Printer comparison: HP B9180 ↔ Epson R2880

Background

Koos, who is an amateur photographer, recently asked advice about what A3 photo printer to buy. Actually it was originally Koos’ wife who asked me (as this might become a surprise birthday present). Later Koos himself needed to get involved as his wife understandably got overwhelmed by all the intricate technical details needed to sensibly decide.

I personally own a Hewlett-Packard B9180 since Dec 2006 – and I have things I really like and really dislike about it. I, in turn, solicited input from an Epson R3800 owner (Sakke, over in Finland). Sakke’s R3800 A2 printer is the big brother of the Epson’s R2880 A3+ printer. Unfortunately, Sakke doesn’t own his printer long enough to judge its longer term reliability yet. But 2½ years of owning the HP B9180 should be enough – despite only using the printer for photos sporadically.

Sakke and I both happen to own Canon cameras, but neither went for a Canon printer – despite Canon being the other top-3 company in this market segment. There are no real benefits to using a Canon printer with a Canon camera (as usually there is 3rd party PC software in between anyway). Canon just announced (March 2009) that it will update its A3+ printer models to the Canon Pro9000 MkII and Pro9500 MkII.

Outcome

Currently (this may change) both Sakke and I agree that the Epson R2880 is a safer bet than the HP B9180. When I bought the B9180, the R2880 was not available yet (and both manufacturers tend to leapfrog each other when a new model is released).

My main complaint about the HP B9180 (poor software quality) seems to be confirmed by other users and even by Microsoft. This doesn’t mean that the HP B9180 is a bad printer. Just that the Epson R2880 is a safer bet as long as HP doesn’t get their act together on the software side.

Properties of both printers

+ very high quality – optimized for serious photographers printing in larger sizes
+ use non-fading pigment inks (rather than somewhat fading dye ink)
+ printer should last a long time
+ should have no/little problems with print head clogging due to built-in print head maintenance (daily for HP, on power up with Epson)
+ print heads can be replaced easily (shouldn’t be needed)
+ can printer borderless up to A3+ paper size

- price (roughly 700 Euro). It is not obvious that buying your own printer is cheaper than having your images printed. Don’t buy the printer expecting to save money.
- About 50% of the price is for the hefty ink cartridges. The HP contains 8 cartridges. The Epson uses 8 different cartridges, but cannot hold all 8 at the same time.
- uses huge amounts of free desk space (HP B9180 67 cm wide, significant depth needed for the paper path at back and front)
- requires special paperfor photo printing (don’t even think about printing serious photos on “plain” paper, you need special coated paper from HP/Epson/Canon/Ilford)

HP B9180 (Feb 2006)

HP Photosmart Pro B9810 printer

HP Photosmart Pro B9810 printer

+ suitable as only printer in the household (plain paper tray + special paper manual input)
+ connects via USB or network cable (the latter allows anyone on the LAN to print directly to the B9180)
+ built-in color calibrator (typically used during installation only)
+ no swapping of ink cartridges needed
+ does maintenance on the print heads every 24h (only if the printer hasn’t been used?) by spitting a single test droplet through every single print head hole. The drops are very small.

- occasional paper jam when printing on plain paper (requires cleaning of some rubber rollers in the back)
- long-standing software issues(not all PCs discover the printer on the network, driver issue which interferes when Microsoft Office software shuts down). Arguably this problem doesn’t have an equivalent for the Epson (no network interface). But I am pissed off that such issue still exist (despite firmware/driver upgrades) after 2 years.
- occasionally you need to remove ink grime from an internal ink spittoon called the NEDD. This is a small rectangular tray containing sponge into which the printer spits ink during maintenance. I don’t think the normal manual mentions its existence. Some B9180 have given up on their printer likely because they didn’t know this. NEDD-related tips and photos here.
- requires more desk spaceat the back than the Epson R2880. The back of the printer cannot be too near a wall.

Epson R2880 (May 2008)

Epson Stylus Photo R2880 printer

Epson Stylus Photo R2880 printer

+ safe bet as Epson is market leader in this high-end photo printer market
+ newer design (Epson clearly had the time to study the HP’s B9180 contender)
+ roll paper feed (for printing extremely wide panoramas)
+ believe to have less software problems (although the LAN-software issue simply doesn’t apply)
+ option to print on CD-Rs (but optical discs are getting burned less than they used to)
+ needs less space behind the printer (slanted paper holder instead of horizontal paper slot)

- no direct Ethernet interface for a LAN connection
cartridge swapping between 2 of the black cartridges (when needed?)
- presumably the inevitable long-term reliability issues (although the R3800 is doing fine so far)
- no built-in color calibration (but undoubtedly individually calibrated at the factory – probably no big deal even if you calibrate your monitor)

Further details

Print heads (left) and ink cartiges (right) before installation into the HP B9180

Print heads (left) and ink cartridges (right) before installation into the HP B9180

HP B9810 with a sheet of A3 paper about to be printed

HP B9810 with a sheet of A3 paper about to be printed

7 thoughts on “Printer comparison: HP B9180 ↔ Epson R2880

  1. Nick Wilkinson

    Below are my words submitted to the HP review for the B9180.

