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Two years ago, in answer to consumer frustration over the rising cost of ink, Epson introduced a series of EcoTank printers that dispense with pricey replacement cartridges in favor of refillable reservoirs replenished with a $12 bottle of ink.
The EcoTank models tend to cost more up front, but over time they do save you money. And in our tests the Epson Expression ET-3600, $400, and Epson Workforce ET-4550, $500, performed admirably, delivering very good text and graphics with excellent speed.
Before you invest in one of these models, though, you may want to check out the new line of Canon MegaTank printers. They offer similar savings, and they fared better in our testing.
Before we begin, though, here's how the cost benefits of a super-tank printer work.
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The Cost Analysis
For many people, the initial outlay for these printers is a big deterrent. Even the least expensive models go for around $300. And that’s a hard sell when some inkjets retail for as low as $50.
But you have to understand that the least expensive printers are priced low to hook you into paying a premium for replacement ink. Take the $70 Epson Expression Premium XP-640, for example. It’s one of our top-rated printers. At a glance it looks like a huge bargain. When you factor in the long-term operating costs, however, it’s less of a deal.
Using the price of replacement cartridges, data on printing frequency from our reader surveys, and data on ink consumption from our testing, we’ve estimated that the cost of buying and running this printer for four years would be close to $550, according to Rich Sulin, who leads CR’s printer testing program.
Super-tank models offer a much better return on investment. The typical user (roughly 35 pages per month) starts saving money after about two years of use, Sulin explains. And after two-and-a-half years, they’re cheaper to own and operate than every printer in our ratings.
Which Printer to Buy?
Like other all-in-one printers, the Epson Expression ET-2550 and Canon Pixma G2200 offer copier and scanner functions. But the Canon model does not feature wireless printing.
For that you have to buy the Canon Pixma G3200.
In our labs, where we test for text quality, and photo and graphics quality, as well as speed and maintenance ink use, we found that the Canon Pixma G2200 performed better than or equal to the Expression ET-2550 in every category.
It received higher marks in maintenance ink use, text, graphics, and copy quality. And though both are winners in ownership costs, the Canon Pixma G2200 holds the edge. After four years it will end up costing roughly $300 in total, according to our estimates. The Expression ET-2550 will set you back closer to $330 in that span.
“I'm eager to see Epson step up their game now,” Sulin says. “There’s no technical reason a reservoir-system printer can’t deliver the performance of the best conventional inkjets."
In the end, Canon MegaTank and Epson EcoTank printers don’t measure up to the super-crisp text or excellent graphics quality provided by laser printers, which is why they haven’t yet cracked our recommended list. But they deliver in a big way on the promise of cheaper ink.
So if you’re interested in long-term savings and you’re happy with a home office workhorse, it’s really difficult to ignore this technology.
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