New Canon and HP inkjet printers: new technologies
by Vincent Alzieu
Published on September 4, 2006
HP Photosmart A516
Unlike Canon, HP relies mainly on ink jet technology for 4" x 6" printers. All their efforts were focused in this area and we have to acknowledge that they have progressed quickly! This new A516 has new cartridges and this generally means radically different results.
New ink, new heads, replacing the consumable by another may result in better rates, new color quality and smaller ink drops. HP announces on its packaging that it can print one photo in 53 seconds! They also say that the print is water resistant. We will see below that we have liked many aspects of this printer but not these two.
We start by inserting a memory card and launching a print. The time to print one picture was 1 minute and 50 seconds. What happened to the 53 seconds?
A closer look is required to find a small asterisk below their claim that asks you to take a look at the manual. In fact to print a photo in 53 seconds, you have to take the card back, enter printing parameters, choose standard paper (80 g/m²) instead of photo and then standard quality instead of high. Quality is not equivalent at all. The photo is pale, strongly overexposed, and ink drops are more visible. You would never choose these parameters.
With more "normal" parameters, we happily noticed that the quality was much better. Ink drops are smaller and a lot less visible than in the past. They are much less disturbing than before. Now, when we see dots we can easily mistake them for noise in the image. It is a little like a film with a high sensitivity. The print no longer betrays the origin "digital camera + personal printer", unlike the previous generations of HP printers.
Color quality has also changed. We particularly liked the colors in previous years, which were very accurate and never had a strong dominance. This time, HP chooses to follow the wrong example of Canon printers in 2004 and 2005. Colors are more vivid and reds are stronger. The foreseeable consequence is that black and white prints slightly lose their neutrality.
A problem with the ink
Is it due to the new ink? The only thing we can say is that we didn´t notice it with the previous models. Now the ink takes several minutes to dry on the Premium Plus Photo Paper (kindly provided by HP for the tests). We usually put the pictures printed face down to write the name of the printer and the printing mode used on the back. Here, we found the bad surprise of having the photo transferred to our desk. Once the picture is printed, put it on the side, wait 5 minutes, and cautiously show it to everyone. Avoid putting your finger on the photo, you might leave an indelible fingerprint and even have some ink on your fingers. This fragility is of course unfortunate and doesn´t match HP´s claim. It is clearly written on the package that prints are water-resistant and this printer has been tested by one of the most famous American institutes, the Wilhelm Imaging Research, who demonstrated that HP´s photos have a better resistance with time compared to thermal sublimation prints. We do not share the same impression. The pictures of thermal sublimation printers that we have in our possession for two years now are unchanged and this isn´t the case of our ink jet prints…
Back to the A516. There are three steps for the ink to dry. The yellow is apparently OK. The magenta takes a couple of minutes. The only one left is the blue, or cyan. In case of an accident inks can be cleaned with water, which was the case for our office desk. The towel came out blue
On the left, the photo just came out of the printer. On the right, 5 minute later.
We clean the table with water: the towel is blue
This problem of blue ink is also found on paper. We put the picture under water and a blue flow came out leaving the picture with only yellow and magenta. And we have to say that it was best not to touch the picture. Once it is wet, the remaining ink in only a thin film than can be easily removed. Take a look at the result in the video:
PS : Mea Culpa, HP´s paper used in the video for the test is the HP Premium Plus Photo Paper, and not the one mentioned in the video – which isn´t even a paper sold by HP.
We tried the above test on the paper provided and recommended by HP and rated 5 stars instead of 4 on the photo pack (the HP Advanced Photo Paper). The Premium Plus is the highest quality paper. But what if we tried the same test with Canon PP101 paper? Bingo! End of our problem. The same test however with regular paper gave terrible results. In short this is an inadequacy between the paper and the ink. We also conducted the test with HP paper in the photo pack, Advanced Photo Paper. Here too, the colors do not go away. According to HP, this paper dries much faster (as we saw) but – still according to the manufacturer – it’s less resistant to pollution. You should protect your pictures to keep the initial colors with transparent film or glass.
Nothing surprising about this printer. No "exotic" formats: pictures are printed on 4" x 6" paper and as usual with compact cameras, 11% of the picture’s height is cut. The monitor is very small but very handy compared to printers, which still don´t have one (like the Olympus P11).
The monitor is small but does tell us something. In the meantime we can´t do anything
After one minute, each second seems very long.
The monitor has the very good idea of giving the remaining time. We can clearly see how long the printer will be blocked. We say “blocked”, because we can´t do anything when it is working. It isn´t possible for example to take a look at another card to see which photo we will print next. It is best to select the pictures via the OK and the directional buttons and launch all of them at the same time.
As it often happens with these small printers, edited pictures are not accepted in autonomous mode (it depends on the type of JPEG compression selected, the A516 only accepts standard), or via the memory card player. It is best to stick to raw pictures directly coming from the camera or print them from a computer. But in this case, why spend so much money for a mini-printer if you print your photos from a computer? It is best in this case to choose a multifunction…
Printing options are reduced to the minimum. We can activate the picture editing function and that is it. Modifications are very subtle.