Pages printed with the B9180 are of very high quality. HP uses pigmented inks throughout, to give excellent fade resistance, accredited at over 200 years by the Wilhelm testing lab. There are two blacks: matt for text print and photo black for images, and the other extra colours are light cyan, light magenta and light grey, as well as the regular cyan, magenta and yellow.
Colours are vibrant, but well controlled, so images don’t look over-excited when they’re not intended to. Our colour test image was one of the best we’ve ever seen. Reds, greens and blues are all well-rendered, looking natural and true. Detail is fine, with sharp edges and intricate lineage and colour gradation is smooth, with no noticeable bands.
Colour print on plain paper is also very well handled with clean, stipple-free fills and plain text is clear and precise. Black print isn’t quite as dense as we might like, and black and white images look a little darker than the originals, but this is nit-picking.
Print speeds are good for this class of printer, and noticeably better than from the cheaper HP Photosmart 8750, tested a few months back. Our five-page text document took 1 minute 18 seconds to print, which is fair for a machine designed for photo printing. The five-page text and graphics print took only 21 seconds longer, but it’s when you look at the A3+ print, coming in at 2:12, you realise speed hasn’t been sacrificed on the altar of print quality.
As an inkjet, you’d expect the sound levels to be low and in most places they were below what we could measure. There are a few pumping cycles and clicks while the printer is maintaining and recirculating its inks, but these shouldn’t prove annoying.
During installation of the B9180, we inadvertently interrupted its calibration cycle. We ran it again, so by the end it had printed six, A4 test pages. At this point, the printer reported having used nearly half of its matt black ink, and between 20 and 30 per cent of most of the others. We assume this is a problem with ink estimation software, as HP quotes 870, 15 x 10cm prints from a composite of the seven colour cartridges.
Even at this usage level, the printer costs around 55p per print on A4 paper, mainly due to the high cost of HP’s Advanced Photo Paper, which we couldn’t find for less than 44p a sheet. The price of this media should fall, though, so the print cost should also fall over time.
Oddly, the black print cost for a five per cent text page comes in at just 1.5p, low for an inkjet. Again, the low cost of plain paper is a big factor in keeping this down.
HP’s new pigment-based Vivera ink technology takes a lot of beating. The vibrancy of colour prints is superb, marred only by slight darkening of black and white, which may need some compensation. Put simply, if we wanted a medium format inkjet photo printer and had less than £500 to spend, we’d buy the Photosmart Pro B9180.