I'm now happily making prints with the HP B9180 printer, after a somewhat traumatic beginning. At this point the only observation I want to make with regard to quality is that the HP Vivera ink on Hannemühle Watercolor paper looks amazingly like paint. I printed this picture at several sizes, and even at a distance of a nose-length it looks like somebody painted it with leetle tiny brushes, and tempera—I can hardly get over it.

Anyhoo. The observation I'd like to talk about here concerns an error that I've seen several times on the web already. Contrary to a seemingly commonsense assumption, the B9180 is not compatible with all of HP's photo papers.

No? No. Specifically, the two papers previously marketed as HP's best—HP Premium Photo Paper and Premium Plus Photo Paper—are not compatible with the B9180...or any other pigment-based inkset printer, either, for that matter.

Dye-encapsulation papers, commonly called "swellable" or swellable polymer papers—which is what Premium and Premium Plus are—were developed as a way to make dye inks longer-lasting. The papers are similar to traditional resin-coated photo papers in that the business layers are laid on top of a paper base that's protected on both sides by plastic (polyethylene, a.k.a. the "resin" in "resin-coated"). Just like RC paper has its emulsion layers on top of this plastic-coated paper base, swellable papers have several layers on top of one side of the plastic protective coating, too. The liquid dye inks make the outermost layer "swell" as it becomes wet and permeable; the dyes are then trapped by the layers underneath; the outer layer then dries again. (The moisture of the inks doesn't penetrate to the actual paper at all, since it's protected by plastic.)

The big advantage of this is that it's a way to make dye prints remarkably lightfast and fade-resistant—far more so than when dyes remain on the surface of the paper exposed to contaminants. Unfortunately, there are some serious drawbacks to swellable papers as well. Not only do the prints take a long time to dry completely—up to 24 hours, maybe longer in humid conditions—but the outermost layer never loses its permeability to moisture, so the prints are not, and never will be, waterproof. Price you pay.

Another aspect of swellable papers is that they only really work well with dye inks. Not surprising, since that's what they were specifically made for! Pigment inks, which aren't liquid but rather suspended particulates, don't work well on swellable papers (this despite the fact that there are several swellable inkjet papers on the market that are advertised as being general purpose. Woe—temporary woe, one would hope—to the ignorant consumer who tries to use one of these with pigment inks). In fact, I believe Epson has now discontinued all forms of swellable paper, as befits the leading maker of pigment ink inkjet printers and the leading formulator of pigment inks (it has two, Ultrachrome K3 and DuraBrite); Epson apparently doesn't want any of its customers using a swellable paper with one of its pigment printers by mistake. Epson, to counter the swellable-paper-with-dye-ink threat, has developed a dye inkset called Claria that has good inherent fade resistance on ordinary papers. Although Claria can't match the light-fastness of dye inks on swellable media, Epson's been cheerfully promoting Claria's virtues by showing customers 4x6 prints in little jars of water!

The advantage of pigment inks is that it's the inks themselves that are fade- and contaminant-resistant. The better a paper you put them on, the better they'll do, but one big advantage of pigment inks is that you can use them with good success on pretty much any kind of paper, including uncoated porous papers. Pigment inks on high-quality, lignin-free fine art papers are pretty much a match made in heaven. But pigment inks on swellable papers are a no-no.

Therefore, HP Premium and Premium Plus swellable papers are not suitable for the B9180, or any other pigment printer—even though the B9180 is HP's best consumer printer and Premium Plus is nominally HP's best paper. You need to use the "Advanced" HP papers with the B9180. So, with the B9180, you have to remember the marketingspeak code-words—"Premium" no, "Advanced" yes.

And lots of other papers yes too, but we'll get to that.



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