University Lowbrow Astronomers

Equipment Review: The New Hewlett Packard Photo-Smart Printer with PhotoRet IV.

by Clayton Kessler
Printed in Reflections: February, 2003.

Almost six years ago I started using the Hewlett Packard “PhotoSmart” printer to print my astrophotos.  This has been a great printer and has printed literally hundreds of 8 1/2 X 11” photographs over the years.  One of the keys to its success is the 6 color printing that this machine uses - no other HP printer used 6 color printing, not even later model “PhotoSmart” printers.  Unfortunately, the original “PhotoSmart” paper has been unavailable for several years and I cannot find another paper that I like as well.  In addition, the ink cartridges - while still available - are getting harder to find.

Every so often I run into a Hewlett Packard Factory Representative at a computer or office supply store.  I always ask “When will you produce another premium quality, six color printer like my original “PhotoSmart”?”  The answer I consistently get is “All the current models use ‘PhotoRet III’ - wait until you see ‘PhotoRet IV’.”

PhotoRet IV was “vaporware” for about three years.  A month or so ago I was in an office supply store looking for ink cartridges.  The salesman did not have any PhotoSmart cartridges for me but he asked “Had I seen the new printers?”  I replied - “I will not buy a new photo printer unless it is a six color process.”  The salesman replied - “These are new from HP, they are six color and they use the new PhotoRet IV!”  Oh man - the long awaited PhotoRet IV!  I looked at a sleekly designed printer, and it did indeed use a tri-color ink cartridge and a second tri-color photo cartridge.  The only problem that I saw was the photo cartridge had to be loaded in place of the black cartridge in order to print photos.  I successfully worked my way out of the salesman’s grasp with my wallet intact but as I left the store the seed was planted.

Weeks went by (well - a couple at least) and I still had not found the ink cartridges that I needed.  I stopped by the Ann Arbor Comp-USA one afternoon and there was the entire line of new HP PhotoSmart printers.  A talk with the HP Representative (who just “happened” to be there) gave me the rundown on the printers.  Several models were available ranging from about $150.00 (model 7150) to the “high end” machine - the 7550 at $399.00.  This was the interesting one to me because it had a small color LCD display and the provision to accept all kinds of digital camera memory cards.  You can print these without using a computer or you can download the card to your computer drive through the printer connection.

The high end machine also has 7 color printing - which means that two three-color ink cartridges and a third black cartridge reside in the printer permanently.  Only the six color inks are used in photo printing but this has the advantage of requiring an ink change for text or photo printing.

I was much weaker this time and a printer followed me home!  After using this for a few months I can say, without a doubt, this is the best printer I have used for photographs.  Controls are simple to use, the printer is quite tolerant of different kinds of photo paper, I have been using Ilford and Kodak and the quality is outstanding!  The software included with the package includes utilities to download and catalog digital photos and works very well.

As we approach the Christmas season I see the printer is being offered “on-sale” at $299.00 - a great bargain in my mind.  I have been using my printer to make prints of my new home construction, taken with a small digital camera.  In spite of the low resolution 1.3 megapixel images, the 8 X 10 prints are astonishingly good.  Astrophotos are better than my old PhotoSmart and as a bonus the ink and paper seems much more resistant to humidity and moisture.

I cannot say how pleased I am with this printer.  I can only quote what I said about the original HP Photo-Smart printer:

“Hewlett Packard has done it again - this Photo-Smart system is the real deal.  They have transformed my computer into a darkroom and allow me to get the most from my modest astrophotographic efforts.  No stinky chemicals, no fussy time limits and no fumbling around in the dark!  A digital darkroom is the way to go for me.”

Now all I need is a six-color tabloid sized (11 X 17) printer that uses PhotoRet IV ... any takers Hewlett Packard?

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Copyright © 2013, the University Lowbrow Astronomers. (The University Lowbrow Astronomers are an amateur astronomy club based in Ann Arbor, Michigan).
This page originally appeared in Reflections of the University Lowbrow Astronomers (the club newsletter).
This page revised Sunday, March 9, 2014 4:30 PM.
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