First look: HP Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer

At Photokina in Germany, HP today announced the Designjet Z3200 Photo Printer, a wide-format inkjet printer for professional photographers and designers, with a new ink formulation, speed and paper-handling improvements and other enhancements over previous models.

The Z3200 is the successor to HP’s the Designjet Z3100 Photo Printer, which, when it first shipped late in 2006, was one of the most innovative photo printers we had seen in a long time. The Z3100 utilized 12 pigment-based inks (including a gloss optimizer) to produce high-quality, gallery-ready prints, but it was the printer’s embedded spectrophotometer (from X-Rite) and seamless integration with networked Macs and PCs that set it apart from competitors like Epson and Canon. HP spent considerable effort streamlining the process of printing: everything from unboxing the device to profiling and adding new paper types had been thought through by HP’s hardware and software engineers. The result was a printer that created top-quality prints and was a joy to use, day in and day out.

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Epson RX680, HP C7280 all-in-ones reviewed

Macworld recently posted our reviews of two letter-size, all-in-one photo inkjets: HP’s Photosmart C7280 and Epson’s Stylus Photo RX680. While neither of those printers would be considered “pro-level,” they are both a good value for what they are: six-color photo printers that do additional duty as general-purpose printers and scanners/copiers. (While the reviews are understandably Mac-centric, we’ve tested both printers on Windows-based systems as well.)

Photosmart C7280: bargain utility printer with big features

The C7280 lists for $300, but you can find it on Amazon right now for $165 (with free shipping). At that price, it’s a very good buy, with multiple connectivity options (802.11n wireless, Ethernet, USB); a built-in duplexer; secondary tray for 4" by 6" and 5" by 7" photo paper; and a sheet feeder for the copier. We had a couple of minor issues with the wireless networking, but once you have it up and running, it’s a great general-purpose inkjet printer. And, if you use it wirelessly, you can still scan directly to computers on your network that have the HP driver software installed. This is a great feature, one we’ve found extremely helpful in the months we’ve been using the printer.

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HP Photosmart Pro B8850 review

b8850-small.pngIn mid-2006, HP entered the archival printing market in earnest with the Photosmart Pro B9180, the company’s first fully pigment-based printer. The B9180 produced great prints in both color and black and white and had a number of innovative features, including a smart mechanism for adding third-party paper types directly into the print driver. While the B9180 hasn’t knocked Epson off its perch as the king of the archival print, it has made it a much more competitive market, especially in that all-important sub-$1,000 market.

Now, hot on the heels of Epson’s Stylus Photo R1900, HP has released the $550 Photosmart Pro B8850 (Amazon link), which retains the best qualities of the B9180, at a lower price point (identical to the price of the R1900). We’ve been working with both pre-release and shipping versions of the B8850 for a few months now, and we’ve had few surprises: it produces very good prints with a few minor issues, much like its older sibling.

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Stylus Photo R1900 speed test results

We received our Stylus Photo R1900 recently, and have been quite busy testing Epson’s new pigment-based photo printer. We should have a full review online in the next week or so, but overall, we’ve been quite impressed with the R1900’s output. The glossy prints are as beautiful as we’ve ever seen from a pigment printer, which is no surprise, given the gloss optimizer and the new screening technology. But we’ve also been quite taken with photos printed on matte and fine art papers — they are rich and vibrant, and look as good, if not better, than output from other printers in its class.

While we’re finishing up the review, we wanted to post the initial results of our benchmark tests. While print speed is rarely the first concern when choosing between two higher-end photo printers, it can still be a consideration — especially if you feel that the output is comparable. Below are two charts, noting the print speeds for six different print sizes on the R1900 and its predecessor, the R1800, as well as against the immediate competition: HP’s Photosmart Pro B8850 and Canon’s dye-based Pixma Pro9000.

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Sale on pro paper at HP site

HP is running a special “Buy 1, get 1 free” promotion on 13" by 19" paper for many of its professional line of papers for the B9180 and B8850 printers. If you’re a big fan of the HP/Hahnemühle Smooth Fine Art and Watercolor papers, or HP’s Professional Satin Photo Paper (one of our new favorites), Aquarella Textured Art or Artist’s Matte Canvas, it’s a good time to stock up. Simply add two packages to your cart, and one package is free; HP’s even offering free shipping on the deal.

