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14th February 2008
HPs leaner, cheaper, A3+ Photosmart Pro B8850 printer
by Ian Burley

180 cheaper than the coveted HP B9180, what corners has HP had to cut to create the new B8850?

If you are serious about producing exhibition quality prints from your photographs, you need to consider fine art papers and that means pigment ink printing. HP was a latecomer to the fine art pigment printing game but less than two years on it now has an extensive range of pro and semi-pro pigment ink photo printers.

And now HP is turning its attention to the serious amateur, with a cheaper and easier to use version of its popular semi-pro A3+ Photosmart Pro B9180 printer. The new model, the Photosmart Pro B8850, is 180 cheaper than its more established sibling, but is in many ways fundamentally the same printer. Today we spent some time with Ron Forster, HPs product manager for the B8850, discussing the relative merits of the B9180 and the new B8850.

Less versatile media handling

For a start, the B8850 is limited to 0.7mm media thickness. What this really means is that HP has saved on the B9180s beefy stepper motors required for card handling up to 1.5mm thick. However, the straight through paper path option of the B9180is retained and normal heavy weight photo papers are still compatible.

HP Product Manager, Ron Forster, with the HP Photosmart Pro B8850

HP Product Manager, Ron Forster, with the HP Photosmart Pro B8850

The B9180s LCD status panel has been replaced by a series of LED lights and printed symbols, Ethernet connectivity has been left off, the cosmetic design and finish of the printer is somehow less expensive and the integrated densitometer ink calibrator, although physically unchanged, now runs a simpler algorithm more attuned to photographic reproduction than the wider graphic art purpose of the B9180.

Maintenance sleep mode

New for the B8850 is a sleep mode stand by system. HP recommends that both the B8850 be left connected to the mains electricity supply in order to prevent the print head from suffering the effects of prolonged non-use. Some settling of the ink and drying can require an ink-wasting heavy-duty head clean procedure after about 3 weeks without use. The B8850s new sleep mode keeps the print head primed, so avoiding heavy duty cleaning cycles if the printer is left unused for long periods.

Simpler and easier to use

Forster told DPNow that HP envisaged the B8850 would be purchased by customers who could be less technically capable than a typical B9180 user, and B8850 users were probably less likely to make regular use of their printer, hence the sleep mode provision. Under the heading of ease of use, HP has now provided a video-animated guide to setting up the B8850, which requires the self-installation of several print heads, as well as the ink cartridges. The printer driver has also been tailored to work more seamlessly with Adobe Photoshop CS3 a welcome move if, like me, you find that HP printer drivers tend to have a mind of their own.

Many similarities to the B9180

The above details apart, the new B8850 is mechanically very similar to the B9180. It has the same ink cartridge and print head system, closed loop ink system, the same print speed and ink droplet management system, including blocked nozzle sensing and mapping solution. You can, were told, even run B9180 paper profiles on the B8850.

Critics will point out that, like the B9180, the B8850 offers no CD/DVD disc printing support, nor support for roll media, though Forster points out that pre-cut sheets up to 44 inches long can be accommodated for panoramic printing on both models. Gloss optimiser hasnt been added either, a feature that remains exclusive to HPs more up-market Z-Series printers.

But at least the B8850 should retain a lot of the B9180s well-recognised plus points, like relatively low running costs with large ink cartridges, 200+ year archival inks, user-replaceable print heads, no need to switch between matte and photo black cartridges and extremely good print quality on both consumer-style glossy and satin finish papers, as well as fine art matt and textured media.

Keeping a mono advantage

The B9180 has won a lot of fans because of its remarkable monochrome printing abilities and the early signs are that the B8850 has inherited this trait and has the upper hand in this area over its key competitor, the new Epson R1900, which early feedback indicates has a tendency to print mono without the neutrality that mono specialists crave.

With a UK price of 399 compared to a list price of 579 for the B9180, the new B8850 looks very attractive. Shipping time is set for early April.

Well be getting a B8850 in to test soon.

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HPs leaner, cheaper, A3+ Photosmart Pro B8850 printer

DPNow HPs leaner, cheaper, A3+ Photosmart Pro B8850 printer
Here is a summary or excerpt from an article that has just been published on DPNow: HP says it has ... (more)

JSR Re: HPs leaner, cheaper, A3+ Photosmart Pro B8850 printer
Does anyone else have a problem with this? We're having it constantly bombarded into our heads to ... (more)

Ian Re: HPs leaner, cheaper, A3+ Photosmart Pro B8850 printer
I mean the gloss optimiser was missing from the lower models, not that it's a HP exclusive. Ian... (more)

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