Repairing an HP Photosmart B9180 printer

The following text was posted to an HP B9180 user group @ yahoo. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take photos of the inside of the printer.

My 4y old B9180 started making horrible noises. The noise originated from/near with the motor responsible for switching between the hard- (capping) and soft (spitting) sponges. I took it apart (documenting what I did) but didn’t reach the actual motor as it is hard to reach. I ending up buying a new printer last week.

I found some friends willing to take another shot at repairing the HP B9180, and together we spent another afternoon taking it apart again. This time we got further. We reached roughly the point that ralphfcooke reached (sounds like climbing Mt. Everest).

Conclusions and questions

1. Broken gear.
One of the white plastic gears below the waste tank was damaged. One or two teeth were missing. This explains the gnashing noise. Any suggestions how to fix this??
The gear is about the shape of two coins with slightly different diameter pasted together. Both “coins” (quarter/Euro sized) are gears with somewhat different diameter.

Interim answer: considered taking the Shapeways route (creating a custom gear via 3D printer), but Ralph offered to sell a handful of parts. The should arrive soon.

2. Root cause?
The gear probably failed because something in the drive chain between motor and the rack-and-pinion to move the hard/soft sponge assembly was jammed. Is this credible? We didn’t find the actual jam, but there was ink all over the place – including around the gears. What are the chances of the gears breaking again – now that we cleaned up all ink around the moving parts? Could there be a sensor (that we don’t know about) that failed?

Interim answer: hopefully the jam was caused by ink. There seems to be a sensor (coding disc) at the other end of the motor axle. But it is unlikely that this failed?

3. Discovered a mini vacuum pump
The 4 hard sponges are attached (via 2 silicone tubes and T-junction) to a small pump. This pump causes the loud clickety-click noises heard on healthy machines during capping. The pump is a peristaltic pump that literally pushes out air by squeezing soft silicone tubes. A bit of under-pressure is apparently intended to improve the effectiveness of the soft seal ring around the 4 sponges in the capping station. It serves the same purpose as the cap on a pen: it reduces the chance of the print heads drying out. The vacuum-assist pulls the caps and the heads tighter together (think “suction cups”). Do other printers also do this?

4. Discovered a larger tank for dumping ink
Likely already known to those who have taken their printer apart far enough: the 4 soft sponges can dump their ink downward into a large tank filled with felt. This is probably done when the heads are “capped” as it must take a long time for partially dried ink to trickle down. We removed the felt instead of washing it as the felt is probably only important when you ship/store the printer upside down.

5. Test plans
Once/if the damaged gear is fixed, it might be good to do a (literal) dry run: test if the mechanics sounds ok before allowing the print heads to discharge ink. Reason: if the mechanics fail, the print heads will be discharging ink all over the place. In fact, I have literally seen small puffs of ink mist (being mist consisting of ink droplets!) emerge from the open printer. Probably best not to inhale these – although resin-encapsulated pigments don’t sound too toxic. To do a dry run we are considering re-assembly with the flex-foil (wiring to the print head) disconnected. Any thoughts?

6. Waste tank design?!?
Just out of curiosity: what was HP thinking when they created a hardly serviceable waste tank deeply embedded inside the device. When is this serviced and by whom?

Interim answer: say you can dump 200 ml in the tank (half evaporates?). If 90% of the ink gets onto paper, and 10% of the ink is needed for maintenance (sneezing, coughing to clear the print heads), it should last about 75 ink cartridges (@ 27 ml each). So arguably the ink tank lasts the economic life of the printer.


Again my thanks to Ralf Cooke’s recipe on taking the printer apart. We seem to have a slightly different problem ( no “sheared gear axis”) but the problem is pretty close.

Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Review

Epson Stylus Pro 3880

As my HP B9180 A3+ photo printer broke down, I needed a replacement. Hewlett-Packard no longer makes prosumer photo printers, so the choice came down to Epson or Canon. As Epson is by far the market leader, and as two friends (Sakke and Joop) were happy with Epson printers, I got myself one too.


