Eight inks, great photos

SAN FRANCISCO (11/21/2003) - A new US$300 printer by Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) , the Photosmart 7960 uses no fewer than eight different inks to print color photos -- with spectacular results.

The 7960 employs the same black, tricolor, and photo color ink cartridges as the $260 Photosmart 7550 (one of our top-rated photo printers). To print photographs, however, you swap the regular black cartridge, which contains a pigment-based ink perfect for text documents, for a new photo-gray cartridge containing light gray, dark gray, and a new black ink reformulated for photo printing.

The record number of inks is not simply a case of one-upmanship. In our tests the shipping 7960 produced excellent color photos, with smooth gradations, vivid colors, and natural-looking gray tones. Black-and-white photos were also superb, exhibiting none of the color tints we frequently see from other printers.

On the downside, the 7960 is a bit slower than most competitive ink jets, printing photos at 0.36 pages per minute compared with the 0.43 ppm from similar printers we've tested. And its print quality comes at a price. Because the 7960 uses the new photo-gray cartridge, a tricolor cartridge, a text black cartridge, and a standard photo cartridge, you'll shell out $105 -- or more than one-third the printer's price -- every time you need to replace them all.

You can print photos right from your camera's memory card -- the 7960 reads six types in four card slots under the top cover. Or you can plug in an HP camera directly via the printer's USB 1.1 port, located beside the slots. A 2.5-inch LCD screen makes the control panel easy to use.

Buy this printer if you want high-quality prints that faithfully reproduce your camera's images, but bear in mind its sluggish performance and high ink costs.

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