HP’s Photosmart B8550; A 13x19” Desktop Option Page 2

Both platforms include software extras. Windows gets HP Photosmart Essential, a cataloging and creating program in addition to the printer driver (#4). You can print photo books, create DVD slide shows, or use the included ArcSoft Print Creations to print cards, calendars, and scrapbook pages. On the Mac side, a bundle of applications with Create, Print, Share, Stitch, and Studio are provided in addition to the printer driver (#5).

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Photos © 2009, Jon Canfield, All Rights Reserved

What I found most interesting though was the lack of printer profiles. On the Mac, profiles are installed for HP Advanced Photo Paper and HP Premium Photo Paper. Windows users get no profiles at all. If you’re going to print from a color managed application like Photoshop or Elements, this means you’ll need to select Printer Managed, and it also removes the ability to do soft proofing. Obviously, HP isn’t targeting this printer at pro or even serious enthusiast-level photographers, but I thought the omission of profiles on one platform was an odd decision on their part.

The print dialogs are standard issue for this type of printer. On Windows, there are a number of presets for different types of printing (#6) that will configure the printer in a single step. Mac users (#7) have a different setup without the presets. If you’re printing from one of the bundled applications though, none of this will matter as the applications will set the correct options automatically for you.

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Print Quality
As I mentioned at the start of this review, print quality was surprisingly good for a four-color printer. Using Printer Managed Color, the output tends a little toward the saturated side, especially with greens. Images are also about one stop darker than what I have on screen and what I see when printing using Application Managed Color. Print speed on a 13x19” borderless print is somewhat less than 6 minutes.

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I created custom profiles for a couple of other papers I commonly use, including a fine art rag paper. Here the printer showed some banding in areas of smooth tonal gradation like sky. But, given only four colors and no matte black, I was pleased with the results, which would be suitable for general printing.

Using the card reader, I printed a set of 30 4x6” prints. I used HP’s Real Life technologies that are built into the printer. This applies some automatic adjustments to images. It did a good job of adjusting for dark exposures, but once again the greens were oversaturated for my taste (think Velvia greens with a saturation boost).

I compared prints from the B8550 to an Epson R2880. While they’re obviously targeted to a different audience, I was surprised at how well the HP held up next to the R2880 with its eight-color ink set. When printing black and white, the Epson has a clear advantage though, as the HP doesn’t deliver near the range of tones. If you’re printing text documents, you’ll be pleased with both the quality and speed—about 30 pages per minute.

Conclusion
HP has an interesting offering with the Photosmart B8550. Ideally suited to mixed use with text and photos, it is a good solution for someone looking for a single printer for all uses. The 13x19” size will appeal to many, especially scrapbook aficionados that need to print on 12x12” papers. The number of prints per cartridge, however, is disappointing. The XL version of ink would be a better option for this printer if you’ll be doing more than occasional printing.

If you’re looking for a pure photo printer, you’d be happier with something along the lines of the Epson R1400, Canon PIXMA Pro9000, or HP Photosmart B8850, all of which are optimized for photo printing and can be had for about $50 more.

For more information, contact HP at: www.hp.com.

Jon Canfield is the author of several books on digital photography and output, including the “Photodex ProShow Visual Quick Start Guide” and “Print Like a Pro.” Canfield teaches workshops around the country, including the Panasonic Digital Photo Academy (www.digitalphotoacademy.com) and the Lepp Institute (www.leppinstitute.com). You can reach Canfield at: www.joncanfield.com.

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