Epson is attempting to rewrite printer history with its new line of EcoTank inkjet printers. Instead of using small, prefilled ink cartridges that have to be frequently (and expensively) replaced, Epson's new printers use permanent tanks in which generous amounts of ink are poured. When you run out of ink, instead of buying and snapping in new ink cartridges, you just pour more in.
There are currently five models that are part of the EcoTank line: two consumer-level printers (the $380 Expression ET-2500 and $400 Expression ET-2550), two business-level all-in-ones (the $430 WorkForce ET-4500 and $500 WorkForce ET-4550), and the $1,200 heavy-duty WorkForce Pro WF-R4640. On the whole, these printers tend to cost more than their traditional equivalents -- for example, an inkjet all-in-one such as the HP Officejet Pro 8620 retails for about $150 rather than the $430 or $500 that you'll pay for one of the EcoTank printers.
The idea is that, while EcoTank printers and ink may cost more at the outset, they will save the user money over the long term. For example, take the WorkForce ET-4550, the model that I reviewed for this article.
Beneath a hinged cover on its right side, the ET4550 has four ink tanks, each of which has a plastic window so you can see the ink level. The printer initially comes with two bottles each of black, cyan, magenta and yellow ink; each bottle of black ink holds 4.7 oz., while each bottle of colored ink holds 2.35 oz. One bottle just fills each individual reservoir, which is then closed with a rubber stopper.
According to Epson, rather than needing a new set of ink cartridges roughly every 700 or 800 pages (as do most standard inkjet printers), Epson's eight bottles of included ink are good for 11,000 pages of black text or 8,500 of color content. By the company's estimate, that's two years of printing (assuming about 300 pages a month).
Then, when you've used up the ink, a replacement set for the ET-4550 costs about $58 direct from Epson. The company says the new set is good for between 4,000 and 6,500 pages of general-purpose printing. This is compared to, say, the cost of ink for the aforementioned HP Officejet Pro 8620, which costs about $150 at Staples for a complete set and is rated for about 2,300 pages for its black ink and 1,500 for its color ink -- and so which will run out a lot faster.
A messy fill-up
There are, however, certain disadvantages to Epson's new system. Filling the ink tanks can be a little messy. Each bottle has a foil seal that needs to be removed, which can splash ink on your fingers or, worse, clothing or furniture -- so you need to be careful. I got small ink splotches on my thumb and forefinger during the ET-4550's first fill-up. I suggest wearing latex or nitrile gloves.
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