The Photosmart 8450 is close to the top end of HP's range of photo printers and boasts the company’s latest eight-ink print technology. This means that in addition to the three primary colours, cyan, magenta and yellow, there's a light cyan, a light magenta and three different grey levels, known as photo grey. HP claims that photo grey improves the light tones in both colour and black and white prints making output from this printer up to photo studio standards, a claim which we were eager to test.
If desk space is tight beware, as this is a fairly big machine. This is because it has to allow for all three print heads to surround a full A4 sheet due to the Photosmart 8450’s ability to produce full-bleed A4 prints. It follows HP's normal design, with paper feeding from a 100 sheet tray at the front, making a 180-degree turn and being printed on and ejected to a paper-out tray directly above the feed tray.
Mounted centrally in the front face of the printer is a 63mm diameter colour LCD screen. This can be used to view thumbnails of pictures from a camera memory card and to navigate the printer's menu system. If all you want to do with it is print from cards or a PictBridge-compatible camera the printer doesn't require connection to a PC. It can take seven different varieties of memory card, using a built-in card reader placed under a smoked acrylic cover at the left-hand end of the control panel. If you do want to connect to a PC you can use a USB 2.0 cable or directly into a 10/100 Ethernet network using the built-in socket.
The other controls are well laid out, with a jog-dial for menu selections at the right and selection controls for pictures directly under the screen. The 8450 supports HP’s proof-sheet printing, where you can print a page of thumbnails and select individual shots and sizes by colouring in check boxes with a pen, before scanning the sheet back in through the printer. As well as standard A4 sheets, the HP can take various sizes of photo paper, including a new panorama strip which enables direct printing of several stitched shots taken on specialist panorama cameras. Additionally, the printer driver has been redesigned and the main screens for selecting features such as paper type and print quality are indeed easier to use than earlier versions.
That takes care of the set up and design of the machine – but what of print output? Well, it has to be said that it’s superb. Photo prints from the eight-colour system, using tri-colour, photo-colour and photo-grey cartridges really do benefit from the larger colour gamut available, which succeeds in reducing any colour-shift in greyscales to virtually imperceptible levels.