The debate between dye sublimation
and ink jet printing has always been about the "presence"
of the image, the feeling of continuous tone it imparts to the print.
For some digital printmakers the dye sub route was the way to go, but
ink jetters argued that the problem with dye sub is that you always
have to stick to the manufacturer's proprietary paper, usually
limited to glossy and perhaps matte stock. So giving up on some of the
true feeling of continuous tone with ink jet was OK because the substrate
choices were much greater. The various paper surfaces and feel they
gave to the image overwhelmed the slight edge most dye subs give over
This tonal exercise of an image was made from a 35mm scan
and printed out on HP Glossy with Best resolution setting
at 300dpi. The texture in highlights, the tonal scale, and
the presence of continuous tone looks and feels like a print
from an expensive dye sub printer, quite an accomplishment
from a $299 ink jet.
Photos © 2003, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved
Another matter was in the
image tone, or color, when it came down to doing monochrome, or even neutral
black and white prints. Some printers, especially those who handled pigment
inks, have a nasty habit of color shifting during dry down or when viewed
under light sources different than the one under which the print was made.
Metamerism, the odd name for the color shift/light source effect, became
a topic of no little debate. But on the other side of the argument was
the longevity of pigment ink prints, rivaling that of an archivally processed
fiber-based silver print.
But whenever you think you hit a wall in digital, and have to compromise
to get what you want at the expense of something else, someone comes along
and kicks down the wall and changes the rules of the game. While there
may be some matters that the new HP 7960 printer might still have to tackle,
it virtually eliminates those concerns. For black and white printers it
might just be a revelation.
Coming in at about $299, the latest HP printer, the 7960, delivers borderless
prints up to 8.5x11" with inking options that should appeal to color
and black and white photographers. It can be used, as the parlance goes,
computer or computer-less. The computer-less aspect means that you can
directly load images right from a memory card. Lift up the top cover and
a number of slots show you two things--the amazing proliferation
of memory card formats and what this has driven manufacturers to provide,
and the fact that the 7960 handles virtually all of them on a direct card
to printer basis.
image was made from a scanned Kodachrome circa 1976, converted
to monochrome via Channel Mixer in Photoshop and printed
on Legion Paper's Somerset Photo Enhanced Textured,
Radiant White. We didn't load any specific profile
and printed it out in RGB and got a great print the first
time through. The lack of any color shift is a very happy
Setup And Ink Sets
Setup and making that first print is easy. We loaded the driver software
on our diminutive iBook and made the USB connect and we were ready to
go. When we put in the ink carts we chose the HP 58 (color) and 59 (gray
photo) as we were looking for monochrome prints with the longest archival
keeping. Tests have shown (Wilhelm Research) that this combo with HP Photo
paper can yield up to 73 years without substantial shifting, good enough
for us. When talking with the folks at HP we learned that when printing
monochrome the color ink set contributes a bit to monochrome prints, mainly
in transitional areas between black and dark gray. We found that placing
ink carts was not an elegant affair, and it took us a few minutes to get
it right. But it was a hot summer day and perhaps others will find our
Direct From Card Printing
Also inside the top cover is another way to make prints--direct from
digital memory cards. You can print directly from all the usual suspects--even
the new, tiny xD cards. Once you place the card inside the slot the images
begin to load and you can move from one to the next using simple toggle
keys on the front of the unit. You can print or not and even preview all
the images right on the viewer. It's not the sharpest image we've
ever seen on a viewer but it's a real time-saver in making quick
Color Shift Gone
The really pleasant surprise came when making prints from digital files
we had previously used on the Epson 2000. The pigment ink prints were
beautiful from the Epson, but suffered from metamerism, the shifting of
color under different viewing conditions. The Epson produced prints that
you could call "the morning after the night before" blues
(or more correctly, greens). We would make a print at night under home
lighting conditions and they were great. But alas, on awakening the next
morning, the prints had a decidedly green cast in the cold light of day.
