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Product Tour Summary
  • Printer has only 3 buttons on the front
  • Individual indicators for each ink cartridge
B8850-PT1.jpg

The main features on the front of the B8850 are the controls in the top left corner, the ink indicators below them (which light up when one of the cartridges runs out) and the cover of the ink comaprtment below this. Both of the paper paths are also on the front of the printer: the main paperm tray is at the bottom, then there is the paper output tray and the flop-down manual feed tray above that.

B8850-PT2.jpg

There are only a couple of significant features on the back of the B8850: a rear paper door that is used for clearing paper jams and the power and USB ports. There are no network ports or other inputs. On the rear paper door you can see the slot where large pieces of paper from the manual print try ont eh front protrude while they are being printed on. 

Ink Cartridges

The HP B8850 uses 8 ink cartridges: Matte Black, Photo Black, Light Grey, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Light Cyan and Light Magenta. That's a slightly unusual combination; most printers use only one or two blacks, but the B8850 adds a third light grey, which HP claims will improve the reproduction of neutral tones. All of the inks are pigment based, and HP claims a print life of over 200 years for prints that are properly printed and stored; more details of their claims are here. There is no clear coating ink, though, unlike the R1900. The cartridges are HP's type 38, which are used by several of their printer models. Each cartridge can be changed individually, and there are also 4 seperate print heads that handle the 8 colors; two for each print head.

HP-B8850-INK-LOCATION.jpg

The 8 ink cartridges used by the B8850 in place

In the Box

The B8850 includes a fairly standard selection of parts in the box. You get:

  • The printer itself
  • 8 ink cartridges
  • 4 print heads
  • Quick start guide
  • Printed manuals
  • Software CD
  • Power supply
  • Paper selection

No USB cable was included with our review model, and we wish that manufacturers would stop doing this; not everyone has a ready supply of USB cables available, and it is frustrating to have to constantly swap them over between devices. The selection of paper samples included is pleasing to see: you get 30 sheets of 13 x 19 paper of 4 different types, which is enough to get started and to get a feel for the different types of paper on offer. 

Setup & Software Summary
  • Includes drivers for both PC and Mac
  • No image editing or other software is included.

Setup & Manuals

The B8850 takes a bit of time to set up before you can start printing. The process itself is mostly straightforward: unpack the printer, remove the myriad bits of tape holding it together, then install the ink cartridges and print heads, and then wait 30-40 minutes while the printer initializes itself. This is somewhat longer than most other printers, which typically took only a couple of minutes to initialize. HP's manual encourages you to use this time to install the software, and this is a reasonable idea, atlhough you may have time left over to make a cup of tea; we found that the software only took 10 to 15 minutes to install.

Related content

The whole setup process is detailed in the printer quick start guide that comes with the printer. Other features of the printer are detailed in the main manual, which also comes in a printed version and as a PDF file. This is good to see; many manufacturers are looking to save a few cents by not printing the manual, but printed versions remain the easiest way to quickly look something up.

HP B8850 Manual Excerpts

HPB8850ManualExcerpts.jpg

Drivers

Windows users get a pretty standard set of options from the printer driver. The screen shown below are accessed by hitting the properties button in the print dialog. 

Advanced
The first screen the driver presents you with is, oddly enough, the advanced options screen, where you can control things such as the overspray (where the printer

HP-B8850-windows-driver1.jpg

Printing Shortcuts
The second screen provides access to a number of shortcuts for common printing tasks, such as creating a borderless print or doing a fast photo print. This is a slightly odd choice for this printer: although having shortcuts is an advantage, this is a high-end photo printer that most people are going to want to do a few high quality prints on, not to frequently switch between different types of prints. However, you can tweak the shortcuts, creating your own or modifying the settings on a per-print basis.

HP-B8850-windows-driver2.jpg

Features
The third screen is the features screen, which gives you access to the most commonly used options, such as type pf print, paper size, etc.

