Epson EcoTank Printers Do Away With Wasteful Ink Cartridges

The printers' ink tanks will only need to be replaced once every two years or so, reducing costs for users, according to Epson.

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Epson has unveiled a new line of EcoTank color inkjet printers that differ from traditional inkjets by using large side-mounted ink tanks instead of small, expensive cartridges that have to be replaced often.

The five EcoTank models range from a $379 model that produces 4,000 black and 6,500 color pages on a full set of ink tanks to a $1,199 office machine that provides up to 20,000 black and 20,000 color pages, according to the company.

The home and small office EcoTank printers use large, refillable ink tanks, while the larger office unit uses specially sealed bags of ink, both offering extended replacement cycles of up to about two years.

The printers sell for three or four times the cost of traditional cartridge-based machines, but ink costs are reduced many times over, Rodrigo Catalan, senior product manager for Epson, told eWEEK.

"These are the latest generations of a product we started selling overseas about three years ago," which have resulted so far in more than 10 million ink tank printers being sold around the world, he said.

Initially, Epson wasn't sure that people in the American market would be willing to pay as much as three to four times the price of traditional printers to buy one of the new devices, he said, but company officials quickly realized that consumers already routinely spend $600 for a smartphone.

For the extra upfront money, consumers gain two main benefits, said Catalan. First, they won't have to constantly have an assortment of spare ink cartridges on hand or rush out to buy new ones when the old-style cartridges run out at inopportune times. Plus, they will save a lot of money on ink compared with traditional printers, he said.

The savings can be quite substantial, he said. For the new $499 WorkForce ET-4550 EcoTank office printer, replacement ink to refill the tanks comes in four bottles of color—black, cyan, magenta and yellow—and sells for $52 for the set of ink bottles. A comparable cartridge-type printer that sells for about $129 would use about 50 sets of ink cartridges priced at about $40 each to yield the same number of prints, according to Catalan.

The bottled inks that are used to fill the tanks on the EcoTank printers are the same quality and consistency as the inks in the cartridges, he said.

One reason for the disparity, said Catalan, is that printer manufacturers charge more for ink cartridges because they subsidize the often-low prices of cartridge-type machines. "When people buy a $100 printer, the manufacturer is subsidizing that printer like mobile phone carriers subsidize smartphones. People tend to forget that."

The side-mounted ink tanks add about 3 inches to the width of the latest EcoTank printers.

The top-of-the-line WorkForce Pro WF-R4640 EcoTank printer, which lists for $1,199 and is intended as a color laser printer replacement, doesn't use ink tanks and bottles. Instead, the WF-R4640 is equipped with special ink bags that use sealed valves to deliver the ink to the printer. Two sets of ink bags, which each produce an estimated 10,000 printed pages, cost about $300, while ink bags that yield up to 20,000 pages cost about $480.

The new EcoTank machines are expected to be available for sale at major retailers in September.

The other models in the lineup are the Epson Expression ET-2500 EcoTank printer, with a price of $379; the Expression ET-2550 EcoTank printer, with a price of $399; and the WorkForce ET-4500 EcoTank at $429.

"The introduction of EcoTank marks a fundamental shift in the way we think about using color in business and in the home," Keith Kratzberg, executive vice president of Epson America, said in a statement. "Epson EcoTank sets a new standard for color printing, convenience and value. We believe that our new EcoTank printers are well-positioned to take a large bite out of the small business printer market."