Making prints with a magenta fill, or working with various profiles made
the process unpredictable, something you want to avoid when making editions
of the same print.
our emphasis in testing was on monochrome images we had
to try a straight color shot. This image was made with a
Nikon D100 in raw mode and sent over to Photoshop 7 as a
TIFF. We printed it straight out at Best resolution without
any tweaking in the printer settings on HP Glossy. The colors
are dazzling and true with clean whites and deep, rich saturated
But enough about metamerism,
a topic that will be moot when working with the HP. The prints the first
time out from the HP were right on, with an amazing tonal scale that went
from open shadow detail to slight texture in the highlights. We had made
some prints from the same files using a dye sub (an expensive Kodak unit
from a few years back) and a couple of Epson printers. The HP prints,
with no question, matched the high-end dye sub and showed all the neutral
tonality and gradation one could expect from a very good variable contrast
print made on RC silver paper.
There was no dry-down effect, and there was even less of a color cast
than we saw from HP on their demo of the product a few weeks previously,
which had a slight magenta cast. To make sure results from one image were
not skewed we printed from a variety of monochrome image files, including
those saved as gray scale, as duotones, and as RGB files. The duotones
matched the screen image precisely, the gray scale images were equally
good, and the RGB images were great. So as not to appear snobbish we even
printed out some color images and we must say they were excellent.
Regardless of whether we worked from a gray scale, RGB,
or duotone mode the HP came through with true colors without
shifting. This duotone mode print was made from a scanned
Agfa Scala black and white slide. The sepia tone matched
right up with our monitor image without any effort on our
Profiles And Third-Party
While HP has some excellent papers (and in fact many third-party papers
look great just using the printer defaults) you might want to use select
paper profiles with this printer. To do so download the profile from the
paper manufacturer and place it in C:\Windows\system32\ spool\drivers\color.
Then in printer properties go to paper/quality and select the paper type
and profile and in printer properties again go to color and select ICM
color management as the color space. Like I said, you can do this if you
want to but I found that going straight up yielded some great results.
I tried my easy path with Legion's Concord Rag Soft White and their
Somerset Photo Enhanced Textured, Radiant White and was very pleased the
first print through. The instructions that came with the printer offer
no clue on profiling, something we trust the company will add to their
website or other literature in the future.
Tweaking The Print
The Ink and Paper setting on the print dialog box (clicking on Output
Options reveals it) allows you to do some nice tweaking, and you can save
the settings if they work for you. You can also set different levels of
resolution (the printer defaults to Best) but we also tried the slower,
and more exacting High Resolution. Doing so seemed to make little difference
to us, but more discerning eyes, and more detailed images might benefit
from using the High-Resolution option.
This photograph has subtle colors and tones and was made
with a Minolta 3-megapixel digicam. The close to 9MB file
needed some resampling to get the print up to 8.5x11"
size, but you wouldn't know it from the resultant
Interestingly, we found that
when we set Image Size in Photoshop with this printer we could get very
good results at around 200dpi. The folks at HP recommend 300dpi, but again
we found little difference in the images we worked with. Be safe and stick
around the middle and you should do fine, but test to see what works for
you. We're not sure what the lowest limit is, but this lets you
get away with larger prints from smaller file sizes, which seems to open
up the possibilities for a 3-megapixel camera. Our usual habit is to work
at 240dpi as the lowest we would go, but at 200dpi with this printer we
were pretty happy.
Another curious thing, though quickly overcome, is that you place paper
face down when loading, something we're not used to with other printers.
Again, we attribute this to an unusually warm day. The prints on the backside
of the paper were pretty good, by the way, even though the HP logo accompanies
But our biggest complaint is that this printer is not available for larger
size paper...yet. After seeing the results on our 8.5x11" prints
we yearned for a 13x19" capable machine. The ink system and whatever
HP has done to yield such neutral, full-scale images in monochrome, and
great colors in RGB, call for a lobbying effort to get this printer and
its technology available to us all in a larger size.
For more information contact the HP website at www.hp.com.
For more information on Legion Papers go to www.legionpaper.com.