A general purpose A3+ printer may not be that mainstream, but there are enough people who need prints larger than A4 to make it a worthwhile inclusion in most manufacturer's ranges. HP has just revamped its models and come up with a strikingly designed printer in the Photosmart B8550.
Decked in ice white and pale grey, the printer has a deep inset moulded into its front panel with a shallower cut-out folding round its left-hand side. As in previous designs, the extra support needed for large sheets -- this printer can cope with paper up to A3+ -- comes from telescopic input and output trays. Most customers will only print larger documents occasionally and it's useful to have this smaller footprint when printing A4 or 15 x 10cm photo prints.
There's also a separate photo tray, which is powered, as on some of HP's A4 Photosmart machines, so slides into position when needed, without you having to reload trays.
In the left-hand front corner of the printer's top there's a simple but effective control panel and a 65mm colour LCD display. These two work together to give the same kind of controls you'd expect on one of HP's A4 photo printers.
At the bottom left of the front panel are three memory card slots for all the popular types and a PictBridge socket for camera connection. Again, this kind of support hasn't always been available on wide-carriage printers, which is something of a surprise, given that many of them are bought by photo enthusiasts.
Also surprising is the single USB socket on the back. There's no network connection and no Wi-Fi though, again, you'd think a relatively expensive asset like this was ideal for sharing in this way.
Installation is pretty straightforward and HP includes its driver and a standard set of utilities. The driver includes support for manual duplexing and for the larger paper sizes and fair support for colour, including individual colour adjustment and support for Abobe RGB.
HP has had a good look at Canon's head and cartridge design with the five ink cartridges in this printer. From the clip-in print head, to the pull tabs on the shrinkwrap and the twist-off nozzle seals, the two designs are very similar. That's no bad thing, as Canon's PIXMA print systems produce some of the best results on the market and its clip-in ink tanks are very easy to service.