HP-B8850-windows-driver3.jpg

Color
The final screen is color, where you can set if the print is produce in color or on black and white, or what color management appraoch is used. Clicking on more color options gives you the screen shown below, which provides more settings for individual colors. There is no way, however, to use different print profiles from within the driver: these have to be used within the printing program itself.

HP-B8850-windows-driver4.jpg
B8850-back_05.jpg

Mac Drivers are also included, which contain the same set of features as the Windows versions.

Paper Type/Quality
The main screen of the Mac driver is where you choose the paper type to be printed to, and the quality at which it will be printed. Sub-pages are available for setting color options (such as boosting particular colors) and for tweaking the ink volume used.

HP-B8850-mac-driver1.jpg

Borderless
Controls the margin on borderless printing. With some papers, this may need tweaking to produce truly borderless prints.

HP-B8850-mac-driver2.jpg

Printer Driver Information
Gives you the details of the driver, including version numbers

Printer Utility
You can't check the ink levels from within the printer driver itself, but the Printer Utility allows you to check the ink levels, run cleaning cycles, etc.

Software

The only seperate piece of software to come with the B8850 is a Photoshop plug-in that allows for the creation of index prints, groups of pcitures to be printed together, etc.

Other Software

No other software is included with the B8850.
**Photo Print Speed **

The B8850 proved to be a tortoise of a printer when it came to  printing photos: we found that in the highest quality mode (called maximum dpi), it took a lengthy 9 minutes and 13 seconds to produce a standard 13 by 19 inch print. A 10 by 8 print at the same quality setting took 2 minutes and 51 seconds, while a 4 x 6 took 1 minute and 49 seconds. That's not fast by any measure: only the Canon Pro 9500 Mark II was slower. However, it is worth noting that this maximum dpi print mode deliberately slows the printer down; it uses multiple passes of the print head and extra processing to maximize the detail of prints. The printer was a little faster in the Best quality mode, taking 1 minutes and 26 seconds to produce a 4 x 6 print.  For more on how we test print speeds, see this page.

**Document Print Speed **

The B8850 was something of a slowcoach when it came to printing documents as well: printing our test document in the highest quality mode (called Best) on plain paper it managed to print 1.78 pages a minute. That's somewhat slow by general printer standards (most multi-purpose printers manage to print at 4 to 6 pages per minute), but it's not bad compared to most other photo printers. If you need a quicker print, putting the B8850 into Normal quality mode, the speed is upped to just over 3 pages per minute, although we did see some slight evidence of banding in areas of flat color.

Our overall analysis would be that the B8850 is fine for occasional document printing jobs, but you should buy an additional cheap laser printer or other dedicated document printer if you want to do a lot of document printing.

Print Initialization

The B8850 is a rather physical printer: in use, it produces a lot of clunking, grinding and buzzing sounds when starting a print. Before it grabs the paper, it often takes about 30 seconds to get itself up and running, and produces a symphony of sounds as it does so. And it is also seems to have something of an obsession with cleaning itself while printing; when producing a number of large prints for our timing tests, it often seemed to stop and make another set of noises, presumably while it was cleaning the printer heads.

Color Performance Summary
  • Good Color accuracy
  • Blacks are deep and dark

**Color Accuracy **

Color accuracy is hugely improtant in a printer; what's the point in spending time making sure your photographs look great if the printer changes the colors as soon as you print them out? The HP B8850 did a very decent job here; we found that the color accuracy using the default profile and printing onto HP's Advanced Glossy Photo Paper was pretty low, and it got even lower when we calibrated the printer, both on the HP paper and Ilford Galerie Glossy photo paper.  For more details on how our color accuracy tests are done, see here.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above may not match the results used for evaluating color accuracy. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the exact printed colors.

The only major issues that we saw here were some problems with the blues; the printer had particular problems with the deep blues, such as you might get in an evening sky. It's hard to say why, but it was consistent across all of our tests on different paper types and with different printer profiles. You can download our profile for the HP Advanced Photo Paper here.

