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Accessories Reviews

The HP Photosmart Pro B9180 Photo Printer

Ernesto Santos (esantos)


Keywords: printer, paper, non_nikon

Show pages (7 Pages)

HP's first pigment based inkjet printer gets high marks for ease of use and impressive results

 

No other technology has helped digital photography and imaging achieve its meteoric rise in popularity more than the ability of hobbyists, serious amateurs, and professionals to take printing into their own hands. The introduction of inkjet printers has forever changed how we acquire the end product of all our efforts - the tangible and tactile output we produce in the form of photographic prints.

 

HP B9180 printer

 

HISTORY

 

Not too long ago if you were interested in creating prints using inkjet technology you had to settle for dye based printers. Dye ink printers offered a wide gamut and produced luscious, saturated prints but they were plagued by fading and color shifting, usually within very short periods of time. For the professional photographer selling prints or the serious amateur, inkjet was just not a viable option. Then in the year 2000 Epson introduced the first printer that used archival inks made from pigments. Pigment based inks use microscopic particles in suspension to produce color. These particles are much more resistant to environmental elements that cause fading. Although the first pigment ink printer had its share of problems the revolution had started. Over the years Epson, to their credit, improved pigment printer technology and today it has become a common method for producing long lasting archival prints.

 

The benefit of all of this technological development is that we now have a multitude of choices when we want to make prints. There are now hundreds of options at our hands from a myriad of paper types, to an exhaustive combination of print sizes and formats. We no longer have to settle for the standard 8x10 print. And who would have ever thought that we can now create four foot panoramic prints on fine art matte papers that are rated to last 200 years using a desktop printer?

 

 


DESCRIPTION & SET-UP

 

The Photosmart Pro B9180 inkjet photo printer is HP's first pigment based inkjet. Since its introduction in 2006 HP has now released several printers in different carriage lengths that use the Vivera inkset. This inkset consists of eight colors: Photo Black, Matte Black, Light Gray, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Light Magenta and Light Cyan. There is also a second model, the Z2100 that uses these 8 inks. HP has also introduced a 12 color printer in the Z3100 in both 24 inch and 44 inch lengths geared for the professional imaging market.

 

The B9180 is a consumer/prosumer level desktop printer capable of printing up to 13 inches wide. It is a well made and designed unit with an impressive feel of quality and rugged construction. This is no flimsy printer and when I unpacked it in my kitchen I had a difficult time carrying it upstairs to my digital darkroom.


DESCRIPTION & SET-UP continues ...

 

The B9180 is a consumer/prosumer level desktop printer capable of printing up to 13 inches wide. It is a well made and designed unit with an impressive feel of quality and rugged construction. This is no flimsy printer and when I unpacked it in my kitchen I had a difficult time carrying it upstairs to my digital darkroom.

 

 

The distinguishing design features of the B9180 include:

 

  • User replaceable print heads (4 print heads – each housing two colors)
  • 27 ml capacity ink cartridges (larger than what is typical for this class of printer)
  • Self calibration through densitomic closed loop color calibration
  • Paper cassette tray with 200 page capacity and a "Specialty Media Tray" for manually feeding single sheets of thicker papers and canvas
  • USB 2.0 and built-in Ethernet connectivity
  • Printing plug-in for Adobe Photoshop (available for versions up to CS2)

 

 

QUICK START GUIDE

 

Once I had the B9180 settled into its new location I reviewed the quick start guide. HP is to be applauded for providing clear and concise instructions that are logical and easy to follow. The first step is to plug the printer into a wall socket. At this point you DO NOT connect the printer to your PC via the USB connection. This will be done later in the set-up process when you install the software provided on the install CD.

 


CALIBRATION

 

Turn the printer on and the LCD screen lights up and provides easy to follow instructions. After selecting the default language you will be prompted to install the ink cartridges and then the print heads. Once the print heads are installed the printer will go through the self calibrating process on its own. Simply load a few sheets of photo paper (provided by HP in the printer packaging) in the main paper tray and sit back and watch the printer do its thing.