I ordered the A2+ sized (17″) Epson 3880. The 3880 is heavy (20 kg) and big, but is still relatively compact for an A2+ printer.

It is the direct replacement of the Epson 3800 which Sakke bought (he always goes for fancy toys) and the bigger brother of the R2440 which Joop has. The 3880 has two benefits over the (already fancy) A3+ printers: I expect to start doing some A2 printing this year, and the 3880 has larger cartridges, thus reducing ink cost by roughly 2x. So regardless of how often you need A2 printing, the more expensive printer can be cheaper than A3+ printers if you print hundreds of prints.

Ink and ink juggling

The machine has 9 ink cartridges of 80 ml each. Two of these are black (see next paragraph), two are grey (light and dark), two are cyan (idem), two are “vivid” magenta (idem), and one is yellow. Nine cartridges at 80 ml each means 720 ml of ink (750 ml = size of a wine bottle).  The cartridges sell for roughly $50 or about 0.6 US$ or Euro per millilitre.

However, compared to my old HP, the way Epson uses 9 ink cartridge is a bit of a hack: the print head only supports 8 colors, so shiny Photo Black (PK) and un-shiny Matt Black (MK) use the same pixels (holes) in the print head. Typical photo paper uses PK and fancy matt paper uses MK. Switching back and forth between PK and MK requires a bit of purging, that costs you about 5 ml or 3 Euro per round trip.

So switching is something to avoid unless you have serious amounts of print work to do “on the other side”. For now I am sticking to PK as that matches the paper I had in stock. The printer is not normally used for office printing, but plain paper can be set to use either PK or MK (although MK is probably theoretically better).

I would prefer if Epson provides a feature to block accidental switching, as it is easy to accidentally switch when, for example, you want to print a contact sheet on an A3 piece of plain paper. If you forget to double-check the black for this, you will find that the printer is purging the print head (no way to stop that) and have thus again wasted 3 Euro.

Maintenance tray

Maintenance tank for an Epson 3880

HP and Canon ink jet photo printers are supposed to stay powered on, and automatically do maintenance on the print heads every 24 hours. This avoids the print heads drying up. Epson uses a different print head technology (piezos rather than thermal) and recommends that printers are powered down when not in use. When the printer is turned on, it immediately does its maintenance (in a replaceable Maintenance tray which is essentially a small box filled with dry cotton). The Maintenance tray obviously also fills with the 5 ml of black ink used whenever you switch from PK to MK and back to PK.

The maintenance tray is treated as a 25 Euro disposable supply and has its own administrative chip, just like the more hi-tech print heads. I don’t know if you can replace the cotton in the tray yourself, but this is obviously not what Epson would recommend. Although this sounds like another smart way for manufacturers and retailers to earn money, it is an improvement compared to the HP B9180 which had no real user-maintanable solution for this at all. So instead of discarding a 25 Euro plastic tray you may end up discarding a 500+ Euro printer.


The installation consisted of the following phases:

  1. unpacking, and tape removal (lots of tape, including pulling a string to extract a folded foam sheet used to lock the print head during transport).
  2. installing 9 ink cartridges (takes a while if you bother to shake them all)
  3. printer pushes the ink onto the tubing and ink head – using up 20% of each of the inks (a one-time thing)
  4. installation of software (see comments on Epson Net Config later)
  5. print of 1st test page from driver (using PK black)
  6. print of 1st page of text on plain paper (using MK – arggggh; should have overridden the default and used PK instead)
  7. Lightroom test print of a photo on Epson A4 Premium semi-glossy (mandates using PK ink; possibly trying to stick to PK ink from here on). Note that you don’t get any paper with the printer itself – it would have been convenient (and good business) to include a set of A4 samples of the various Epson papers.
  8. In my case, I did a calibration (using an XRite ColorMunki spectrometer) to create an ICC profile for my remaining stock of HP A3 Advance Glossy paper. Normally this will require 2 sheets of A4. But if you try hard, you can convince the printer driver to print both on the same sheet of A4. If you go this route (which I don’t particularly recommend), be sure to set the printer driver to display an on-screen preview first.
  9. At this point you are in business. Although the next photo I printed was almost in black-and-white because of the usual confusion about whether the application or the printer should handle color management. Lightroom users usually let Lightroom do this. Epson documentation obviously recommends letting the printer do the color management. I stuck to my old strategy: no color management in the printer, as this worked well for me and sounds safest if you would use non-Epson paper with custom profiles.

