HP’s Photosmart 8750; 13x19” Nine-Ink Printer

When I first reviewed an HP 7960 printer about two years back (www.shutterbug.net/test_reports/1203sb_hp/index.html) I was very impressed with the neutral black and white images it delivered. I had become increasingly frustrated with the color shifts in black and white with pigment inks, and have since been convinced that this was as much a problem with pigment inks as with any profile I could decipher to cure it. The HP 7960, albeit a dye-based printer thus, at the time, not offering an equivalent archival lifespan as pigment printers on the right paper, was about the best I had worked with in that regard. Being more interested in black and white than color, but still doing a fair share of the latter, I continued to search, aided in large part by David Brooks, whose groundbreaking articles on digital black and white printing have graced these pages (www.shutterbug.net/features/0205digitalbw/index.html).

After that initial HP review I began bugging the powers that be at the company to bring out a larger format printer for the advanced amateur market, convinced that their technology applied to a larger print size would be a boon for printers like me, and many others. Their answer is the new Photosmart 8750, a 13x19" printer. Along with the printer comes a new inkset of inks, what HP calls Vivera, a dye-based setup with nine inks that come in three cartridges. The inks include cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow, blue, and three neutral gray/black inks (light, medium, and dark) in what they call the Photo Gray cartridge. The printer has a max resolution of 4800x1200dpi with two feed systems, straight from the tray or, for heavier papers, from the back slot.

While I did all my work via computer, the printer can work from memory card slots and directly from your camera with PictBridge capability. There's a built-in LCD printer screen that you can use to view menus, page layout, ink status, and so forth. Overall the printer seems well built, though some of the components, such as the print size positioning sliders, might benefit from the use of a more hardy plastic. I did not have any issues with any of the parts overall, and the unit runs smoothly and quietly with a minimum of "jitter" that some exhibit when transporting paper. With a list price of $499 it's certainly competitively priced.

The range of colors and tonal values from this printer are very impressive, particularly with the addition of the blue ink cartridge and its beneficial effect on sky color and richness. Reds are quite vivid, and subtle differentiation in blues of the boat and sky are evident. All in all, a very exciting, Cibachrome-like result.
All Photos © 2005, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

One of the chief concerns for any printmaker today has to be the archival qualities of prints made on a particular machine with various ink/paper combinations. HP has done their homework here, or at least Henry Wilhelm has done it for them. (See also www.shutterbug.com /columns/0305point/ for an article by Dr. Nils Miller of HP on print longevity.) According to Wilhelm's tests, the Vivera inks on HP's glossy paper will last over 100 years in prints displayed under glass, over 130 years under UV glass, and over 200 years in an album or "dark storage." These are extrapolations, of course, but Wilhelm's methods are generally well accepted by most companies. In any case these are more than sufficient numbers.

My tests were done on the glossy paper HP supplied as well as from other makers, including the new Inkpress Papers (www.inkpresspaper.com) in a variety of surfaces. I worked images in Photoshop CS on a Windows XP machine from scans and original digital image files and connected via USB, although you can hook up a network via the Ethernet connection. You can also use a wireless Bluetooth connection, via the HP bt300 adapter, which I did not test, for connection to camera and, I suppose, photo cell phone. Loading the ink carts was simple enough, as was loading the software. In short, soon after unpacking I was ready to go.

I let the 8750 handle the color controls here in Colorsmart/sRGB mode, and while slightly warm it shows off how the printer can handle pastels and subtle color variations. This 18MB file printed on HP glossy 13x19" paper gave me new impetus to go back and print a bunch of color images.

My penchant is toward black and white and toned monochrome, but to be fair I had to give the color a workout first. Using 18MB scans from various slide films I upsized in Photoshop to yield 11" (short side) prints at 240dpi. I worked with the Bicubic Smoother and Bicubic Sharpener resampling modes, which I find work as good as most specific resampling programs. Opening the Properties dialog box allowed me to control color via the application (no color management), although working with HP's "smart" profiling often gave me excellent results as well.

Once I set up a set of printing parameters I was also able to save that set and apply it to each subsequent print. In short, there's nothing oblique or even unique about this procedure, at least when compared with comparable printers. The profiles supplied when loading the printer driver, however, were myriad and it wasn't always clear which ones applied to the specific paper I was using. I stuck with the Photo Plus paper profile (gray cartridge) on both HP's glossy stock and Inkpress' matte, and was rewarded. ICC profiles can be downloaded as well, although this printer, being preproduction, did not have much support from third-party paper makers or even HP online, at least as of this writing. I did not do any custom profiling myself. My hope is that by the time the printer gets out there that HP will make an effort to dedicate a variety of surfaces and profiles for this printer.

This graphic was made from an infrared-adapted Canon 20D digital camera and printed on Inkpress double-sided matte, which has become a favorite paper of mine. This image was created using Duotones and the rendition on the print matched precisely what was on screen, with very deep, warm blacks and bright and textural highlights. Ink laydown was very rich.

My color prints were just how I like them, although you might, and probably have different tastes for color than me. Indeed, the first set of color prints was very satisfying, even exciting, and reminded me of the Cibachrome look of years back, slightly muted but very rich. That's how I set up the images, in any case, and what I had on screen matched what came out of the printer. One of the chief improvements, I was told, in the inksets is the addition of the blue cartridge, and this kicked up the blue in whatever sky happened to be in the image. Warmer colors were very satisfying, but not overly yellow, a good balance to my eye. There is a certain sheen to colors that feels almost metallic to the eye, but I put this down to the glossy paper HP supplied and I used, not ever my first choice for printing but worthy of trying, at least. Like I said, color's not my first choice for printing, but the 8750 got me to dig into old color files and print away.

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