    The problem with reviewing is a lack of perspective. My B9180 is driving me insane since I bought it in May 2008. The unknown is, ‘Would I be having problems with another manufacturer’s product?’. The answer has to be, possibly.
    When it works the output is magnificent. Unfortunately, 80% (yes that is eighty percent) goes in the waste bin.
    Prints emerge drab and dull. I hear the cry ‘colour management’. I agree but it does not help. I clearly am not expert, however, I am also not an idiot. Part of my degree profile is computing. Once upon a time, I was able to write ‘C’.
    There is something very wrong with the user interface. I see numerous complaints on this issue yet HP fail to rectify the problem. Printing from either Photoshop CS3 or Lightroom 1.4. I set paper size, quality, paper tray, etc. in the HP printer driver. After filling my waste paper bin several times, I developed the habit of, before clicking the final print button, going back and checking the settings. I find that they change. I will cut the account short but consider my depth of paranoia. I check twice and on the third check the settings change. This happens so many times that I no longer think that it is my fault. And believe me, I am used to things being my fault, I was married for 19 years. Does everything check fine then, as I press the print button, switch to inappropriate settings? I do not know how to check but it would explain the drab printing.
    Given that the user interface, which customers can see, is so obviously faulty and HP are unable/cannot be bothered to fix it, the questions are ‘What else is wrong?’ and the big one, ‘Will I buy another HP photo printer?’. You guessed the answer, ‘Not a chance’.

    Reply
    1. pvdhamer Post author

      Sorry to hear you are struggling even more with the HP software than I am. Some things that may helps:

      * A few months ago HP finally came up with with updated software. I can’t say whether it solves all my problems (I have somehow managed to work around many issues), but I did install it and it works and it is different. Notably, it pops up a printier status message whenever you boot the PC.

      * Yahoo groups has a a serious and active user group for the HP9180. Their archive should help resolving problems. I don’t remember exactly how to subscribe, but you end up getting email from a reflector called hp9100Series@yahoogroups.com. In general, these guys have similar experience to my report: the printer is fine, the software sucks, but with patience you can live with it.

      * Your “drab and dull” prints are indeed almost certainly a color mgt issue – although I think the various software vendors involved (Adobe, Microsoft, HP) together managed to make something simple become complicated. Tip: let Lightroom do the color mgt (“in the application”) but make sure the printer driver does not do color mgt. If you have both do color mgt, you get drab colors. Another (but less likely and more subtle) way to mess up colors is to accidentally process an Adobe RGB image as if it were sRGB. This also gives a similar (but smaller) effect. Most people will not immediately notice. If you shoot RAW, this should be handled by Lightroom and you shouldn’t have to worry about it.

      Hope this helps, Peter.

      Reply
      1. Nick Wilkinson

        Thanks for your comments Peter.

        Just researching for a new printer and had a shock when I saw my name.

        Had the B9180 for two and half years and recently bought my third set of ink. Over that time I have had less than twenty good prints. Total cost of ownership £1,200 on printer and ink. I hate to think of all the good quality paper I have thrown away. Including the paper, I reckon that each of those good prints cost me £75 to £90. Also, I am certain it has been the cause of a mild mental depression.

        I have come to suspect that HP have indulged in a dirty marketing trick. What I suspect is that in the printer profiles for their own paper there is coding or software switches rationalising the logic between ‘software handles colour’ and ‘printer manages colour’. They have not published or, have published somewhere very obscure such as their own appalling, labyrinthine web site, the existence of this code. Well it has done them no good because, I will avoid all HP products in future. Even if my conspiracy theory is unfounded, the printer driver perplexed my local colour management guru. He used calibration equipment and created paper profiles. The software is still erratic. I note that the expanded instructions for use refer to Apple computers. I wonder if all the reviewers had Apples.

        I heard about the updated driver for Windows 7 and bought the operating system so I could use the new driver. It appears that the ‘update’ is just a couple of pretty Windows icons. An acquaintance of mine has given up with his B9180 and has returned to using outside printing houses.

        The software is poor and HP have continued to sell the printer as suitable for Windows without remedying the problems. I would be slightly less caustic if they did not also sell Windows computers. And, yes, I have an HP computer.

        Without a doubt, owning this printer has blighted my photographic development.

        Washing machine broken down this evening. No need to worry about a new printer just yet.

  2. David Turner

    Dear Nick,
    My experience with this printer is much the same as yours. What a let down.
    I’ve been responsible for 6 ink-jet printers over the last 10 years and 5, mostly Epson, have been a lousy waste of money. They aren’t functional if you only print intermittently or have to use them in a warm room that causes the ink jets to dry. The HP does beautiful prints but its a days work to get one out of the thing. The software seems to be hopeless. If you have found any solutions please let me know. I run it with Windows 2000.
    Commiserations,
    David.

    Reply
  3. sara morgan

    I was shocked to find that after taking off time to care for my father, all the cartridges in my HP b9180 had ‘expired’. i only made three prints; the cartridges are not empty, and printer keeps giving misleading info about capacity. bottom line, it won’t print until i replace so-called empty cartridge. And when I do this, grudgingly, resentfully, I install it only to be told that another is empty (when it’s not). hp support calmly tell me to suck it up, that cartridges have ‘expired’. who ever heard of an ink cartridge expiring. that’s about $450 i need to spend on ink – although cartridges are not empty.
    I made three prints total. three. the world’s most expensive prints.

    what a con. I will never buy hp again. hope to get rid of this on craigslist – I even bought the extended warranty. if not, off to the dumpster it goes. I will be so relieved to have this huge expensive waste of space out of my house.
    three prints.
    three prints.

    Reply
    1. pvdhamer Post author

      Sara wrote:

      hp support calmly tell me to suck it up, that cartridges have ‘expired’. who ever heard of an ink cartridge expiring. that’s about $450 i need to spend on ink – although cartridges are not empty.

      When the ink expires, you can (I am pretty sure) continue printing by pressing OK a few times.
      The only catch is that the colors may (and will) eventually be a bit off if you wait long enough. Especially if the ink/printer are in a warm environment.

      There is a support group for the printer on Yahoo: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/hp9100Series/
      A search for “HP B9180 ink expired” gave a lot of hits including http://magiclightvideo.com/BB/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=5522

      And yes, I can understand your frustration with the printer. On the positive side: it works really well – as long as it works.

      Reply

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