We can also compare the color accuracy of the B8850 against other similar printers:

As you can see, it's pretty much neck and neck between the printers: overall they have very similar performance, but they all have their own strengths and weaknesses with different colors. All of them do have some issues with the blues, though; we see larger color errors on the dark blue than on most other colors.

Color Gamut

Color Gamut is a measure of the range of colors that the printer can preproduce; the wider the range, the better job the printer cna do of representing all of the colors that we see in the world, especially when printing photos that are taken with cameras such as professional SLRs that can capture a wider range of colors. We found that the B8850 did a middling job here: it could output about 42% of the Adobe RGB color gamut. We don't expect a printer to be able to mange all of the Adobe RGB gamut, but some other printers have managed a wider range: the Epson R1900, for instance, managed to cover 47%.  The Canon Pro 9500 Mark II blew everything else out of the water, though, with 65% coverage. For more details on how we measure color gamut, see here.

Detail Performance Summary
  • The B8850 had deep blacks
  • Color gradeints were smooth
  • Fine details are well reproduced

Depth of Blacks

The depth of the blacks in prints produced by printers is a critical factor: the deepner the blacks the printer can produce, the better the prints look. The B8850 certainly wasn't lacking here: we measured the dMax (the maximum density of the blacks) at 2.34, which is very good. This was borne out in our test prints: we saw deep, dark blacks and accurate greys with plenty of detail. For more details on how we test the depth of blacks in prints, see here.

Detail

We do a lot of testing on how well the printers we look at reproduce fine details, as these are vital to accurately portraying the story that your photos tell. Firstly, we look at how well the printer reproduces shades of the four primary colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

There are a couple of quirks here. In the Yellow gradient, the B8850 is using another color to increase the darkness of the yellow at the darkes points on the gradient, and it is doing a similar thing with the Cyan, using some black to increase the darkness of the cyan in the middle of the gradient. But neither of these are particularly gratuitous, and the transition is smooth; you are not likely to see any evidence of banding or blockiness in subtle color changes in real photos. there is anso no noticeable transition between the two different black inks on the black gradient, so the B8850 seems to be doing an excellent job of blending the ink dots from the two different inks together.

Next, we look at how well the printer reproduces a number of real-world examples. Click on any of the scans to see the full high-resolution (3200dpi ro 6400 dpi) scan.

As you can see from these scans, the B8850 did an excellent job overall: fine details are well rendered, with edges remainign sharp and subtle details still in there. On the Alice scan, you can still make out the cross-hatching on her cheek and the details of her hair, and the reflective highlights of our Rosie the riveter action figure are also still there. On the slatned edge, you can also see that the edge is prtty sharp, although you can see how the areas fo solid black are not completely solid; there are gaps between the black dots. There is some minor loss of detail on the dog phot, though; the white spots on the muzzle are a little lost

Printing Modes

Ther B8850 offers 4 print quality modes: Fast Draft, Normal, Best and Maximum DPI. As the scans below show, the Maximum DPI is the best quality mode, but it is also the slowest. The Fast Draft mode is definitely fast, but it's also very poor quality; it just isn't worth the speed. Our reccomendation for general use would be Best mode, with Maximum DPI for producing prints that you want to show off.

Ink/Toner

The B8850 uses HP's own Type 38 ink cartridges, which are available from a wide number of retailers. The cartridges can all be swapped individually, and the printer notifies you which one is getting empty both in the driver and with a light on the front of the printer. At the time of writing, each of the cartridges is available from HP for about $39. That means that the total cost of a set of replacement inks is about $310. That's pretty expensive, but the cartridges do hold more ink than most; each of the Type 38 cartridges holds 27ml of ink, while the cheaper ink cartridges of other printers hold less. The B8850 is also unusual in separating the ink cartridges from the print heads; only the print heads move across the page, while the ink cartridges are located at the left of the printer body. There are also 4 print heads that each handle two colors, and which can be individually changed. Each print head costs about $65.

