HP produces printers for the consumer and professional inkjet markets, but until recently, not much for the semi-professional or sole-trader professional. The Photosmart Pro B9180 fills this gap and also showcases HP’s scaleable print technology, in which it’s placing a lot of faith for future developments.
This is a big printer, but has a solid, professional feel. Large areas of plastic in A3+ printers often feel flimsy, but not here. It has a functional design – boxy, but with a curved front edge. The main paper tray, which can be used for any paper from 15 x 10cm to A3+ paper, extends, so you only need to open it up when using larger sizes. The cover telescopes out, too.
The brushed metal front panel folds down to reveal a secondary, straight-through paper path. Paper from the main tray performs HP’s normal 180-degree turn before being printed, but in the top tray, it travels unencumbered from front to back, which means the B9180 can print on card up to 1.5mm thick. Don’t back the B9180 up against a wall, though, if you intend to use the straight-through tray.
The two line by 16-character LCD display is well used to show status messages and instructions and the row of five buttons underneath is all you need to navigate its menu system. At the back are USB 2.0 and Ethernet sockets; the printer is network enabled, straight out of the box.
Consumables installation is an involved process. It uses separate ink cartridges and print heads and these have to be installed and primed in a set order. Start by opening the cartridge cover at the left-hand end of the printer and plugging in each of the eight cartridges; they have keyed mouldings, so each only fits in its respective slot. The printer then primes them, by pumping ink from the cartridges to the point where the heads would be, had you fitted them.
When prompted from the LCD display, open the top cover and fit each of the two-colour heads, first removing the stoppers on the ends of the tubes from the cartridges. You’ll also need to wipe each print head with a spirit-soaked, ‘super cotton bud’, supplied with each head, to get the ink flowing.
Now load the ‘calibration pack’, actually 10 sheets of A4 Advanced Photo Paper, and let the printer do its own calibration, which involves a wait of around 30 minutes and several test prints, which get progressively better in quality. Full calibration is a once-only process, though ‘closed-loop’ calibration happens whenever an unrecognised new media is used in the printer.
While you’re waiting, you can install the software, which includes a comprehensive driver, a Photoshop plug-in and HP’s Photosmart Premier application. This last is a simple photo editor, which won’t give Adobe any sleepless nights, but is enough to make basic edits and to resize, crop and select images for printing.
The B9180 is clever. Not only does it auto-sense the paper type its using, using bar codes on the back of HP sheets and its own densitometer to calibrate for other types, but it also senses paper sizes. It won’t print an image that’s too big for the loaded paper, which is good, but even tells you if the paper is bigger than it needs be for a given image – a help in avoiding waste of expensive photo papers.