How many industries can you think of that offer their products at a lowball price and make their profits on refills or replacement parts for those products—other than the printer industry, that is? One that comes to mind readily is the shaving razor business, perhaps because replacement razor blades are infamous for prices nearly as steep as those of printer ink cartridges. In fact, barring certain pharmaceuticals and perfumes, printer ink is one of the world’s most expensive liquids, and one of the more profitable.
Perhaps that’s the reason buying printer ink is so annoying to so many people: Many of us suspect that there’s no good reason (other than profit, a strong incentive indeed) that printer ink should cost so much—it’s not warranted from a raw-materials standpoint, anyway. Well, printer and imaging giant Epson, with its new (new to North America, that is) EcoTank ink delivery system, has set out to change all that, starting with a few of the company’s business-oriented WorkForce models—printers that cost more up front, but that won’t need ink refills for a long time.
To get us started with EcoTank, Epson sent us the topic of today’s review the $499.99 MSRP WorkForce ET-4550. In actuality, this is the WorkForce WF-2650 All-in-One Printer—a close cousin to the $149.99 MSRP WorkForce WF-2660 All-in-One we reviewed a few months ago—with a bulge on its right side for EcoTank ink tanks, as shown below. The WF-2650 lists for $129.99, but at this writing in early August 2015 is on sale for $79.99 at Epson.com and everywhere else.
Yes, you’re reading this right. Essentially, the new ET-4550 is an under-$80 printer transformed into a $500 machine by the inclusion of the EcoTank system. Well, make that the inclusion of the EcoTank system and, according to Epson, “up to two years'” supply of ink. In this case, keeping in mind that the WF-2650 is a low-volume printer, that’s about 5,000 black-and-white pages and 8,500 color pages. On top of that, Epson throws in an additional “bonus” 6,000 monochrome pages, for an in-box yield of 11,000 monochrome and 8,500 color pages.
Spreading that across two years comes out to just over 450 pages per month, which, while far below the WF-2650’s 3,000-page maximum monthly duty cycle (the manufacturer’s recommended volume without undue wear on the machine), is plenty for this low-volume printer. (Frankly, if you need to print much more than that, you should consider a higher-yield machine.) Even so, while EcoTank itself is a step in the right direction, when it comes time to purchase refills, you should be pleasantly surprised there, too.
We’ll look at EcoTank, the technology and how it changes the cost-per-page equation, on the next page, in the Design, Features, & EcoTank section. Before moving on, though, we should also mention the other EcoTank models, starting with two lower-yield Expression consumer-grade models, the $379 MSRP Expression ET-2500 EcoTank and the $399 MSRP Expression ET-2550. As for the WorkForce business-oriented models, they are the $429 MSRP WorkForce ET-2500, the $499 WorkForce ET-4550 (our review unit), and the flagship $1,199 MSRP WorkForce Pro WF-R4640.
The smaller and cheaper ET-2500 comes with less capacity and less ink (4,000 monochrome, 6,500 color), and the high-volume WorkForce Pro model comes with ink for 20,000 monochrome and 20,000 color pages (and, of course, replacement ink is less expensive on a per-page basis). We will look at these other EcoTank models as soon as Epson makes them available.
Of the pre-EcoTank WorkForce models, the 2000 series were the smallest and least capable, in terms of volume—and, like most under-$100 printers, their cost per page (CPP) was too high to support all but a modest print volume. From a cost-of-operation perspective, EcoTank (as you’ll see in the Setup & Paper Handling section later on) all but eliminates the excessively high CPPs incurred by users of low-volume models, and it greatly reduces the cost of using high-volume machines, too.
Granted, there’s a huge gap between the volume capabilities of this EcoTank model and the next one up, the $1,199 WF-R4640, which might, we suspect, convince some small and home-based offices to try to coax more pages from the ET-4550 rather than spring for an additional $700. In any case, now you can push your low-volume business-oriented AIO to its limits—without it costing you a small fortune in ink.
Other than that, the ET-4550 is your typical entry-level printer, complete with features you’d find on a typical beginner’s WorkForce AIO.
Read entire review at Computer Shopper.