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Friday, December 01, 2006

B9180 Watch: Not-So-Swell Papers

I'm now happily making prints with the HP B9180 printer, after a somewhat traumatic beginning. At this point the only observation I want to make with regard to quality is that the HP Vivera ink on Hannemühle Watercolor paper looks amazingly like paint. I printed this picture at several sizes, and even at a distance of a nose-length it looks like somebody painted it with leetle tiny brushes, and tempera—I can hardly get over it.

Anyhoo. The observation I'd like to talk about here concerns an error that I've seen several times on the web already. Contrary to a seemingly commonsense assumption, the B9180 is not compatible with all of HP's photo papers.

No? No. Specifically, the two papers previously marketed as HP's best—HP Premium Photo Paper and Premium Plus Photo Paper—are not compatible with the B9180...or any other pigment-based inkset printer, either, for that matter.

Dye-encapsulation papers, commonly called "swellable" or swellable polymer papers—which is what Premium and Premium Plus are—were developed as a way to make dye inks longer-lasting. The papers are similar to traditional resin-coated photo papers in that the business layers are laid on top of a paper base that's protected on both sides by plastic (polyethylene, a.k.a. the "resin" in "resin-coated"). Just like RC paper has its emulsion layers on top of this plastic-coated paper base, swellable papers have several layers on top of one side of the plastic protective coating, too. The liquid dye inks make the outermost layer "swell" as it becomes wet and permeable; the dyes are then trapped by the layers underneath; the outer layer then dries again. (The moisture of the inks doesn't penetrate to the actual paper at all, since it's protected by plastic.)

The big advantage of this is that it's a way to make dye prints remarkably lightfast and fade-resistant—far more so than when dyes remain on the surface of the paper exposed to contaminants. Unfortunately, there are some serious drawbacks to swellable papers as well. Not only do the prints take a long time to dry completely—up to 24 hours, maybe longer in humid conditions—but the outermost layer never loses its permeability to moisture, so the prints are not, and never will be, waterproof. Price you pay.

Another aspect of swellable papers is that they only really work well with dye inks. Not surprising, since that's what they were specifically made for! Pigment inks, which aren't liquid but rather suspended particulates, don't work well on swellable papers (this despite the fact that there are several swellable inkjet papers on the market that are advertised as being general purpose. Woe—temporary woe, one would hope—to the ignorant consumer who tries to use one of these with pigment inks). In fact, I believe Epson has now discontinued all forms of swellable paper, as befits the leading maker of pigment ink inkjet printers and the leading formulator of pigment inks (it has two, Ultrachrome K3 and DuraBrite); Epson apparently doesn't want any of its customers using a swellable paper with one of its pigment printers by mistake. Epson, to counter the swellable-paper-with-dye-ink threat, has developed a dye inkset called Claria that has good inherent fade resistance on ordinary papers. Although Claria can't match the light-fastness of dye inks on swellable media, Epson's been cheerfully promoting Claria's virtues by showing customers 4x6 prints in little jars of water!

The advantage of pigment inks is that it's the inks themselves that are fade- and contaminant-resistant. The better a paper you put them on, the better they'll do, but one big advantage of pigment inks is that you can use them with good success on pretty much any kind of paper, including uncoated porous papers. Pigment inks on high-quality, lignin-free fine art papers are pretty much a match made in heaven. But pigment inks on swellable papers are a no-no.

Therefore, HP Premium and Premium Plus swellable papers are not suitable for the B9180, or any other pigment printer—even though the B9180 is HP's best consumer printer and Premium Plus is nominally HP's best paper. You need to use the "Advanced" HP papers with the B9180. So, with the B9180, you have to remember the marketingspeak code-words—"Premium" no, "Advanced" yes.

And lots of other papers yes too, but we'll get to that.



Blogger chas3stix said...

Looking for your next installment on the HP B9180. So far,you're the only photo author I know of that's run a definitive report on the new printer. I really appreciate Your explanation of which HP papers NOT to use with pigment inks. Thanks,

8:52 PM  
Blogger Andy Smith said...

Ditto Chas. I am seriously looking at purchasing this, and any hints you can send our way are greatly appreciated!


9:50 PM  
Blogger thechrisproject said...

This is great. I mentioned a problem with swellable paper on my blog, but this is such a better explanation. In fact, I didn't really have any explanation.

chas3stix, there are a number of other respected photographers that have written about the HP B9180. Check out Mike's previous post on the B9180. There are some links at the bottom. The Luminous Landscape one was a big influence on my decision to buy one.

1:41 AM  
Blogger CJ said...

Hello Michael,

"Ultrachrome K3 is for all intents and purposes Ultrachrome with a couple of grays."

Actually there are considerable differences between K3 and UC. K3 has:
- less metamerism
- better fade resistance
- the PK ink on glossy papers has
greatly reduced bronzing and better dmax
- the MK ink has slightly better dmax on matte papers (bigger difference on some papers than others)

The difference is so pronounced, especially for PK users, that many 2200 users (UC) ditched their 2200 to get the new K3 2400.


8:06 AM  
Blogger Marty said...

