Want to make big, gorgeous, color and black-and-white prints? We put three
pro-level printers to the test.
HP's first printer to use its eight-color Vivera pigmented inks and to print in sizes from 3.5x5 inches to borderless 13x19 inches, this is a more affordable alternative to the Canon and Epson. It's perfectly suited to serious photographers who occasionally want extremely long-lasting, big prints. While not as fast as the others, it can speed up dramatically if you sacrifice some image quality.
Because you must install four printer heads, initial setup has many steps and takes nearly as long as the Canon (longer than the Epson). The main tray holds up to 60 sheets of photo paper and extends out for sheets up to 13x19 inches. Unfortunately, the paper bends around a roller during printing, making this printer almost as noisy as the larger-format Canon.
We were impressed by its Excellent image quality on HP's improved Advanced Photo paper, as well as by its second (straight) paper path for media up to 1.5mm thick, including fine-art papers and coated canvas. Prints on compatible media are fairly durable and resistant to water, but it takes longer for the colors to stabilize. On the other hand, prints on Advanced Photo paper get a WIR Display Permanence Rating of 230 years (framed behind glass).
HP's eight Vivera pigmented inks on Advanced Photo paper produce the longest-lasting prints of any inkjet.
Color prints were superb on a number of HP's media, including coated canvas. Color prints on Advanced Photo paper had a smaller color gamut but a darker maximum black (4.8L) than those from the Canon or Epson. The HP switches automatically between matte and photo blacks based on the media. And it doesn't waste much ink in the process.
HP's color management controls are well defined, and we'd like to see other manufacturers adopt some of them. For instance, a clearly marked setting turns off print-driver color management in favor of an imaging program's color management.
While you can make fairly neutral black-and-white prints from color images, the driver controls allow a choice of "gray inks only" or "composite gray." The latter uses color inks, plus black and gray, to create prints with smoother gray scale. But, unlike the Canon and Epson, that's all the control you get for b&w printing -- there are no advanced controls to let you add sepia tones or adjust print contrast and overall brightness.
The HP's ink cartridges hold less than the Canon's and Epson's and are more expensive per milliliter.
Making dozens of large prints monthly? The Epson will save you money on inks in the long run. Going commercial? The Canon, with the roll feeder, is a better alternative. But for a well-priced printer that makes gorgeous 13x19-inch prints when you need them, or lots of 4x6s in short order, the HP is a great choice.
Maximum DPI: 4800 optimized.
Drop size: N/A. Inks: Eight individual pigment inks (C, M, Y, Pk, Mk, Light gray, Lc, Lm) in 27ml cartridges ($32, street).
Print size: 3.5x5-in. bordered to 13x19-in. borderless.
Connections: Hi-Speed USB 2.0 and 10/100 Base-T Ethernet. Size/weight: 26.5x16.9x9.5 in.; 37.7 lb.
For info: www.hp.com.
Color: Excellent image quality. Prints on glossy Advanced Photo paper showed Excellent color accuracy (Avg. Delta E of 7.63) and saturated colors, plus very high details in shadows, midtones, and highlights.
B&W: High image quality. Prints made using "composite gray" setting show fine details and neutral tones, but print driver has no extra controls.
Speed: Moderately Fast. 13x19-in. borderless: 10 min, 25 sec in Highest Quality (4800 dpi) mode; 7 min, 35 sec in Best mode. 8.5x11-in. borderless in Best mode: 3 min, 42 sec; bordered: 3 min, 20 sec.