Given that HP’s Smooth Fine Art is regularly $4 per 13" by 19" sheet—although it’s a more reasonable $2.40 per sheet via Amazon—getting it for $2 per sheet is quite nice.

First look: Photosmart Pro B8850

b8850-small.pngHewlett-Packard’s recently announced Photosmart Pro B8850 is a $549, B-size (13″ by 19″) inkjet printer designed for amateur photographers who want the advantages of pigment inks, advanced black-and-white printing, and a larger print size, but who also aren’t sure they want the full throttle of a 17-inch powerhouse like Epson’s Stylus Pro 3800.

We’ve been playing with a final-release sample of the B8850 for a few weeks now, and have been quite impressed with the overall performance of the printer. What follows is our short take on the printer. While there might be some small details that change with shipping units, we think the tenor of our review will be the same.

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Enhanced black printing on B9180 & B8850

At Macworld Expo last week in San Francisco, we got a little tip from the folks at Hewlett-Packard about the Photosmart Pro B9180 and B8850 printers, as well as the wide-format Designjet Z2100: when you’re printing on matte or fine-art media, the printer uses both the photo and matte black inks, in addition to the gray ink. The end result is that you get deeper blacks, and much better tonal range in the shadows, especially when working with black-and-white images.

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HP ups the ante: the Photosmart Pro B8850

We’re only two weeks into the new year, and already, 2008 is shaping up to be a big one for photo printers. Last week, Epson unveiled the Stylus Photo R1900, a B-size (13″ by 19″) photo printer optimized for glossy output. Today, Hewlett-Packard is announcing the Photosmart Pro B8850, a B-size printer similarly designed for the advanced amateur photographer, and priced at $549.

The B8850 uses eight pigment-based inks, including separate black inks for photo and matte-finish papers; a gray ink for printing improved black-and-white photos; and the standard set of cyan, magenta, light cyan, light magenta and yellow inks found in most midrange to high-end photo printers. It has a bottom-feed paper tray that can handle approximately 50 sheets of standard photo paper, and a manual feed tray for handling rigid media types up to 0.7 mm thick. It has a USB 2.0 port on the back, and LED status lights for each cartridge that turn on when the ink level dips below a certain percentage.

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HP Z3100, Canon iPF6100 reviews posted

Macworld.com has posted our reviews of two wide-format photo printers, HP’s Designjet Z3100 Photo Printer and Canon’s imagePROGRAF iPF6100. Both of these printers offer excellent color and black-and-white print quality on glossy, matte and fine-art papers and have good ink efficiency and strong performance.

The Z3100 is priced at $4,095 and has 11 inks; a 12th cartridge, which is a gloss optimizer for reducing the bronzing effect when printing on glossy paper (Unlike most high-end photo printers, it does not have a cyan ink, using blue and light cyan to . The printer also has an embedded i1 spectrophotometer from X-Rite, which lets you easily create ICC profiles for new media types, as well as update the profiles for existing papers (which is often recommended when changing inks). The Z3100’s software is among the best we’ve ever seen for adding new media and keeping ICC profiles current across all your network machines. One other unique attribute found in the Z3100 is the fact that, when printing in black and white on matte or fine art papers, the printer uses four monochrome inks—photo black, matte black, and two grays—in essence giving you quadtone prints. (Epson and Canon printers use photo black with glossy papers and matte black with fine art papers.)

The iPF6100 (which also comes in a 17-inch version, the iPF5100) is priced $500 less than the Z3100. It has 12 inks and supports direct printing of 16-bit images via a Photoshop plug-in for both Mac OS X an Windows XP and Vista. We found the print quality of this generation vastly superior to the iPF5000/iPF6000 series (although subsequent firmware updates did improve the print quality somewhat), and it was definitely one of the faster wide-formats we’ve tested.

These are the first printers in this class from Canon and HP that approach the print quality of Epson’s Stylus Pro line. During our jury testing, when showing prints from Epson, HP and Canon pro-level inkjets, pro photographers and amateurs alike could not consistently pick which printers produced which prints. This is a far cry from years past, where Epson printers consistently produced prints that were recognizably better than the competition. We think Epson’s printers are still top notch, but HP and Canon have gotten into the game.

Product links: Z3100, iPF6100