It's cool to see Clayton hanging out here. I used to follow him often in the Yahoo Digital B&W forum... Now I'm really impressed with this blog. (Actually, I always have been.)

2:19 PM  
Blogger John said...

Hi Mike,

I've had a B9180 for about a month now. For the most part, I think this is a great printer. It seems to work well with any of the matte papers I've tried. I've never much liked photographs on Matte paper, but the B9180 is changing that.

The HP Advanced Soft-Gloss paper is very close to having a surface I have wanted in a paper for a long time (inkjet or RC darkroom paper). A semi-gloss paper with invisible texture (you can see the texture with a specular light source reflected in the surface, but the texture disapears otherwise).

My only real disappointment has been the performance on Hahnemuehle Fine Art Pearl. I guess that since Epson was the only pigment printer available when this paper was developed, this paper is optimized for the Epson printers. Hopefully, some future paper of this type will work well with the HP.

John Sparks

5:07 PM  
Blogger Carl Dahlke said...

One note of caution on the HP9180. I was in the process of buying one and had my dealer make a series of paper profiles. There appears to be some incompatibility between the HP9180 and the following papers: Crane Museo Silver Rag, Hahnemüle Fine Art Perl, and Innova Fibra Print Glossy. On these papers he could not produce a good enough print of the target to be worth measuring. He had no trouble making profiles for matte papers or for the EPSON premium luster and premium glossy papers. So there may be a chemical incopatibility between these specific papers and the HP9180 inks.

The owner of my dealership is in Barcelona talking to the HP engineers and he plans to raise this issue. I'll make a post when I hear anything else. In the meanwhile my purchase is on hold - but that's just because I knew I wanted to use some of these glossy papers.

7:00 PM  
Blogger Richard Sintchak said...

B&W! Please, someone directly address how B&W is on this printer, especially in comparison to the Epson 2400 and 3800 and how it prints on lustre (any bronzing?) and how it can print subtle B&W tones (slight warming or cooling). NONE of the reviews I've read seem to really go into any detail on fine art B&W printing using this printer. I'm about to upgrade from my 2200 and am decided which way to go. Thanks!

11:15 PM  
Blogger eric kellerman said...

Photo-i has had a detailed review of this printer (including b/w performance) for some time:

12:24 PM  
Blogger RexK said...

Hi Mike,

I have searched HP's site several times to try and find the information about 'swellable' papers and HP inks but have never been able to find anything. Where did you get this information?

Regards Rex

2:39 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Hi RexK,
Couldn't tell you exactly, at least not without a lot of work--just the usual way I get information on anything--my usual research on the web, info from expert friends, promo materials (sometimes insider, sometimes available to public), plus I'm sure I got something or other in direct conversation with folks from the companies. Before writing anything I basically just keep after it until I feel I have a reasonably good handle on it.


2:49 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

P.S. Oh, and also, I try to keep an open mind even AFTER I "feel I have a handle on it." It never helps to think you know everything.


2:51 PM  
Blogger Richard Sintchak said...

Thanks Eric. Already saw that review. Hardly tells me anything I need to know regarding some of the most important issues of true fine art B&W printing, especially in regards to directly addressing in detail a comparison to the Epson 2400 or 3800.

Although it certainly tells more than other reviews I've found on this printer it's pretty much summed up as "B&W looks pretty good". I really need more.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Note that I will not be able to compare the B9180 directly to the Epsons either, although I'll have a couple of my files printed on an Epson to get at least a little information. However I will be writing a whole article about the B9180's B&W output.


5:46 PM  
Blogger nathan said...

When can we expect more of your impressions about this interesting printer?

10:54 PM  
Blogger steph said...

Richard and Mike,
I bought this printer on buy & try .. and I returned it. There were many reasons, but let me preface this by saying much of my work is b&w and I used advanced HP gloss paper at all times, mainly because I could not find any of the fine art papers HP recommended for the printer. Also my screen is properly calibrated to industry standard. Although the colour out of the box was amazing, I still had density problems in black areas (on a mac) on some colour files. Also, banding at times. The photoshop plug-in seemed to apply colour management twice and not being able to work out why, I scrapped it and went back to the way i know. Next, the printer ate up ink - especially the light magenta. I dreaded having to re-print anything. I found the b&w printed about 2 stops two dark and I continually forgot to adjust for this. Another waste of expensive ink. The b&w also displayed unacceptable bronzing and not as much detail as produced by an older HP printer I had had, the photosmart 7960. The printer was swapped for another one and the same problems occurred. I was disappointed as I love the idea of not having to pay for profiling. However, all in all my epson 2100 produces perfectly neutral b&w with RIP software, imageprint 6. Its not as sharp and crisp as I would like it to be, but that is truly a minor quibble from a perfectionist. The colour is also slightly disappointing as regards skin tones which is why i am still looking to upgrade. But to what? It must have negligable bronzing in b&w on GLOSS and great skin tones in colour. Also, the ability to take papers such a Harman fibre gloss and the innova range. As far as i can see the large format HP printers fit the bill. Now where to find the space and money... Steph

11:42 AM  
Blogger Len said...

I'm interested in the comments on the Watercolor paper. Did you use the color profile in the driver for that paper?


2:05 PM  

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