Ink levels

At this point the ink levels were: MK=89, PK=83%, LK=80%, LLK=80%, C=80%, VM=80%, LC=80%, VLM=80%, Y=80%, Maint=63%. This is pretty consistent with Epson’s claim that initial priming of tubing and print head took 20% of the each ink cartridge. This is a one-time thing.

Epson Net Config versions

I run the 64-bit version of Windows 7. My printer is connected to a router via an Ethernet cable. The supplied version 3.3 of Epson Net Config, the communication setup program, didn’t really work well with 64b Windows (despite lack of error messages). But version 2.2b (recommended at the time for use with 64-bit Windows on the US Epson site) and the brand new version 3.5b on site did work fine. You can tell whether the Epson Net Config is working correctly (remember: no clear error messages) by checking whether the utility software can correctly display ink level information from the printer. If so, everything should work fine. If not, start looking into what version of the Epson Net Config you are using and what version Epson recommends for your operating system.

I don’t have a Mac OS machine, so cannot comment on “the other side”.

Comments and critique

  • Black ink musical chairs
    As explained above, having 9 inks and a print head designed for 8 inks is not good. For Epson, it appears to be an improvement over manual switching in previous models. But with manual switching of ink, at least you didn’t accidentally switch inks. I don’t know how the bigger Epson printers handle this. Maybe if you print A2 or larger all the time, (professional) users don’t worry about wasting 5 millilitres as the relative overhead decreases.
  • Firmware upgrade
    My firmware (“main board”=P0079C & network interface=01.03) was up to date. You have to check which version is available manually (hmm). Beware that the firmware in the US has a different version identification than in Europe (different set of languages?).
  • Power button
    You can leave the printer powered on (which makes sense for a network printer). But in a YouTube interview with Michael Reichmann, a representative of Epson Canada warned against leaving the printer turned on when it was not in use. Turning the printer off parked the heads in a way that allowed less ink to evaporate. As turning the machine on again does use extra ink, it would be useful to know where the cross-over point is between leaving the printer on and turning the printer off. The printer manual also recommends turning the printer off when the printer is not used for longer periods.
  • Complexity
    The printer is actually a bit intimidating. This obviously largely comes with using a professional printer, but my HP B9180 was significantly simpler (even though its software had a bad reputation). Examples of design choices that cause this complexity:

    • The amount of features and options in the device driver
    • It is not easy to recall all user settings from disk (available, but hidden away).
    • The not-quite-transparent use of two types of black ink, and no warning beforehand that the ink will switch.
    • 3 ways to feed paper, and some types of paper require specific choices
    • Multiple software tools for print settings, with the resulting uncertainty what the printer will really use (partly a Windows problem?)
    • Adjustable “platten gap”, which is largely automatically handled, but not properly explained in the manual.
    • The “turn off the printer” policy does add another thing which can go wrong. It is not prominently stated in the documentation.
    • The usual problem of managing colors in the printer versus managing colors in the application or operating system (valid for most printers).
    • No auto detection of what kind of paper you load (HP has a bar code for their own “Advanced” series of photo paper)
    • Borderless is tricky to achieve. You can’t just depend on the preview generated in Lightroom to see whether it will work as intended.
  • Epson Print Preview
    The printer driver has a preview option which is useful when you are playing with borders or multiple photos per page or multiple pages per photo. It’s colors are however way off: you see much higher saturation on-screen than in the actual print. You certainly don’t want your color prints to look like the Preview images. Once you know this is just a bug, you don’t need to worry about it.