 

The calibration takes about 40 minutes to complete and consists of the printer printing some test targets with color patches. As these targets are printed they are automatically fed back into the bowels of the printer where a sensor (a densitometer more precisely) reads the color patches and calibrates the printer against factory standards stored in the printer. Adjustments are made to the delivery of ink via the print heads to achieve factory color densities.

 

 

This calibrating, or what is commonly referred to as linearization, is not to be confused with printer profiling. Since the HP B9180 uses replaceable print heads which are installed by the user this closed loop calibration process is necessary. The benefit of this calibration is that the HP provided paper profiles that are installed on your PC to produce very accurate colors. These profiles are also available on the HP website.

 

Although it is only necessary to perform this calibration once (during initial set-up) and each time the print heads are replaced, users have the option to re-calibrate at any time. This is a useful feature if the printer is ever moved to another location. It should be noted that HP engineers estimate that under typical use the heads will last the lifetime of the printer, so the replacement of heads is not likely. It is comforting to know that the user can replace them on their own without the need for services from a repair center which with other printer manufacturers can be a very expensive endeavor.

 

After the calibration is complete you can then install the software. I installed this printer on a new Gateway PC running Windows Vista Home Premium. As a precaution, and because the quick start guide says the software on the provided CD is for Windows XP, I first visited the HP website and downloaded the version of the Photosmart software that is Windows Vista compatible. Installation was simple and uneventful. The software comes with a Photoshop print plug-in designed specifically for HP printers. If you plan to use this Photoshop plug-in, and I highly recommend that you do. You must first make sure Photoshop (CS2 or earlier) is installed on your PC. Otherwise the Photosmart software will not detect it on your system and will not install the plug-in. If you do install Photoshop at a later time you can always reinstall the printer software.

 

For those of you who are running Adobe Photoshop CS3 please note that there is no compatible print plug-in. Since the release of CS3 Adobe has retooled their print routine. The features of this plug-in are already incorporated in their new "Print" command. According to HP the plug-in is not necessary for CS3 users.

 

One last item of note I encountered during the software install routine. The HP installer checks via the Internet to see if there are newer drivers for the printer and downloads them for you - another nice touch from the HP design team.


 

With the Photosmart software installed the printer is ready to go. Having already operated the main paper tray during calibration I was curious to try the Specialty Media Tray with some fine art paper. The procedure here is to lower a small tray that is in an upright position by default when the main tray is in use. Upon lowering the tray the printer cycles and prepares itself for manual feeding and for the use of thick media.

 

Ready for manual feeding with the tray in the down position

 

 

 

The LCD will instruct you to feed a single sheet into the specialty media tray. HP has made this a foolproof process. Simply load the paper through the front of the printer until the edge facing you and the right side are lined up with two dashed-line indicators on the face of the tray.

At right you can see Hahnemühle Smooth Fine Art paper being fed into the B9180.

 

    .

The paper is then lined up with the dashed-line indicators.

Once the paper is lined up press the "OK" button on the printer console and the paper is fed into the carriage. For this type of feeding you must ensure that the printer is not up against a wall or other obstruction. A clearance of at least 12 inches behind the printer is recommended. If you plan to use 13x19 paper you may need even more room in the rear.

 

 

 


A TIP FOR WHEN PRINTING WITH FINE ART PAPER

 

Many people are often at a loss as to how to determine which side of the paper is the print side. Lightly moisten the very tip of your finger and run it lightly on the surface of the paper on both sides. Do this at the very edge of the page so as not to harm the printing surface. The printable side of the paper will feel tacky compared to the back of the paper. This works with any coated fine art paper, and of course, if you are using a non-coated paper you just select the side that is free of any surface flaws.

 


ON CLOGGING

 

On the issue of clogging and head cleaning HP has worked to address this in two ways. The B9180 is designed to remain turned on at all times. When it is idle it conducts self tests on a regular schedule and will go through a cleaning process if it detects even the slightest clog. This saves considerable amounts of ink as the HP has the capability to single out the clogged head and flush only that color. This is a totally different approach than Epson which requires user initiated head cleanings and requires that all the colors flush all the heads at once, thus wasting ink on the clean heads.

