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I have been a pretty loyal HP printer user for the past ten years or so. Apart from an unsuccessful flirtation with an Epson printer about five years ago, HP has been the brand for me.
One thing I learned in that time is that whilst printer ink cartridges are expensive no matter which brand of printer you use, if you buy a remanufactured or non branded cartridge it tends to be a false economy. I have experienced cartridges which wouldn’t align properly, cartridges which were empty (yes, really!) and worst of all, cartridges which leaked. I have also attempted to refill cartridges myself - which was a messy and unmitigated disaster.
When Ciao requested volunteers to test HP 364 cartridges I was keen to give it a go as I have such extensive experience with the brand and their printers. I was delighted to be chosen and for the past few weeks I have been using the HP 364 cartridges and testing the results you get with them.
The 364 range comprises 5 cartridges – one each photo black, blue, cyan and magenta and one black cartridge which is larger than the other four cartridges.
My previous HP printers had only needed two cartridges – one for black ink and one for colour and whilst they did print photographs adequately, I always preferred to get my photos printed at a photo shop because the printing process was quite slow and the pictures came out of the printer feeling tacky, meaning you had to leave them to dry off for fear of smudging.
The cartridges have plastic “plugs” covering the hole which dispenses ink in the printer and these are quite fiddly to remove – they have to be snapped off before one inserts the cartridge in the printer. This is a minor criticism but those who are less dexterous might find this a bit of a problem as the plugs need a bit of a yank to remove.
The cartridges have to be inserted into the printer in a specific order with the 4 smaller cartridges going with photo black, magenta, cyan and yellow running from left to right and the black cartridge positioned to the extreme right.
I found inserting the cartridges an easy enough experience and was pleased to see no mess either – which I have to say I expected from genuine HP ink cartridges.
Ciao asked us to extensively test the cartridges using several different types of HP paper which they sent to us. I used my own paper too, to guage how well the ink worked on non-HP paper.
The black ink is very good I find – the cartridge on a previous HP printer would occasionally fade to a “dark grey” which I really didn’t like, but the 364 blank ink cartridge is excellent – providing clear and dark print all over.
I do think the ink isn’t quite so good at printing colour documents – the clarity isn’t as good on colour logos for instance.
I have used the printer to print off PDF files containing removal quotations for my imminent house move and found the quality varied wildly – those which were simple black and white affairs with just a small colour logo at the top were of good quality, but another quote which was printed from a PDF file was quite grainy due to the file being written on watermarked paper.
I suspect that this is due to the photo black ink being used on documents such as these, whereas the regular black ink is sharp and dark. The colours don’t seem so sharp printed directly onto plain paper – and I have printed documents on the paper Ciao sent to me as well as the cheap printer paper I have at home currently and noticed no real difference in quality with colour on documents.
Nothing I printed smudged at all, and it was excellent to be able to take a document straight from the printer without fear of smudging it due to the ink being dry almost instantaneously.
If I sounded slightly negative about the colour printing on paper then I have to say that the results when printing photographs more than make up for any prior disappointment.
I had occasionally printed photographs using previous HP printers, and I had found the experience to be slow and not always reliable, leading to me outsourcing the job to photo shops instead.
Having had 3 weeks to copiously test the ink I have found myself using the printer more and more to print off photographs and the results have been fantastic.
In the past I would find a photo printed using HP’s old ink cartridges would be wet and tacky coming out of the printer – and sometimes could smear if not handled carefully when removing it from the printer.
This isn’t the case using the 364 cartridges at all however – the prints come out almost dry to the touch and the print quality is absolutely outstanding with sharp colours but the contrast between shades clearly defined.
Once again I tested printing photographs on different types of paper – unsurprisingly if you print a photo directly onto paper the quality is reasonable, but nothing great.
Ciao sent a sample pack of photo paper with the printer, and I was so impressed with the print quality using the HP Advanced Photo Paper that I went out and bought some to continue printing photos on. Regular HP Premium Photo Paper was included too, and I found you could tell that the HP ink is made for HP paper when printing photographs – the results were outstanding.
I decided to do a comparison to see how the ink would fare using a different brand of photo paper, as I had some Kodak paper in the house.
To be honest, I hadn’t been expecting much of a difference between the prints, but was astonished at how much darker the print was on the Kodak paper – this was particularly evident on skin tones in people’s faces with the tone not appearing as natural as on the pictures printed using the HP Advanced Photo Paper.
I would, as a result, highly recommend you use HP photo paper with HP ink – they are quite clearly made for one another and you will get optimum results from your ink that way.
I have found this ink to be reasonably long lasting – I have printed a lot of documents so as expected, the black ink is the one which has run down the fastest. Of the colour cartridges, the cyan seems to be the thirstiest, but I have been impressed at just how far the ink has gone, especially considering how many photos I have printed off – and some of these have been A4 size.
I have printed about 100 pages of documents and 25 photographs (of varying sizes) and still have plenty of ink left in the first set of cartridges HP sent to me - this surprised me as I had fully expected to need to break open the second set they sent but the ink warning light has only just come on for a couple of inks and my experience with HP printers has taught me that the warning will remain for some time before the cartridge is actually empty. The cartridges themselves have a decent shelf life – all the cartridges I received had a use by date of the first quarter of 2012.
HP also recommend you recycle the cartridges if at all possible, with recyclying information available at www.hp.com/recycle.
I have been very impressed with the HP 364 print cartridge range – I have experienced no ink leaks, no cartridge alignement problems and most importantly, reliable prints every time using them.
I do think the colour inks on paper could be a little sharper, but realistically colour prints on paper do invariably lack sharpness and detail - certainly the results are probably a little better than those I achieved using my previous HP printers - but don't expect miracles.
However the black ink on documents is excellent – the shade is a lovely jet black which prints clearly and makes for a very impressive looking document.
Where this ink really shines however is in photograph printing. The results are outstanding – far exceeding any preconceived expectations I had about the ink and what it could achieve. I do think, however, that you need to use HP photo paper to achieve the very best these inks are capable of – certainly I was staggered at how much better photo prints were using HP paper compared to non-HP photo paper and can only conclude that from the results these inks are made for the paper.
I appreciate buying genuine ink cartridges can be an expensive affair but I have long learned that cheap cartridges will not yield the sharp and reliable results you get with genuine HP cartridges and the HP 364 range hasn’t changed my mind one iota – I cannot believe any remanufactured cartridge could yield results even half as good as the genuine article – even on HP paper and as a result I am completely "HP" with HP cartridges!