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Author Topic: February 2010: The HP B8850  (Read 27340 times)
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« on: January 31, 2010, 08:13:33 PM »

February 2010: The HP B8850


Background

Once in a while I take a break from broader subjects to review a particular product that I find interesting or noteworthy in some way.  This month I'm reviewing the HP B8850 photo printer.  The HP B8850 is not a ground breaking product but I do believe it warrants some attention because I've found a number of glitches in HP's driver software that can make this printer difficult to impossible to use without some workarounds.  I've found the B8850 to be a good pigment printer but there are some things that are worth noting before buying this printer and some things that can eliminate days of frustration in working with HP's buggy driver if you already own one.

 

The Hardware

The B8850 is a formidable contender in the 13 inch wide pigment printer arena as far as the hardware is concerned.  The printer itself appears to be solid and well made, if a bit awkward in some ways.  The main paper tray, for example, sits at the bottom of the printer and pulls out the front for loading.  If you want to load multiple sheets of any type of media, you must pull the paper tray out the front of the printer and load the paper print-side down in the tray.  For this reason, the B8850 will not only consume almost two feet of space left-to-right on your desk or printer stand, but also at least an additional foot in front of the printer must remain clear in order to slide the tray out.  There is a specialty media tray just above the paper output that can be flipped down to load single sheets.  If you have 4x6 sheets loaded in the main tray for a job and you want to print a single 8x10 or 13x19, this comes in handy as you do not need to remove the tray and reload/reset the tray just to print one-up larger sizes.

The B8850 uses eight cartridges: 5 color cartridges and three B/W cartridges including gray.  The cartridges hold about twice as much ink as most other 13 inch printers, however, which is welcome on a wider printer. In my testing, I'm not finding the B8850 to be an ink hog and it seems to be doing relatively well in the ink usage department.  With the larger cartridges, this is definitely a printer where you'll likely buy cartridges only as needed rather than buying "ink packs" to have a full set of extras on hand: a full set of inks for this printer will run you about $240 minimum!

Initial startup takes 30-40 minutes as the printer performs its ink charging and calibration, but after the initial calibration, the printer responds nicely and you rarely find yourself waiting for "ink charge" cycles that delay your printing (a complaint that I have with my Canon Pro9000).  One thing worthy of note here: this printer does not produce its own ICC profiles, nor will it "calibrate" for each type of paper you are using.  The automatic calibration appears to be more of a unit-specific color calibration that is simply designed to get each individual unit into tighter specs as far as placement of the ink and a good "mesh" with the heads and stepping mechanisms which can have slightly different characteristics on each unit produced.  This may not be clear to consumers as some of the reviews and media hype about the built-in "spectrophotometer" may make it seem like the printer has its own built in profiling tool: it does not and cannot produce any type of ICC profile that can be used via your color management aware software.

I'm happy to report that this printer produced very good prints on every type of media that I fed it.  Unlike Canon printers which can be a little finicky about the type of media used, the HP seemed to produce very good prints on any media, including media from other manufacturers and "generic" brands. All in all, I do believe the B8850 is a formidable piece of hardware and a quality piece of equipment.  It's such a shame that it is crippled in some ways by HP's buggy printer driver, but there are workarounds to make things livable.  More on that below!

As far as placement in the market, the B8850 comes in just below HP's high end 13 inch model: the B9180.  The B8850 is generally about $150 cheaper than the B9180 and is missing some features that, at least to me, are not show stoppers: no Ethernet port, no on-printer status display, and lack of ability to handle really thick media.  Otherwise, the B8850 and B9180 produce prints of nearly identical quality.