 

The other advancement from HP is the way they designed the ink. The pigment particles are coated with a resin (which helps with eliminating gloss differential) and then are negatively charged. This negative charge produces a natural repulsion between each particle curbing the tendency for these particles to clump together and cause clogging. HP calls this Electrosteric Encapsulation.


MAKING A PRINT

 

At the 7th Annual Nikonians Photo Adventure Trip (ANPAT 7) held in September and October 2007 in the gorgeous Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Tom Hubbard, Pro Photo Development Manager for HP while we stayed in Jackson, Wyoming.

 

Hewlett-Packard Photosmart Pro B9180 Photo Printer

 

Over three days Tom showed me the HP Photoshop print plug-in, how to set up the printer, and demonstrated the B9180 for the ANPAT participants. I was immediately impressed by the simplicity and straight forward design of the new plug-in.

 

At the time I had not yet upgraded to Photoshop CS3 and was not aware that this was the model for the new Print dialog. It is my understanding that HP and Adobe worked together to re-engineer these new print routines. This is another testament to the level of commitment from HP in designing world class digital imaging hardware and software. Using the new "Print" feature in Photoshop CS3 is a significant departure from the previous "Print with Preview" dialog. I welcome this change as it leaves print commands and selections to the printer driver as it should have been all along.

 

 


At the time I had not yet upgraded to Photoshop CS3 and was not aware that this was the model for the new Print dialog. It is my understanding that HP and Adobe worked together to re-engineer these new print routines. This is another testament to the level of commitment from HP in designing world class digital imaging hardware and software. Using the new "Print" feature in Photoshop CS3 is a significant departure from the previous "Print with Preview" dialog. I welcome this change as it leaves print commands and selections to the printer driver as it should have been all along.

 

Printing in Photoshop is a straight forward process but you should first be aware that the B9180 performs best when your PC monitor is calibrated and profiled using hardware based profiling software. Even though the B9180 is a marvel of technology you still need to follow a sound color management workflow to get predictable results. This starts with a calibrated display. Today you can get reasonably priced profiling packages that use a colorimeter to measure the output of your monitor. If you are serious about printing you must invest in one.

 

After you have prepared your file for printing it is recommended that you use soft proofing to examine a visualization of what the print will look like using a particular paper. Going through the steps to explain how to soft proof an image is beyond the scope of this review but I can briefly describe that you select the ICC paper profile provided by HP for the paper you are going to print on and then choose the best rendering intent and examine the image on screen for tonal and color shifts. You then make further edits to your file to bring the colors back to their intended state.


TWO BASIC STEPS

 

Once you are satisfied with the look of your image select the HP print plug-in in the file menu. If you are using CS3 simply use the print command. There are two basic steps to follow....

 

The first step is to select the color management to be handled by Photoshop and pick the correct ICC paper profile for the paper at hand. You will again select the same rendering intent that you used in soft proofing.

 

CS3 Print dialog

Printing with the HP B9180 in Photoshop CS3 using the "Print" dialog
Click on the image above for a larger view

 


The second step is to go to the HP printer driver dialog by clicking on the Page Setup button in the Photoshop print dialog. Here you will select the paper type and size, whether you want to print with a border or borderless, and the media tray to be used. Here is a screen shot of the main tab in this dialog.

 

Printer driver dialog


HP B9180 printer driver dialog
You may click on the image above for a larger view

 

Notice that in the "Print in Grayscale" drop down I selected "off" for this toned selenium image of an old heater. I used this setting since I did not want a neutral black and white print; obviously I want the color tone to come through. If I were printing a neutral black and white image I would print in grayscale.

 

 

I have been testing this printer for a number of weeks and have made many prints but for this review I selected two images for testing using three paper types. All three papers are sold under the HP brand and are very high quality media. I chose HP Hahnemüle Smooth Fine Art, HP Advanced Photo Paper – satin matt, and HP Professional Satin Photo Paper.


