HP's Photosmart Pro B8850 is a lower-priced version of the Photosmart Pro B9180 photo printer, offering that model's very good print quality and strong features (with a few intelligent omissions) at a lower price.

The entry level of the archival-quality photo printer market is heating up right now, with the simultaneous release of Epson's Stylus Photo R1900 and HP's Photosmart Pro B8850.

HP's Photosmart Pro B8850 is a lower-priced version of the Photosmart Pro B9180, offering that model's very good print quality and strong features (with a few intelligent omissions) at a lower price.

Set-up

The HP Photosmart Pro B8850 is a large printer, weighing nearly 18kg. It has a 200-sheet paper tray and a single-sheet, manual-feed tray with a straight paper path, both of which are capable of handling paper from 3.5 by 5 inches up to 13 by 19 inches. It uses eight individual high-capacity ink cartridges, with separate black inks for photo and matte paper types, a light gray ink for black-and-white printing, and the standard complement of cyan, yellow, magenta, light cyan, and light magenta inks.

In addition to the ink cartridges, the HP Photosmart Pro B8850 also requires installation of four printheads; but, under normal usage, the printheads should last the life of the printer.

Print quality

The HP Photosmart Pro B8850 uses the Vivera inks and cartridges found in the Photosmart Pro B9180; as a result, prints made with the newer model are as good as those from the original.

On all media types - glossy, semigloss, matte, and fine-art papers - the HP Photosmart Pro B8850 produces high-quality prints that have broad tonal range and look true to life. When comparing prints on similar paper types with the R1900, some viewers felt that the B8850 prints were a bit cooler than those of the R1900, but the differences were minimal, and easily correctable.

On glossy papers, the HP Photosmart Pro B8850 exhibits some bronzing, especially on images with large areas of little or no ink on the page. On HP's Advanced Glossy paper - the company's preferred glossy media - this can be a bit unsightly.

If we hadn't seen the glossy output from the R1900, we would have said that the HP Photosmart Pro B8850's glossy output was quite good, but the Epson printer does a much better job in this category.

Where the HP Photosmart Pro B8850 does have it over the R1900 is in black-and-white printing. The HP model produces great black-and-white photos that are rich and detailed, with no visible colour cast on most paper types. They're close to the quality you get with Epson's Stylus Photo R2400 or Stylus Pro 3800, although those printers use two gray inks in addition to the photo or matte black inks, which gives you slightly more tonal range and shadow detail than you'll get with the B8850 (or the B9180).

The HP Photosmart Pro B8850's print life should also be quite good. According to Wilhelm Imaging Research, prints using the B8850 and many of HP's glossy and fine art papers should last for nearly 275 years when framed under glass, and approximately 200 years unframed. This is among the longest lifespans of any of the printer-ink combinations Wilhelm has tested.

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