 

Gloss Differential

Call it "bronzing" or "gloss differential", if you are familiar with pigment ink printers, you've likely heard that printing good glossy photos can be challenging with pigment ink.  Due to the way the pigment ink interacts with the surface of the paper, there can be a difference in gloss if you view the paper from an angle.  Areas of the print with plenty of ink can appear duller than bright or white areas of the paper where the original gloss still shows through.  I did find this to be an issue with the B8850 as it has no gloss optimizer like the Epson R1900.  If you view a glossy print made on (for example) HP's Advanced Photo Paper Glossy, you can see areas of high and low gloss and some areas of the print are just shinier than others.  I didn't find it to be a big issue because, let's face it, how many people sight down the edge of the paper like you would a warped 2x4?  It can be distracting in some situations, however, and is something to be aware of.  You just won't get that "wet" look from glossy prints like you will a dye printer like the Canon Pro9000.  I did test a number of papers, however, and found that Canon's Photo Paper Plus Semi-Gloss worked very well in the B8850 and for most prints, the gloss differential on that type of paper was not noticeable unless large areas of white were present in the photo.

 

The Software

Okay, so the above might look a little like the summary page from other review sites that reviewed the B8850.  Here's the part you won't get on the other sites: the truth about HP's buggy printer driver.  There are a number of bugs and other "gotchas" that make using this printer a nightmare at first.  Fortunately there are workarounds for most, so take a look at what I found while testing this printer.

Bugs, glitches, and other oddities (based on Windows 7 x64 driver):

  1. Color management bug turns some prints on HP Advanced Photo Paper Glossy a mustard yellow: This is probably the significant bug and cost me quite a bit of paper and research to figure out.  If you are a professional or advanced amateur, you likely use color management and you have a profile for your monitor and profiles for each paper you use on your printer.  Kudos to HP for providing real ICC profiles for their own papers and also profiles for papers from other manufacturers!  BUT... there's a bug in the driver that will not allow you to use application managed color via an ICC profile in your printing application if you are using 4x6 or 5x7 HP Advanced Photo Paper Glossy.  The driver works fine for 8x10 or 8.5x11 paper but as soon as you select 4x6 or 5x7 paper size plus HP Advanced Photo Paper Glossy as the media type plus "application managed color", you'll get a yellow mustard print every time.  Googling this phenomenon, you can see it has been around for two years so I have to assume HP has no intention of fixing the problem.  Workaround: You can print using "sRGB" or "Adobe RGB" as the color selection instead of "application managed color" which is certainly not ideal.  The other option is to select "fiber gloss" as the paper type and create your own profile using a profiling tool like Profile Prism.  That's what I did and I've been happy with the results.  The bug only surfaces when you select HP Advanced Photo Paper Glossy, the 4x6 paper size, and "application managed color".

  2. Unchecking "Advanced Printing Features" causes paper to be loaded but no print is produced: I often recommend unchecking "Enable Advanced Printing Features" in Control Panel under the properties for a particular printer when printing large prints due to the fact that many drivers cannot handle large amounts of data with "Enable Advanced Printing Features" checked.  HP has oddly placed this feature in the driver settings, making it visible to users each time they print.  Unchecking this box in driver settings, however, will result in the paper loading but no print will be produced.  I've confirmed this with my own Qimage software and also other photo editors/printing applications.  Perhaps HP should just rename this checkbox "Allow printer to actually print" because when unchecked, there is simply no way to get a photo to print.  Workaround: Leave the "Advanced Printing Features" box checked!  ;-)

  3. Reloading partially used paper can cause the printer to think no paper is loaded: Sometimes, particularly when testing color on certain papers, I'll load an 8.5x11 page and print a 4x6 in the upper left corner.  I'll then examine the print, make some adjustments, and reload the same piece of paper to print another 4x6 in the upper right of the page in the "empty" spot.  You cannot do that with this printer.  It'll see something other than white paper in the upper left and it will assume the paper didn't load properly and will give you a paper jam notice.  Workaround: When printing test prints, print from right to left on the page instead of left to right.  Print that first 4x6 in the upper right of the paper and the next print in the upper left when you reload the paper.  That way, the printer won't get confused.