Comparison to the HP B9180

This comparison is not quite fair because the HP is 3 years older, can only handle up to A3+, and is in fact no longer in production. But then again, it is reasonable to compared the new product against a known older product:

  • The HP was roughly half of the price of the Epson, but the ink costs are significantly lower on the Epson (larger cartridges are say 50% cheaper per ml).
  • An Epson representative at PhotoKina 2010 mentioned a figure of on average 7 ml ink per square meter for professional Epson printers. This would mean that a borderless sheet of A3 (0.125 m2) would cost almost 1 ml worth of ink. Meaning about 0.6 $ or Euro worth of ink (plus 1 Euro, or occasionally more, worth of paper). The HP equivalent (for the B9180) is closer to 2 Euro of ink per borderless A3.
  • The Epson makes less noise than the HP B9180. And the Epson doesn’t suddenly make noise when it initiates its daily cleaning cycle.
  • The HP B9180 has built-in optical calibration, although this presumably not as accurate as real print calibration tool. HP’s optical calibration only calibrates the printer with a fixed paper type. The Epson is calibrated in the factory. It may have some kind of optical check built-in (but for different purposes: automatic print head alignment option).

Paper choice

People who sell prints and people that buy (too) fancy printers tend to worry about what paper to use. I have experience with using glossy paper (HP Advanced Glossy A3). But now need to switch brands and stock up on at least one type of A2 paper.

Initial observations:

  • Glossy versus matt
    I read somewhere that portraits and landscapes may be better/nicer on matt than on glossy. In general, one strategy is to always use glossy paper (never wrong, highest contrast) or to use matt for selected photos. Probably the choice is partly a matter (no pun intended) of taste.
  • Test pack
    Epson sells a test pack with 6 types of fancy paper (10 sheets of A4 each; recommended price 60 Euro; local shop 50 Euro). The paper types:

    1. Galerie Smooth Lustre Duo (280g/m²)
    2. Galerie Smooth Gloss Paper (290g/m²)
    3. Galerie Smooth Pearl Paper (290g/m²)
    4. Galerie Smooth Fine Art Paper (190g/m²)
    5. Galerie Smooth Heavyweight Matt Paper (200g/m²)
    6. Galerie Smooth Gold Fibre Silk Paper (310g/m²)
  • Cross-paper consistency
    With the right profiles, colors on HP Advanced Glossy (own calibration) and Epson Archival Matt (Epson’s profile) match quite well when using the Epson printer.
  • Matt hates deep shadows
    With the Epson 3880 on Epson Archival Matt paper, the blacks are less dark and -worse- you lots of shadow detail. Note that Epson Archival Matt has been renamed to Epson Enhanced Matt.
  • Cross-printer consistency
    Despite calibration, the colors on the HP PhotoSmart Pro B9180 (HP Advanced Glossy) and the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 (Epson Archival Matt) don’t match. This is weird as the same printer gives a good match on both types of paper. And as the differences between the printers should have been taken care of by calibration. The test image had differences in pastel tints (so it is unlikely to be a difference in gamut? could be tested with soft-proofing).

HP B9180 printer dying

My almost 4-year old HP B9180 printer is giving up on me. It started making loud grinding noises, and now the print heads are clogging. I partly took it apart on Sunday: sometimes the problem is fixable, but I am probably giving up on it. It is no longer under warranty and HP has actually stopped making A3+ pigment-based printers for the high-end photography market. Owners of HP B9180’s appear to be migrating to equivalent Canon and especially Epson (market leader) printers.

Notes on taking it apart

There is a rough stepwise description by in Google Groups for “hp9100Series”.