 

One image is a converted toned selenium image shot under soft light providing a lot of gradients and the second is a very saturated color photo with a lot of fine detail.

 

"Splendid" © Ernesto Santos (esantos)

"Splendid"
An old stove at Bannack Ghost Town Montana

You may click on the image for an enlarged view

 

I first prepared the toned print and was surprised to see that the B9180 can print these types of black and white images with little difficulty. Since this is not a neutral grayscale image it is often difficult to achieve a close match and getting the tone of the image right. When I soft proofed this photo I noticed a distinct shift in the tone from the selenium to a more neutral tone. I made a slight change to the color tone by applying an adjustment curve in Photoshop and the image came back to the selenium tone. Soft proofing the "Missionary Baptist Church" image showed hardly any change so I decided to leave it alone.
 

 

"Missionary Baptist Church"
Cades Cove - Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Click on the image for a larger view

 

The hard part of doing this review is trying to somehow communicate the quality of the prints online. There is no way to show the reader how the prints come out since this is the part of the process that is purely subjective and influenced by my experience with other printers and preferences for certain types of paper.

 

Without the means to measure the color gamut of this printer and the papers used I will talk a little bit about my perceptions compared to my experience with Epson printers.

 

The output of the B9180 is on par with the current Epson line using the Ultrachrome K3 inks. Compared to my own Epson 4000 using the older Ultrachrome inkset I do see a very slight edge from the HP. This is to be expected since the 4000 is now two generations behind the current Epson line.

 

 

I printed the color image on the two HP photo papers and the toned image using the Hahnemüle fine art paper. As mentioned earlier I have been printing on this printer for some time now and aside from the first initial test prints where I was still familiarizing myself with the HP print workflow I can say that this printer produces outstanding results time after time. The color tests prints showed a wonderful sharpness and fine detail. Color was highly saturated and there is no banding whatsoever. This inkjet printer shows no signs of abrupt gradation and would compare favorably to a continuous tone print from say a Lightjet chemical printer. As for the toned image I was extremely pleased with the results. The B9180 easily handled the soft nuance of the lighting of this image and matched the selenium tone on screen perfectly. All the details are there even in the darkest shadows. Again the tonal gradations are very smooth and the Hahn paper is luxurious to the touch. This is a great combination when you want to produce a fine art print.

 

I do not see any significant metamerism (color shifting under different light sources) in any of the prints. There is a very slight indication of gloss differential with the glossier satin matt paper. To be fair I had to look at the print at a very obtuse, raking angle to see any hint of it. In practice it is a non-issue and if you plan to frame your prints rest assured you will never see it.

 

The bottom line: I would not hesitate using this printer to make prints of even the most problematic images. This printer does an excellent job with anything you throw at it. If you follow the simplified color managed workflow provided by the HP Photosmart software you will have no difficulty producing beautiful gallery quality prints. Thanks to the closed loop calibration feature and the very accurate ICC paper profiles provided by HP it is a snap.


 

HP has succeeded in producing a line of archival inkjet printers that can easily compete with anything currently in the market place. This is an impressive accomplishment considering the fact that this is their very first entry into professional level archival photographic printing. Not only does this printer produce high quality output it does so with a simplified and easy to follow color managed workflow via the print plug-in. The HP provided paper profiles are accurate and the papers to compliment this printer are of excellent quality.

 

Hewlett-Packard Photosmart Pro B9180 Photo Printer

 

Again, the bottom line: I would not hesitate using this printer to make prints of even the most problematic images. This printer does an excellent job with anything you throw at it. If you follow the simplified color managed workflow provided by the HP Photosmart software you will have no difficulty producing beautiful gallery quality prints. Thanks to the closed loop calibration feature and the very accurate ICC paper profiles provided by HP it is a snap.

 

 

Over a month spent testing this printer I have not had a single performance issue. No clogging, no paper feeding problems, and no mismatch of colors. If you are in the market for a high quality professional level consumer desktop printer you cannot go wrong with the HP B9180.

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Show pages (7 Pages)

Originally written on April 7, 2008

Last updated on October 28, 2016

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