original, I can honestly say the scanned result is a reasonably good representation of what I see when I view the original print. The blacks are very very slightly warmer than the original viewed by eye, rather like a warm tone (but definitely not sepia) traditional black and white three bath wet-process print, say using Agfa Portriga Rapid paper (which I used a lot of in my darkroom days!).

This is the original HP number 59 ink cartridge printed black and white sample print scanned in colour

I also scanned the HP original in grey scale mode and printed it on an Epson Stylus Photo 925 using Epson Premium Glossy photo paper. There is an option to print without colour inks in the driver but this causes a very grainy result. For best tonal graduation and grain, you must print with colour settings even if the source image is a grey scale one.

Below, all the left hand side pictures are of the HP original, with the Epson 925 on the right.

Here are the HP mono print and the same image on the right printed using an Epson Stylus Photo 925

Above you can see the original HP print side by side with the Epson 925 result, both scanned in colour. The Epson print has a characteristically cold feel about it, but to be honest the result was better than I was expecting. Sometimes green or magenta casts can be very obvious depending on paper, printer and ink combinations.

Daylight temperature flash illumination

Here, shot with my Olympus E-20 camera and FL-40 daylight flash (ceiling bounced) the HP original is on the left and the Epson print is on the right. The HP original is pretty well neutral while the Epson print remains cold.

Incandescent tungsten light illuminated

Under incandescent tungsten illumination, with the camera's white balance tuned to the conditions, the HP original is very slightly magenta but the Epson print now has a very pronounced cast.

Fluorescent light illumination

Above under warm fluorescent light, which was very difficult to dial out using the white balance adjustment, the HP print does look yellowy-green, while the Epson looks at its most neutral. However, viewed by eye, the HP print remains the preferred one to me.

As far as my viewing experience goes, the HP print exhibits remarkable stability under different lighting conditions compared to the Epson print.

HP is underlining its excellent black and white printing capability with renewed claims regarding resistance to fading.

Dr. Miller was able to provide a very lucid background to the different types of photo paper that are in common use today and pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses.

He was particularly confident about HP photo paper's resistance to gas fading, though admitted that as HP uses dye-based inks for photo printing like much of the competition, exposure to UV light was just as much a threat as with other dye-based prints.

HP supplied evidence of 34 year photo fading effects

Above is a scan of a pair of prints Miller provided that had been aged at an accelerated rate by HP's lab. The print on the left is an HP ink jet print and the one on the right is a conventional silver halide colour print. The visible fading in the conventional print is mainly due to gas fading caused by ozone in the air and humid atmospheric conditions. The estimated age factor for this example is quoted by HP at 34 years.

Swellable vs porous photo papers
This diagram explains the differences between papers with porous coatings as used in dye-based photo printers from Epson, Lexmark and Canon. It has the advantage of printing speed, very quick drying and preservation of high gloss finishes. Its disadvantage is the lack of gas attack protection for the printed ink dyes.

With HP's 'swellable' photo paper coatings, once the ink has dried, the coating's gelatine layer forms a barrier to gaseous attack, protecting the printed ink dyes. But there are disadvantages - the ink needs to be applied relatively heavily and drying times are longer compared to porous papers. This is one reason why printing on porous type Canon and Epson papers is not very successful with HP printers; the paper can't take the heavy dose of ink. The swellable coating also doesn't retain glossy shine as well as porous coated papers but Miller says the latest glossy papers from HP are much improved in that area. The robustness of the swellable-type coatings, resistance to physical abrasion and water damage, is also not as good as porous ones, but once again Miller says much improvement has been achieved here as well.

Conclusion: HP's No.59 cartridge is an inspired enhancement of the company's Photosmart printer strengths.

HP printers inks and papers

HP has to be warmly congratulated for being so innovative. It's a big gamble on HP's part. Will easy to use and reliable black and white printing catch the consumer's imagination?

I'll reserve full and final judgment once I've had one of the new printers in my office for the full test routine. But until then, I can honestly say, so far, I'm seriously impressed. HP seems to have it all: great colour print quality, possibly unsurpassed mono printing quality, as well as impressive print longevity.

HP is certainly going to make Canon, Epson and Lexmark sit up and take notice with this one.

Vincent Oliver over at Photo-i has started one of his interactive printer reviews featuring the HP Photosmart 7960.

Steve Sanders at Steve's Digicams has reviewed the HP PHotosmart 7960 - click here to read his review.

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