An even rougher description:

  1. remove the paper feed unit in the back. This is harmless and requires no tools. You are also instructed to do this when the printer (thinks it) has a paper jam.
  2. remove plastic panel – front panel on which it says “HP PhotoSmart Pro B9180”. Unclick the top first. Below it is a torx screw that needs to be removed for the next step (right panel removal).
  3. remove right and left side panels. One screw each (top, front), plus lots of clicking plastic. The right panel contains an optical sensor to see whether the cover is open. There is a connector to unplug the 3 wires to this optocoupler. When you leave the connector unplugged, the printer thinks the top cover is closed, so you may prefer leaving it unplugged when you reassemble. The alternative is to block the sensor or LED (it’s one U-shaped part) with masking tape.
  4. remove back panel. Once it gets slightly loose, you can remove the hinging top panel. The back panel is held in place by 5 screws. The back panel is the toughest to remove and put back – I damaged the clicking plastic when putting it back together (but I was not particularly motivated to be very careful on the return trip).
  5. According to you can/should remove the front cover. This is tricky because of the wiring to buttons and LCD display. I just left the front in place. Note that the printer’s front cover is very flimsy at this point: essentially everything is screwed to a heavy-duty base plate.
  6. If you want to operate the printer “naked”, you can insert the rear paper feed unit in the back. The printer now thinks it is running with all covers in place (thanks to the electrical connector on the rear paper feed unit and the disconnected optical sensor). You can now watch the printer do its thing up close – for what that’s worth.

In my case I could actually see occasional mist of ink vapor come out of the printer’s right-hand side when it tried to unclog its print heads, but the appropriate sponges were presumably misaligned. Keep in mind that this may not be particularly healthy to breathe.

What was broken

In idle mode, the HP PhotoSmart Pro B9180 print its carriage with the 4 print heads all the way to the right. Below the print heads there are 4 soft sponges (when the printer discharges its ink to clear any blocked nozzles). Interestingly HP never tells end users how to maintain this: it is in my opinion a flaw in the printer’s design that it contains something that becomes very messy (especially when the heads are not doing so well), but cannot be serviced by the end-user.

There are also 4 hard sponges with soft rubber seals. These are to cap the 4 print heads.

The soft and the hard sponges can be swapped by a motor with a worm wheel. The control of this motor failed somehow. I didn’t have the courage or skills to dismantle this part further. See reference below and find the original text by <ralphfcooke> if you need encouragement to go beyond the point I got stuck.

Further reading

Printing costs on the HP B9180 printer

The HP B9180 can display (or even print on the “Test page”) an estimate of how much ink is left in each of its eight ink cartridges. In 2007, after owning the printer for about a year, I measured how much ink it took to print each print in a series of nine A3 prints. The photos were provided by different photographers and were used for a small local exhibition. The prints were all in color and printed on borderless A3 HP Advanced Glossy photo paper.

Measured ink usage

Ink levels (in %) after each print shown for each of the 8 cartidges
Ink levels (in %) after each print shown for each of the 8 cartridges
As shown in the above graph, some ink colors like Light Grey and Light Magenta were being used relatively fast: each photo used on average 2.3% and 1.5% of the ink in the respective cartridge. Others inks, like Cyan and Magenta, were being used at only 0.1% per photo.  I actually used this graph to decide when to order new cartridges, as I typically have 2-4 cartridges in stock: according to the above data, the colors LG, LC and maybe MK (matte black) will run out first.
To estimate printing costs, however, you can simplify the overall picture by looking at the average amount of ink across all 8 colors. This is because all colors cost the same per cartridge (or per millilitre).
Average of individual ink levels while printing a series of photos
Ink levels (in %) after each print when averaged over all 8 cartridges

This shows that, on average, roughly 0.75% of the total amount of ink (relative to a full set of cartridges) is used to print a borderless A3 photo. In other words, you could print in theory about 140 prints before consuming 8 cartridges (of 27 millilitres each). This doesn’t mean that you can print 140 photos starting from a fresh set of cartridges before the first cartridge runs out – some cartridges will drain much faster, while others need to be replaced much later. But again, we can use these average numbers to accurately calculate the cost of the ink used per print (see below).

