HP B9180 First Impressions

This summer I was standing in The Irish Bank in San Francisco with Brent Simmons and John Gruber talking about Adobe Lightroom. Mr. Gruber told of how, when he had blogged about choosing Lightroom over Aperture, his readership automatically assumed that he had done a deep analysis of both applications along multiple axes of functionality and output quality. In truth, he disclosed, he had simply decided that whatever was good enough for James Duncan Davidson was good enough for John Gruber.

I've been researching a new printer for about a year now. After disappointment heaped upon frustration with trying to get a single decent print from Aperture out of my (admittedly bargain-basement) Canon ip4300, I decided it was time to move up the price scale a little. A second line of reasoning was that I thought it wasteful to always be in the position where it was more economic to replace a printer than to refill it.

I didn't want to spend good money on something that was going to be a bear to manage, so I decided to take my time on choosing a new printer and research as far as I could, the experience of using said printer with Aperture.

Now, like Mr. Gruber, I'm generally of the opinion that whatever's good enough for Duncan is good enough for me. Another person whose word I take on trust in matters photographic is Derrick Story, photographer and host of The Digital Story podcast (which I also recommend). When the stars align and Derrick and Duncan are both saying good things about a product, I'm paying attention.

And so it was with the HP Pro B9180 printer. Derrick specifically blogged about using it with Aperture, and Duncan gave it a general thumbs-up too. That, for me, broke the tie between the HP and the Epson R1800.

A few other nice points in HP's favour: they have a great online store for supplies, which makes it crystal clear that the papers and inks you're buying are indeed appropriate for your printer. As a point of comparison, try buying a stock of Canon paper direct from Canon. Those HP supplies include an impressive range of papers, from cheap glossy 6x4 stock at 11p per sheet, up to A3+ Hahnemühle Smooth Fine Art Paper at £3.16 per sheet (or an eye-watering £79 for a box of 25 sheets). For every single one of these papers, the HP driver installer also delivers an ICC profile for use with the B9180. HP also provide free overnight shipping - I ordered papers at 4pm yesterday and they were delivered by noon, which is impressive.

My only gripe is that they don't seem to have a paper size between 5x7" and A3+, except for A4. Pre-made A4 frames are really hard to find and, when you do, they're usually 'certificate' frames with little mortar boards and scrolls stuck on them.

Anyway, I received the printer today and, to cut a long story short, the results are amazing. Easily the best printing I've ever had out of Aperture. I followed the instructions in Apple's tech document "Aperture: Optimizing for your printer" and got excellent results. My only tweak on top of using the HP profiles was to turn Black Point Compensation off and use a 1.2 gamma. I found that Black Point Compensation gave a slightly purplish tint to the highlights in black and white photos that I didn't like.

Finally, like all good crack dealers, HP provides your first hit of high-end paper for free. In the box, there's a sampler containing one 6x4 sheet each of HP/Hahnemühle Smooth Fine Art Paper, HP/Hahnemühle Watercolor Paper, HP Aquarella Art Paper and HP Artist Matte Canvas.

I printed the image below on the Smooth Fine Art Paper, and the results are beyond stunning. The graduation across the sky from deep blue to warm white really has to be seen to be believed.

As the dawn leads on another day

Canon EOS 30D, Canon EF-S 10-22mm @ 20

1.3 sec @ f/9, ISO 400

I certainly can't afford to print on that stuff every day, but I think that anything that's going into a frame will probably get the nice-paper treatment. Having a colour-managed workflow gives you greater confidence that you won't lose half of your £79 paper box to trial-and-error.