The high price of ink has always been a source of frustration for printer consumers. Manufacturers have happily cashed in on the “cheap printer = expensive ink” business model for years, knowing full well that they’ve got the upper hand on their customers. Last fall, Epson released their EcoTank series, a continuous ink system printer that hopes to shake up the print industry and get people to reconsider their relationship with ink.
But depending on your printing habits, the savings are really not all that remarkable.
Like other Epson printers under the Workforce umbrella, the EcoTank series features a few different models, each with varying price points and features. The ET-2550 series is intended for the average home user and includes enough ink to print up to 4,000 black pages and 6,500 color pages. Epson sells the machine for $299.99 and each ink tank sells for $12.99 each. On paper the ET-2550 seems like a very enticing option and for the right customer it might be. But if you only print occasionally, the overall cost savings is minimal.
A recent Consumer Reports survey found that the average user prints 23 pages of text, nine pages of graphics and about nine photos per month. After testing the 2550 against similarly classed standard inkjet printers they found that the cost savings of the EcoTank only begins to add up after five years.
Most consumers replace their machines after a couple of years, and due to the newness of the series, the actual longevity of the EcoTank series remains to be seen.
If you print a few times a month you are better off paying for compatible ink cartridges as needed.
The price of most compatible cartridges is on par with the Eco Tank series, allowing consumers the freedom to spend money on ink as they need it, rather than paying for the printer and ink upfront.
As the EcoTank series increases in price the savings are considerably more suspect. The Ecotank WF-R4640 is designed with the small business owner in mind and at first glance, its print capabilities are compelling. Instead of the ink tank system, a black and a color ink pack is included with each printer. Every bag has enough ink to yield 20,000 pages per color, a competitive value for any business oriented machine. The savings get murky when you start comparing the upfront cost of the machine and consumables to a comparable, but far less expensive Epson inkjet.
A $950 Price Difference on Printers
Action Intell notes, in terms of features, the standard functioning WF-4640 is incredibly similar to the EcoTank WF-R4640. Both have the same print speed and identical print, scan, and fax capabilities. Other than the ink system, the main difference is the price tag. The EcoTank sells for $1,199.99 while the WF-4640 is only $249.99, just on printer price alone you would already be ahead $950 sticking with a conventional Epson Workforce.
Bring the cost of ink into the fold and the cost of the EcoTank continues to add up. The EcoTank’s 20,000 page high yield black ink bag costs $179.99, and each color goes for $99.99 apiece. We did a bit of math to figure out what the cost would be for a compatible cartridge if you wanted to match that same 20,000 page yield offered by the EcoTank, and the savings on compatible ink is significant. If bought in a bundle, a 2,600 yield compatible black ink cartridge costs $9.00. You would need to spend around $69.30, or buy 7.7 compatible cartridges to match the 20,000 page yield offered by one black EcoTank ink pack. Each compatible color cartridgealso goes for $9.00 when bought in a bundle, and yields 2,000 pages. You would need to spend $270 to buy the 30 color cartridges needed to match the 20,000 page color ink pack.
When all is said and done, if you look at the total cost of the EcoTank printer alone ($1,199.99) and subtract it from the total cost of a new WF-4640 printer ($249.99) plus the number of cartridges needed to give you a yield of 20,000 pages ($339.30), you would be ahead $610.70. We’ve broken down the math for each cartridge in the chart below.
Clearly, the EcoTank series is not worth the money for business owners. If you really crunch the numbers, you can buy 60,000 pages worth of compatible ink sticking with a conventional Workforce before you break even on the EcoTank. (339.30 x 3 =$1,017.90).
In general, new technology like the EcoTank series is promising. Manufacturers are slowly moving away from the tired razor-and-blades model that’s dominated the printer market for decades, and ink tank system printers could be the new normal in a few short years. For now, a cheaper printer paired with compatible cartridges is still the best choice for most. But with other manufacturers like HP and Brother coming out with similar ink tank systems shortly, it will be interesting to see what sort of impact continous ink will have on the market. No matter what printer you choose to go with, always scrutinize the cost in the long term. Print manufacturers are quick to sell you their latest and greatest machine but if you peel back that new coat of paint, the innovation and overall cost is usually underwhelming.
After all, we are dealing with printer manufacturers. Do you really think they want to give you a deal on ink?