Walt Mossberg

Testing Out a Speedy New Home Photo Printer

Relatively few people print photos using their own printers, for two big reasons: The process is slow, and ink is expensive, especially in printers where there’s just one large color cartridge, which must be replaced whenever a single color runs dry.

So, most digital photos never get printed, and many of those that do are produced at kiosks in retail stores, and ordered from online photo services like Shutterfly and Kodak’s EasyShare Gallery. That’s bad news for Hewlett-Packard Co., the leader in home printers, which makes a lot of money selling ink and paper to consumers. Now, H-P has come up with a new printer design for homes that it hopes will entice consumers to do more of their own printing.

H-P's Photosmart 8250 Photo Printer

This week, my assistant Katie Boehret and I reviewed H-P’s speedy new $199 Photosmart 8250 Photo Printer, a product that the company hopes will change the way you think about printing photos at home. In its fastest mode, the company boasts, the 8250 can churn out a snapshot-sized 4×6 photo in just 14 seconds and all-black-print text pages at 32 per minute — much faster than its 20 color or black-print page-per-minute claims for older home inkjets. Our tests showed the new model to be very fast, but not quite as speedy as H-P’s claims imply.

In addition to its speed, the Photosmart 8250 also boasts a new type of water-fast ink and a new ink-cartridge system for home printers. Instead of lumping all of the printer’s colors together in one large cartridge, this printer stores each of its six inks in a separate cartridge. That way, if you use a lot of one color — say lots of green, taking pictures of baseball games — you only need to replace one color when you run out, not all of the others, which still may be in good supply.

These new cartridges cost about $10 for each of the five colors, and $18 for the solo black cartridge, which holds about twice as much ink as any one color. By contrast, on H-P’s older printers, the single color cartridge can cost as much as $35, and the black cartridge about $30.

The longevity of these new individual tanks varies per color and depending on what is being printed. H-P estimates that with typical pages of mixed text and graphics, the new black cartridge will print 480 pages, and color cartridges range between 350 and 490 pages. The cartridges in the old system last for 450 color and 450 black pages.

This idea of individual ink tanks is nothing new. Some H-P rivals, such as Epson and Canon, have relied on that type of design for years, and H-P itself has sold inkjets for business with individual ink tanks. But the company claims its new home system is engineered to use more of the ink inside each tank before it requires replacement, cutting down on waste.

To give us some perspective on H-P’s more traditional printer cartridges and speeds, we also tested the 8250′s year-old predecessor — the $149.99 Photosmart 8150 Photo Printer. The 8150 works with the old cartridge system — using just two larger cartridges at a time.

These two silver printers are similar in appearance — each is designed with a useful four-card media-card reader and a 2.5-inch color LCD screen centered on its top side. This combination of features makes both printers useable without attaching to a Mac or Windows PC; the LCD serves as a preview panel for images on your memory card, thus allowing you to zoom, lighten, or remove red eye in photos before printing.

But as we easily set up these two printers, we took note of how, under the hood, they appear rather different from one another. The older 8150′s two large cartridges have built-in printheads that slide from side to side during printing, then over to the right side for reloading and resting.

Under the 8250′s lid, we took a bit more time to snap each of its six cartridges into place. This rainbow of yellow, light and regular magenta, light and regular cyan and black cartridges fit smack in the center of the printer’s guts.

These cartridges differ from the older type in that they are separate from the printhead, the device that moves left to right while spitting color onto a page. Each container of color stays in place, and is connected to the moving printhead through its own tube. H-P says this system enables faster printing while also making it possible to replace just one color at a time.

Katie and I tested the 8250 for speed and quality by printing full-page color photos, 4×6 color photos, color Microsoft Word documents and black text-only Word documents. We sent documents to each printer from its corresponding computer, as well as directly from an inserted memory card. We ran the same tests on the 8150, just to get an understanding of how much faster the 8250 was, and how — if at all — the quality differed. Our results showed the 8250 to be much faster, but we couldn’t detect any quality difference. Both the old and new models produced very good, but unexceptional, prints.

Unsurprisingly, the 8250′s fastest results came from printing the color and black Word documents, each of which was finished in just 10 seconds, about 13 seconds faster than the 8150. Printing 4×6 color photos took 32 seconds on the 8250, about a minute less than on the 8150. And it took about eight more seconds to print a full-page photo on the 8250. The full-page photo on the 8150 took around four minutes.

H-P is selling new “Advanced” photo paper to use with its new ink. The company claims that the combination of paper and ink will lead to water-fast prints that dry faster, and that the new paper also contributes to faster print times, which we found to be true. We used a sheet of HP Premium Plus Photo Paper instead of the HP Advanced Photo Paper to print a 4×6 on the 8250, and it took 70 seconds, over twice as long.

H-P’s fastest result — the 14 second 4×6 photo — is achieved by printing on Advanced Photo Paper, in fast-draft mode with borders, and H-P times the print according to the second page out, after the printheads are already in place for printing. By contrast, our tests attempt to approximate real life. We start timing when the print button is pressed and count the first page out.

Occasionally, the 8250 performed some noisy “device maintenance,” according to the message on the LCD screen. H-P explained that this is the printer’s way of recycling the ink it uses to clean its printhead, whereas many printers clean printheads using ink, but never re-use that ink.

The individual ink cartridges might be enough to sway you into buying the 8250, especially if you print items with certain colors regularly — like documents with your company’s all-red logo. You might also be drawn to its speed, which had us hooked, but its quality, while good, wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

With reporting by Katherine Boehret

Write to Walter S. Mossberg at mossberg@wsj.com


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