Editorial - this page or read the full photo-i review
One of the perks of being a journalist is that we get to see many new products before they become public knowledge. Besides the new Epson R2400 and UltraChrome K3 ink set, there hasn't been much else to grab my attention, well that is not strictly true. HP took a number of technical journalists to Tenerife to show us their new range of printers, cameras, scanners etc. One item that caught my eye was the HP 8250 A4 printer. On the surface this printer looks much like any other printer I have seen, but it's what's under the bonnet is the real news.
HP launches the individual ink cartridges in an A4 printer
So what, Canon and Epson have had separate ink tanks for a number of years and HP also has them in their large format printers, so is this really news? The story is not just the individual ink cartridges, it's the new print head that steals the show.
One of the advantages and maybe disadvantages with HP Photo printers is that you get a new print head every time you replace a cartridge. This adds extra cost to photo printing, but also guarantees that your photographs are going to look great every time. It is often thought that a combined ink cartridge is a wasteful system, you may not have used up all the ink for one of the colours but if another has run out then you have to trash the entire cartridge. Using individual ink cartridges ensures that you only throw out the spent cartridges. But as we all know by now, things are never that simple. Yes, with HP you do have to throw away the cartridge when one of the inks runs out, but generally speaking the colours all tend to run out at the same time.
Now, using separate ink cartridges the same thing happens, when the magenta or other colour runs out, the others tend to follow fairly quickly. The most frustrating part is that when you insert a new cartridge the ink is primed, this is not just a localised priming - all the inks tend to be primed. The net result is that if another colour was running low then the priming process may also render that colour as empty, so you replace that colour and the priming process starts all over again. In my experience this seems to affect two or more colours at a time. Imagine how much ink you have just flushed away.
The other problem is that if air gets into the nozzles then the nozzle is effectively blocked, the only way to get rid of this is to perform a nozzle clean or a deep head clean. This means you are using expensive ink to clean out the nozzles, and where does the ink go? To answer the last question, it is caught by a sponge which sits under the printer, depending on how much you use your printer, this will eventually become over saturated and will need to be replaced. So you can now see that using individual ink cartridges is perhaps not the most efficient method.
HP re-INVENTS the print head
With the introduction of the HP 8250 printerHP have addressed the issues that I have briefly outlined above, The 8250 is a six ink printer which uses separate ink cartridges, but unlike other manufacturers printers, the cartridges are fixed in a static position and the moving print head head is fed by means of a flexible tube.
Individual ink cartridges that do not move with the printhead
The ink cartridges in the new HP Photosmart 3210, 3310 and 8250 are in fixed locations over the paper tray. There are several benefits to separating the printhead and ink cartridges:
Active air management
In all inkjet printing technologies, air bubbles can form and accumulate in the ink. Air can enter the printhead directly through the nozzles during operation, or when air dissolved in the ink forms bubbles. If they aren’t removed, air bubbles can prevent drop ejection by interfering with the supply of fresh ink. Air bubble obstructions can cause poor print quality and if an air bubble enters a drop generator and the generator is operated without ink, it can be irreparably damaged. Inkjet printers employ either an open or closed-loop process to eliminate air.
Competitors’ open-loop inkjet printers remove air by priming the nozzles. In priming, air and ink is pumped out of the system through the nozzles. Since it is difficult to separate the air from the ink, both are removed from the printhead together and the ink is deposited in the printer service station. The deposited ink, sometimes representing a substantial amount, can no longer be used for printing.
HP’s closed-loop ink delivery system uses active air management to eliminate air without priming. Rather than drawing ink out of the system, the closed-loop process separates the air from the ink so the ink is recovered for printing and the air is safely eliminated. To do this, the pump moves the air and a small amount of ink away from the printhead nozzles and back to the ink cartridges. The ink and air are separated in the vent chamber: the air leaves the system, while the ink is retained for printing. Ink is not wasted in this process and air bubbles are eliminated for great print quality.
How does the HP 8250 printer perform?
I only had a very short time with the 8250 printer and couldn't perform my usual tests, but I did print out some images. The thing that struck me was the speed at which this printers performs, it is the fastest printer I have ever seen. Plain text documents flew out of the printer - 32 ppm, I had to look twice at this as I could not believe the speed at which the media was coming out - my laser printer is not as fast. Photo printing was also very fast, a 6 x 4 photo took 14 seconds and A4 photos took about 42 seconds. Colours looked great, but I suspect the black is not being used for photo printing. I will review this is great depth as soon as a review unit becomes available (Review is now on line here HP 8250)
The most exciting aspect of this printer is how HP is going to use this technology in their future dedicated photo printers. I am convinced that HP have just led the way forward for photo printing. I look forward to seeing the next A3 photo printer making full use of the separate ink cartridges. When? - I suspect this may be another year or so away.
Click here for Press release
6 January, 2006
© Vincent Oliver 2008 www.photo-i.co.uk
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