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Epson EcoTank ET-4550 Review: The Future Of Printing Has Arrived

chipchickpick1It’s Sunday night. You’re halfway through a 10-page presentation that’s due first thing Monday and you get the dreaded “out of ink” message. And no, you don’t have a backup cartridge.

That all-too-familiar scenario is about to change. Epson’s new all-in-one Workforce EcoTank printer line is changing the printing paradigm, replacing those small, expensive ink cartridges with its new EcoTank refillable ink tanks. The printers come with bottles of ink sufficient to print up to 11,000 black/8500 color pages, a two-year supply for the typical home or small office.
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Epson is betting on this new business model of making money on the printer, not the ink. The printers themselves will cost a lot more than you’re used to paying, but you’ll save a bundle and then some on ink. Here’s how it breaks down.

I tested the Epson Workforce ET-4550 All-in-One, which retails for $500 and includes ink. My previous printer, the Epson XP-810, which was constantly gobbling up ink cartridges, retails for about $200. But, Epson says it would take 50 sets of ink cartridges, at $50-60 per set, to print those 11,000/8,500 pages. Averaging the cost at $55 per set, let’s look at the numbers:

Printer Printer cost Ink cost Total cost
Epson XP-810 $200 $2,750 $2,950
Epson ET-4550 $500 $0 $500
Net Savings $2,450

Potential savings over two years is almost $2,500.

As you might guess, there’s some impressive new technology behind the shift from ink cartridges to ink tanks. Epson builds Micro-Piezo ink heads into the printer itself. With thermal printers, the low-price printers you usually see on the market, the heads are built into the ink cartridges. You wind up throwing them out every time you replace the cartridge: ka-ching, ka-ching.

The other plus is that piezo technology fires ink through microscopic nozzles thousands of times per second. The result is far greater control over the ink droplet size and placement, resulting in higher-quality printing.

Setup

If you’ve ever set up a printer before, this will be easy — instructions are clear and there are no surprises. The ink tanks are easy to fill, with clear instructions, but it’s a good idea to get the cats and kids out of the room. The inks stain and you don’t want a spill. In fact, Epson suggests wearing latex gloves and putting a paper towel under the ink tanks just in case. The tanks are clearly color-coded and the ink bottles are designed to avoid spillage. The tanks are translucent so you can see ink levels, and it’s very clear which ink goes in which tank. The standard colors are cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

When moving the printer, you need to hold it upright — tipping invites an ink spill. One minor annoyance: when you print, you frequently get a pop-up telling you to “check ink levels.” This should have been automated; it comes up so often I have stopped checking, which defeats the purpose.

Design

The exterior is made of satin black plastic, which hides fingerprints. The 16-pound printer has a 14″ x 20″ footprint with the 8″ output tray closed. The right side holds the tanks that house the ink, and there’s a lid for easy access. Controls are intuitive and accessible, whether you’re sitting or standing. There’s a 2.2″ LCD screen and a keypad for scrolling through print, scan, and fax options.

The ET-4550 holds 150 sheets of paper, but there is only one tray, meaning you have to change paper and reload if you want to print photos. Other EcoTank printers in the line hold from 100 sheets to a whopping 580 sheets in the Pro model. Access for clearing paper jams is available from both front and back.

Features

The ET-4550 that I tested is designed for a home office; it can print, copy, scan and fax either one or two-sided documents from the 30-sheet automatic document feeder. It’s not perfect and like many printers, pages sometimes misfire and get caught in a jam. Black and white print quality is very good and photos come out good enough, although if you are looking to print a lot of high-res photos, I would recommend considering a true photo printer.

You can print wirelessly from an iPad, iPhone, tablet or smartphone using Apple AirPrint, Google Cloud Print and Kindle Fire. Connected to a network, the Epson Connect service lets you scan to the cloud and online storage sites like Dropbox, Evernote and Google Drive.

Epson offers five EcoTank printers in different price ranges. The $399 Expression ET-2550 is designed for typical home use, but you’ll have to forego the document feeder and the faxing option. The brawny Workforce Pro WF-R4640 is $1,199 and targets the small business market.

End of Life

One thing to consider before investing in a more expensive printer is how much you actually use the printer. In my house, we’re considered power printer users. My husband and I both work from home and given that he goes through 500 sheets of paper every 2-3 weeks, I have come to believe he needs a 12-step program for printing.

Our last printer died literally days before the ET-4550 was sent for review. That less expensive thermal printer told me the ink pad had reached the end of its life. The ink pad is used to collect, distribute and contain the ink that comes from setup and during cleaning cycles of the printer. Epson tells me most users will not hit the ink pad’s end of life before the printer is replaced for other reasons. But, that begs the question: are you willing to pay $500 for a printer you may need to toss before you run out of ink? While the units come with a two-year warranty, some high volume users certainly may not be pleased tossing and replacing a $500 printer as opposed to a $100 printer. On the other hand, saving up to $2,000 in replacement ink will certainly help lessen that pain.

Read on for the Verdict…

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One Comment

  1. The best quality of pigment ink is only about about $18 for 1000ml wholesale. Even retail, the top quality is only $30 for 1000ml. Seling something so cheap in cheap plastic boxes that only include 0.20 circuitry (for copy protection) and from $600 to $2000 per litter should get the authorities involved at some point.

    The goverment should enforce the following on the box This should also apply to laser printers of course.

    1) 20% iso page yield of the ink cartridges that come with the printer, lets say 300 pages,

    2) Garanteed life of head and printer, lets say 20,000 pages. Any head problems before that limit should get a free replacement.

    3) all cartridges should include 20% iso cost per page based on the actual retail in the store or online including all 4 cartridges, just like countries enforce for sugar, coffee, and most things sold in grams, lets say $0.15 per page. On an actual label, next to the price.

    And since photo printing costs 5x more than the 20% iso page (100% is typical for CMYK printers, up to 200% is common in CMYK printing through some apps due to black mixing). Printers with more colors use even more. A varnish could mean doubling the coverage of every page, and the same applies to white ink if it is available. And if they are more expensive than normal inks (as in some inkjets/lasers), using those colors may triple the cost.

    They could also include “5%” black text cost at the default setting (up to 16% coverage in the real world if you don’t set the use black only switch.

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