HP is also unusual in providing yield figures for the individual cartridges, based on a standard set of photos that they use for testing. These figures range from 4700 4 x 6 photos for the Cyan, down to 320 4 x 6 photos for the Light Grey. More details of their photo yield calculations are available here. We found that the ink cartridges lasted a long time; we didn't even get through a full set in our testing, which ususally exhausts one or two sets of inks.

Ink/Toner Management

The B8850 does a good job of helping you keep track of the ink level in all of the 8 catridges. Whenever you print something, a small window pops up that shows the ink levels.

When an ink cartridge gets too low, an additional warning pops up that encourages you to buy more ink.

Media

The B8850 is a jack of all trades when it comes to handling paper: it can handle paper at sizes of up to 13 x 19 inches from the  main paper tray, and up to 44 x 19 from the manual feed tray above this. It can also handle smaller sizes, down to the ubiquitous 4 x 6 photo size. The manual feed tray also provides a flat paper path, which means it can handle thicker or more fragile paper that does not like to be bent. However, it can only handle paper that is up to 0.7mm thick, which rules out some very thick art papers and cards.

HP themselves offer a wide selection of a papers that are compatiable with the B8850; we were particularly impressed with the Professional Satin paper, which combines the deep blacks of a glossy paper with the smooth texture of a traditional canvas.

**Paper Storage **

There is only one paper tray, at the bottom of the front of the printer. This can hold up to 200 sheets of plain apaper or about 60 sheets of photo paper, which is a bit more than most: the Canon Pro 900 Mark II can hold only 120 sheets of paper.

There is also only a single additional paper path: above the output tray is a fold-down tray that forms the simgle sheet feed path. This can handle paper at sizes up to 19 by 44 inches, so the printer can produce banner sized prints if required. It is a little clumsy to use, though; the tray does not extend, so larger pieces of paper tend to flop about, and the paper also protrudes fom the back of the printer as it is being fed in, so you need a lot of clearance space behind the printer if you want to do large prints. However, this  approach does mean that it can handle paper that doesn't like to be bent, although it can only handle paper up to 0.7mm thick, which rules out some fine art papers.

Controls & Connectivity Summary
  • There are only 3 buttons on the fornt of the printer
  • No menus, screens or other controls

On-printer Controls
There are only 3 buttons on the front of the B8850. From the left, these control cancelling printing, feeding paper into the printer and relinitializing the ptiner after a problem has been fixed. There are a lot of blinky lights, though; two above the paper feed and reset buttons, plus 8 below this that light up when an ink cartridge needs replacing. To the left of these lights is a single light that flashes when there is a problem with the print head, such as a blocked nozzle or other issue.

HP-B8850-controls1.jpg

All of the controls on the B8850 are grouped to the left of the printer front

On-Printer Display
There is no LCD screen or other display on the B8850; all of the printers communication is done through the blinking lights described above and the driver on the computer itself.

On-Printer Menus
There are no menus or other controls on the printer itself.

Media Slots
There are no media slots or ports on the B8850; images have to be printed from the computer.

Wireless & Network
There are no network connections on the B8850, so the only way to turn this printer into a networked one is to attach it to a PC or Mac that is always turned on, and to then share it though that. Also missing is a PictBridge port, which allows a digital camera or other device that supports this popular standard to print directly to the printer, with no computer. However, this is not a critical omission; with a high-end printer like this, most users are going to want to edit their photos in a program such as Photoshop before printing them out.

Canon Pro 9000 Mark II Comparison Summary
  • The HP B8850 had a slight edge on color accuracy
  • the Canon Pro 9000 Mark II is faster
  • The HP has slightly deeper blacks.

Performance

It was a pretty close race between the two for performance; we saw similar color error and gamut coverage. The HP had slightly deeper blacks, though.

