Kodak vs HP ink wars: Choose your paper wisely

To test Kodak’s claim that its new line of ink jet printers offer a lower cost per page for ink than competing models, I recently tested Kodak’s EasyShare All-in-One 5000 against HP’s C5180. Along the way I ran into a rather confusing situation with photo papers, which can make a difference in both image quality and the number of images you can print between ink cartridge changes.

While I touched this in the full review (see Ink wars: Kodak vs. HP in the ink-jet consumables battle), the paper issues were too much of a digression for the main story. But if you want the best possible quality and lowest cost per print, including paper, read on.

HP offers four grades of photo paper: Everyday, Advanced, Premium and Premium Plus. Kodak offers three grades: regular Photo Paper, Premium and Ultra Premium. The lower end papers tend to use less ink while the premium lines consume more but also offer better image quality.

Both HP and Kodak say their printers can recognize any photo-grade paper when it has been inserted, but both also encode their own papers so that the printers can recognize and optimize for them and presumably create a higher quality image.

The back of the Kodak paper is imprinted with a code that the Kodak printer uses to identify the paper grade and optimize the printing process. HP offers a similar feature called Auto Sense, although I was disappointed to learn that only its Advanced paper is encoded to support that feature. HP’s C5180 will recognize the company’s other, higher end premium papers as photo paper, but you must choose the specific paper type from the print setup screen if you want the printer to optimize for HP’s Everyday, Premium or Ultra Premium grades.

I didn’t know that when I first began testing. Initially I used HP’s Everyday photo paper because it is in the same price range ($14.99 for 100 8.5 by 11-inch sheets) as the Kodak Photo Paper ($16.99) I used with the 5300 (In contrast, HP's recommended Advanced paper  sells for $19.99 for 50 8.5 by 11-inch sheets – more than double the cost of the HP Everyday and Kodak Photo Papers). I also chose these papers because I was testing to see which printer generated the most prints from a set of ink cartridges and you tend to get more prints when you use basic photo papers.

I had problems right off with the Everyday photo paper. My prints came out very wet and the paper rippled. I called HP. “When you inserted the HP Everyday Photo Paper you also needed to select the correct paper from the print menu. If the correct paper was selected, the print should have been fine,” said Sarah Steven, public relations manager at HP.

I checked the paper packaging. Sure enough, on the back of the cardboard label in the paper’s packaging, under “Photo printing tips,” it says “For everyday printing on HP printers, select HP Everyday Photo Paper as the paper type.”

So how do you do that? Once the print dialog comes up in Windows, you need to go into Printing Preferences, click on the Features tab, and click on the drop-down menu under Paper Type. This brings up a list of paper types. I selected HP Everyday paper. The resulting print still came out with some ripples when wet, but it did dry flat. Image quality was about the same.

According to an HP spokesman, the C5180 uses Auto Sense to optimize only for its Advanced paper but the printer's gloss surface sensor can detect any photo paper, including its Premium and Premium Plus lines. Again, you can optimize for specific HP photo papers by going into the printer dialog and picking them from a list. But when I didn’t specifically select the Everyday photo paper type in the printer dialog before printing the result was unsatisfactory.

On another note, neither printer alerted me when I inserted the paper wrong side up. Kodak’s 5300 doesn’t support that feature, but the C5180 supposedly did. This turn of events with the C5180 came as a bit of a surprise, as I had used HP’s own paper for the testing. The C5180's feature that detects when paper has been inserted upside down only works with HP’s Auto Sense feature – which in turn only works with the more expensive Advanced Photo Paper.

I found this unacceptable. It would be one thing if I was not using HP brand paper. However, HP should support its own papers better than this. Users shouldn’t have to go three layers deep into the printing options every time they want to print photos. In responding, an HP spokesperson said the company plans to support Auto Sense with its other photo papers later this year.

For more on choosing papers, see the story sidebar, The Paper Choice, on the second page of the Ink Wars review (after clicking the link at left, scroll down to see the gray text box).

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