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Epson killed its old business model with a printer that eliminated ink cartridges. But do DIY refills justify the higher price?
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The Epson EcoTank ET-2550 may look like a standard small form factor inkjet printer, but there’s one big difference: instead of the traditional ink cartridges that most printers use to put images and text on paper, the EcoTank series comes with a set of supplied ink bottles that you can use empty into the large refillable container next to it.
The Epson EcoTank ET-2550 is a multifunction printer, copier and scanner that can hold enough ink for two years without refilling. Refill bottles are also much cheaper than traditional cartridges and offer potential savings in the long term.
Printers are four to eight times more expensive than cartridge-based models. It has a very minimal look and functionality, lacking an Ethernet port, fax capability, an automatic document feeder, and duplex.
With ultra-affordable refillable ink bottles, this smart little Epson EcoTank printer eliminates expensive ink cartridges once and for all – but will cost you more upfront.
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The bottles have enough ink to print approximately 4,000 black pages and 6,500 color pages, which is roughly a two-year supply at a medium duty cycle.
With this new ink delivery system, Epson hopes to save users the hassle of going to the office supply store every month to get a new set of cartridges: when supplies run low, you can buy a new long-life batch. , costing significantly less than standard cartridges: $13 (equivalent to £8.59, AU$17.71) for each color bottle, or $52 (£34.34, AU$70.84) for a set of all four.
The catch is that you pay more upfront for this particular EcoTank model that accepts refillable ink. The ET-2550 is the most affordable of its range at $399 (£369.99, AU$499), but it also lacks many of the modern features you’d find in a “regular” inkjet printer for the same price: when it comes to faxing, there is you don’t get an automatic document feeder for scanning batch jobs, and you don’t get a duplexer for two-sided printing.
However, it prints high-quality documents and images at speeds that exceed our expectations. As well as the EcoTank on the side, Wi-Fi is also built into the device so you can take advantage of Epson’s many free iOS and Android printing apps, allowing you to print to your smartphone or tablet.
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If you ignore the ink reservoirs on the side, the ET-2550 is very similar to the Epson Expression XP-320, a budget sub-$100 inkjet printer with limited features. The small design doesn’t take up much space in the office, even with the integrated reservoir – according to the manufacturer, the device measures 19.3 inches wide, 20.7 inches deep and 11.6 inches high.
The front panel has a small 1.44-inch color LCD with a directional pad and three action buttons next to it, and the entire console mechanically rotates up and down to set it at an adjustable angle depending on your workspace.
The top cover lifts to reveal the 2,400dpi flatbed scanner, but you can only scan one document at a time as there’s no automatic document feeder. It also means the printer can only accept paper from one source: the input tray, which folds vertically from the back.
It holds 100 sheets of paper, which is typical for a printer living in a home or small office with light printing needs, but you can also grab the EcoTank ET-4550 tiered model, which gets you 150 more sheets of paper input capacity, more ink capacity per reservoir ( approx. 11.00 black pages and 8500 color pages), Ethernet connection and dedicated fax machine.
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Finally, on the side of the front panel is a small SD card reader for printing photos and documents directly from an external drive.
Epson offers you the option of connecting the printer to your computer via USB Direct or Wi-Fi via an installation CD, downloadable software or Wi-Fi Direct if your router supports it. As usual, if you don’t want to connect wirelessly, you’ll need to provide your own USB cable.
Establishing a wireless connection between the device and your computer is a two-part process: turn on the device and click Network Settings, then specify your wireless network and enter the password, and that’s it. The entire setup from start to finish with connections on our lab network took less than 5 minutes.
The installation process also includes a step where you will be asked if you want the system to automatically check for and install firmware updates, and we recommend that you click ‘Yes’ when prompted; The appeal of internet-enabled printers like this means you don’t have to wait for Epson to send you software updates, so take advantage of that.
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Being connected via Wi-Fi also means you can take advantage of a range of free Epson mobile printing apps, allowing you to print directly from your mobile device. First, with the Epson iPrint app for iOS and Android devices, you can print web pages, photos, documents and anything else on your smartphone directly to the printer.
You can also take advantage of remote printing from any Chrome browser window with Google Cloud Print or connect directly to any iOS device with Apple AirPrint. For more information on cloud printing, visit our help page.
Filling the EcoTank reservoir might seem like a daunting task the first time, but it’s actually a very simple process if you follow the instructions that Epson provides in the manual.
Inside the box you will find four separate ink bottles with letters and numbers printed on them that correspond to the matching silos on the device: one for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. For this part of the installation, Epson does include a pair of plastic gloves that you can wear to keep your fingers from getting inked, but if you’re extra careful this shouldn’t be a problem.
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When you’re ready to fill the tank, all you have to do is twist the top cap to break the seal, then simply invert the bottle and squeeze all of the ink into the tank until the bottle is empty. When you’re done, the printer will take about 20 minutes to load the ink so it’s ready to print.
Thanks to the see-through window on the side of the tank, you can monitor your ink levels at all times, which is helpful for knowing when you need to reorder colors. Also, you can screw the top cap back onto the bottle to seal it in case you want to refill it while you’re away.
Epson says that at medium print volumes it takes about two years to finish the ink bottles that come in retail packaging. When you’re ready to refill, each color tank (including the black bottle) costs $12.99 (£8.52, AU$17.70) or about $52 (£34.35, AU$70.84) for the ones entire suite.
Using Epson’s quoted page yields (4,000 black and white, 6,500 colors), I calculated the cost of black and full color pages to be 0.3 cents and 0.2 cents per page respectively. Both figures are well below the average cost per page for a typical inkjet printer, and Epson even sells XL ink bottles at an even lower price.
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Again, the numbers are given assuming you’ll be using the printer long enough to offset the skyrocketing hardware costs. If you’re only going to print a few times a month, you might be better off sticking with a cheap model like the XP-420 (widely available for $50 [£33.03, AU$68.12]) and occasionally for new ink cartridges to pay.
As usual, I ran the ET-2550 for an internal speed test and the results confirmed my assumption that this printer is a simple inkjet printer with a large ink reservoir on the side. That doesn’t mean this printer lags behind on output speeds, though: it passed our text speed test with an impressive average of around 8.33 simple black pages per minute, and handled full-color graphics work at 2.41 pages per minute.
These results are nearly identical to the stated speeds of the aforementioned Epson XP-420. I’ve come to expect impressive throughput results from Epson for years and these tests prove that the ET-2550 is well equipped to handle medium to high volume jobs with minimal latency.
You may be wondering if the new ink delivery system will affect overall print quality compared to traditional ink cartridges. Well I am pleased to report that the ET-2550 has impressed me in this area too, producing black text of a quality that almost looks