Inks & Media

Both printers use a similar set of ink cartridges, but the HP cartridges are much more expensive. However, they did seem to last significantly longer; we didn't get through a full set of cartridges in our tests, despite doing a lot of prints.

In Use

The Canon Pro 9000 Mark II was the faster printer, but neither is going to blow your socks off on the speed front. The largest 13 x 19 prints that both can produce take at least 5 minutes to print.

Epson R1900 Comparison Summary
  • Both printers have very similar performance, but the Epson has slightly deeper blacks
  • The Epson is the faster printer, but neither is particularly quick

Performance

The performance of these two printers is extremely close; they both had very similar color accuracy, although the pattern was slightly different. The HP was less accurate on some colors (such as the blues), but was more accurate on others (such as the reds and greens, which were both very close to spot on). The two printers also had very similar black densities. However, the Epson had a slight edge in providing a slightly wider color gamut than the HP.

Inks & Media

Both printers use 8 ink cartridges, but that's where the similarity ends: HP uses a couple of light inks, while Epson goes for an Orange cartridge and a gloss enhancer which gives prints a smoother, cleaner look. The Epson cartridges are cheaper, but they don't seem to last as long; we got through tow sets of cartridges on the R1900, but the HP was still going strong on the first set when our review was complete.

In Use

The Epson R1900 is the faster of the two printers, on both photos and documents. But neither is a speed demon; both take a significant amount of time to produce the larger sizes of prints, and are very slow at printing out documents on plain paper. If you need documents printed quickly, neither printer is a good pick.

Canon Pro 9500 Mark II Comparison Summary
  • The Canon Pro 9500 Mark II is the more expensive printer by a significan margin
  • The Canon has a much wider color gamut
  • The Canon has much deeper blacks, but color accuracy was not significantly higher

Performance

The Canon Pro 9500 Mark II is the clear winner when it comes to the quality of the prints produced; it had a much wider color gamut and much deeper blacks. However, we did not find that either printer had much better color accuracy; in our tests, we found that both had problems with some colors, such as some of the blues and greens. Overall, the HP had slightly better overall accuracy, but the Canon isn't that far behind. And the Canon is the much better printer overall in terms of the range of colors and depth of blacks that it can produce.

Inks & Media

Both printers use sets of 10 ink cartridges which include two blacks and a number of lighter inks; the HP uses a light magenta, a light cyan and a light grey, while the Canon uses a grey and a photo magenta and photo cyan. Both use two blacks; one for matte papers and one for glossy. The chemistry of the inks is different; the HP uses normal ink, while the Pro 9500 Mark II uses pigment inks.  What this also means is that the pigment inks of the Pro 9500 Mark II won't work well on most glossy photo papers; you need to use paper that can absorb the pigment ink.

Apart from that issue of paper type, both printers are pretty evenly matched when it comes to the sizes of papers that they can handle. Both can work with anything from a 4 x 6 print up to a monster 13 x 19 inch print. Neither can handle anything larger, though; they can't deal with larger banner sized prints.

In Use

The HP is the faster printer, but neither are going to win any land speed records. Printing a 13 x 19 print, the HP took 9 minutes and 13 seconds, while the Canon took a lengthy 11 minutes and 24 seconds.
The B8850 turned in a creditable performance overall, with good looking, sharp prints with accurate color. But it was somewhat noisy while doing so; there is a lot of clanking and thumping from the printer itself while printing.

Performance:

The B8850 is not a fast printer, but it produces very decent photos, with good, accurate color and deep, dense blacks.

Inks & Media:

The 8 ink cartridges of the B8850 are expensive to refill ($350 for a complete set), but they seem to last a long time, and the printer can handle a good variety of paper sizes and types. HP claims that the photos it prints will last 200 years whem properly stored, so your grandchildren should be able to enjoy your photos as much as you do.

Other Features:

The B8850 is a no-frills printer; apart from its comprehensive photo printing features, there aren't any more major features.

Meet the tester

Richard Baguley

Richard Baguley

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