Total percentage of ink used per print.
Total percentage of ink used per print.

The 3rd graph shows the amount of ink used for each of the prints. It is technically the “1st order derivative” of the previous graph: difference between 2 successive ink level measurements. This data highlights that there is quite some variation between individual prints. Print #6 was likely (I didn’t keep track) a relatively high-key portrait of a boy against a background of a light-colored tent.

Young musician during an open-air concert
Low ink usage: young musician during an open-air concert (image © Peter van den Hamer)

My guess is that print #7 was a dark image of railway tracks.

High ink usage: railway tracks (photo AtB)
High ink usage: color (!) image of railway tracks (image © Ad ten Berg)

Note that the relationship between images darkness and ink usage is actually more complex: a droplet of light grey or light cyan or light magenta ink counts (for a cost model) the same as a droplet of pitch black ink. Print colors that are lighter than the lightest inks will be created by decreasing the droplet density. And the exact way colors are mixed (e.g. to create green you need to mix cyan and yellow) further complicates the actual ink usage.

Ink cost

At a major, low-cost European Internet retailer, each ink cartridge costs roughly 30 €. Meaning that the ink for one borderless A3 print costs (on average) € 30 x 8 cartridges x 0.735% = € 1.76. So, to make this easier to remember, because ink costs vary and because the HP B9180 also uses a bit of ink for daily maintenance, let’s round this up to € 2 worth of ink per A3 print.

Photo paper cost

The corresponding special (“HP Advanced”) paper cost is € 25 for 20 sheets at the same Internet retailer. That amounts to € 1.25 per print for the paper (HP Advanced Glossy Photo Paper, “Q8697A”). So the total cost will be roughly € 3.50  per print if we add a bit of overhead for shipping (of both paper and ink – the actual shipping cost depend on how often you order and whether you order ink and paper from the same source).

Total costs of printer ownership

Say the printer costs € 350 (I have subtracted the price I would pay for the ink that comes with the printer, as we already accounted for that!). This “hardware cost” happens to correspond to 100 prints at € 3.5 each. So if you only print 100 prints before throwing away the HP B9180 printer, that would increase the real cost of an A3 print to € 7 per print (€ 2 for ink/paper, € 1.5  for paper, and another € 3.5 for the “hardware”). If you print 200 A3 prints within the lifetime of the printer, the cost per print drops to about € 5.25 (variable costs + 50%). If you print 400 A3 prints, the cost per print drops to € 4.4 (variable costs + 25%).

In other words, if you print (the equivalent of) hundreds of A3 prints, it is more important to try to get your “supplies” at the lowest possible price than to worry about the printer costs. Hopefully few people print less than 100 A3 prints during the lifetime of their printer – but people tend to be a bit irrational on these kind of things.

In practice, you may also use the same printer to print normal (non-photo) documents – I do that. These print pretty nicely and rapidly in either B/W or color. This makes the purchase of the printer even a bit more economical (as you would otherwise presumably need a simpler printer anyway, and may pay more for the ink on that one).

Cost compared to “having it printed”

The largest local serious photo shop charges about € 15 for an A3 (30 cm x 45 cm) print. This price partly reflects handling (e.g. grandma walks into shop with photo on a memory stick, CD or flash card) and occasional service if the customer is disappointed with the outcome (likely the image will be framed if someone takes the trouble of printing it A3 at a shop). Alternatively, if you submit the photo online and thus use a largely automated workflow, the price drops to about € 4 (, a Dutch equivalent to Wall-Mart?).

Note that serious photography and fine-art printing services will use pigment inks (example of a high-end custom printing shop in the Netherlands). The cheapest external services presumably use dye-based ink, maybe use lower quality paper, and presumably worry less about calibration.

Printer comparison: HP B9180 ↔ Epson R2880


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.


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