  4. When using the specialty media tray, you get a warning that the specialty media tray is closed even when it is open and paper has been loaded: I get a warning that the specialty media tray is closed when it is in fact open and I've already loaded paper.  Fortunately, you can simply click "Continue" and printing will proceed normally.  Since that tray is a single sheet tray anyway, this is not a big issue.  Workaround: Just ignore the message and continue.

  5. Checking or unchecking "Borderless" fouls up other settings: Boy, this one is annoying!  Let's say you've selected your paper type (fiber gloss), you've set your print quality to "maximum dpi", and you've set your paper size to 8x10.  Now you click the "Features" tab and you check "Borderless".  As soon as you check "Borderless", the paper type changes to "HP Advanced Photo Paper Glossy" and your quality drops from "maximum dpi" to "best".  You have to go back and change the paper type and quality to what you set before checking "Borderless".  This is not a paper type/borderless incompatibility issue because those settings (paper type and "maximum dpi") are valid with borderless printing.  This is simply another bug.  Workaround: Select "borderless" before you change other settings or use software like Qimage that can save/recall driver settings to avoid mistakes.

  6. Printer Services doesn't work: Click the "Printer Services" button on the "Features" tab and you are greeted by a "Unable to perform this operation" error message.

That about sums it up for the bugs, glitches, and other oddities.  Some of them may be related to only the Windows 7 x64 version of the driver but I've seen mention of a few issues from the above list on online forums from people using other operating systems.

 

Summary

While it may seem I'm being tough on the B8850, I am using the printer as my main photo printer right now and I'm happy with it overall.  After learning how to navigate the minefield of driver bugs, the printer is actually a fairly nice printer to use.  Qimage has helped a lot because I can set up all the driver settings (and workarounds) needed and save those for each type and size paper.  Being able to do that has saved me from the potholes you may fall into while navigating the driver itself.  The bottom line is always in the prints and the B8850 is a good piece of hardware that produces very nice prints that have a gamut range and quality comparable to other high end 13 inch printers on the market.  While I'm using the B8850 right now and I'm happy with the quality of prints, there is some gloss differential on all the glossy and semi-gloss media I've tried.  I don't think it's a big issue for most people but my honest take on the 13 inch pigment printer market is: nothing beats an Epson.  Epson's R1900 is the benchmark to beat and it's a shame that HP didn't include a gloss optimizer cartridge like the R1900 and older R800/R1800 as that seems to be the only way to get "perfect" glossy prints from a pigment printer.  That said, progress has been made with pigment inks and the gloss differential of the B8850 isn't a big problem like it used to be with older models, i.e. the Epson 2200.  Hopefully this article will help potential owners of the B8850 and will help existing owners as well, as you are likely to run into some of the above issues at some point.

 

Mike Chaney

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Owen Glendower
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« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2010, 04:21:17 AM »

Good article, Mike, thanks much.

Based on your description, the B8850 driver has many of the same quirks as my B8550.  For example, if I regularly wanted to print with a "Borderless" setup using other than the default paper and resolution settings, I'd have to create a special "shortcut" with the desired settings and save it as "Borderless-1" or something similar.  Then I could choose it in the driver and the special settings would snap into place.

Or--thank heavens!--I can just use Qimage.

Just FYI, the following is what I did first off with my new laptop:

1.  Uninstalled Norton.
2.  Installed Avira.
3.  Installed Firefox with NoScript.
4.  Installed Qimage.

I started using Qimage soon after I got my first digital camera--a Sony Mavica, 640x480..."sub-megapixel," as it was tactfully called at the time.  Qimage was the only way I could print an acceptable 5x7.  Wonderful program.
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dgancarz
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« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2010, 06:32:03 PM »

Thanks so much for confirming the color management bug in the B8850 driver. I've been driving myself crazy trying to figure out what I must have done to get the terrible color you describe.  I'm using 5x7 Ilford Glossy on an XP box with my B8850, so its not just 4x6 and not just Win7 64-bit.  As of the end of August 2010, still no updated driver from HP and, as you observe, none likely forthcoming given HP is leaving this market niche.  Too bad.
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