There is an abundance of affordable and serviceable home and office inkjet printers on the market. These units tend to distinguish themselves from competitors based on print speed and quality. A new contender has emerged that provides a unique value proposition: tons and tons of cheap ink.
The Epson WorkForce ET-4550 (US-only $499, about £320, AU$678) is a member of the new Epson EcoTank line of printers. Each of the new EcoTank units come with a compartment specifically designed to house dramatically more ink than your standard color printer.
Compared to similar Epson all-in-ones, each of the five new EcoTank models are capable of storing the equivalent of up to 20 previous-generation ink cartridges. That equates to at least two years of ink, or 11,000 black pages or 8,500 color pages.
Unfortunately, inkjet manufacturers often force you to compromise in one area in order to maximize value in another. The Canon Pixma MG7520 ($119, US only) produces stunning prints with precise color accuracy. Unfortunately, it’s a dust collector that doesn’t print very fast and isn’t ideal for small and mid-size offices.
The Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 ($200, £130, AU$253) is a speedy device with an ugly design that runs way too loud for your own sanity. A similar unit, the Canon Maxify MB5320 ($399, £260, AU$505) prints incredibly fast, but its results are pretty awful.
And then there is the ET-4550, a workhorse printer that produces moderately fast prints with little to no image complexity or color accuracy. But at least it will print and print and print without forcing you to restock your ink bottles.
The ET-4550 is composed of a matted black plastic that won’t collect fingerprint smudges or dust very easily. The printer features several compartments, including an upper tray, a scanning bed that can hold up to an 8.5 x 14-inch sheet, a collapsable front-facing output tray that can hold 150 Letter-sized pages, and a tray that can hold up to 20 envelopes and other small form-factor pages.
To the right of the extensive 2.2-inch (5.6cm) Mono graphics display are a series of buttons, including a number pad, a direction pad and a start button for both black and color prints. On the far right-hand side of the unit is the bulky compartment where the ink is held. On a typical printer, your ink cartridges are housed within the body of the unit. With the ET-4550 Epson chose function over form by adding a three-inch-wide, four-compartment container to the right-hand side of the unit, into which black, cyan, magenta and yellow ink bottles are poured.
The added three inches gives the unit an unorthodox look and feel. Most printers of this class, including the aforementioned Epson WF-4630 and the two Canons, have boxy designs that are meant to be overlooked. The ET-4550 stands out, and not in a good way, because of the jutting ink container.
That said, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker for anyone. After all, you’re getting a ton of ink with your purchase. However, if desk space is at a premium, or you’re working in a really trendy office, this extra compartment is an eyesore.
When you unbox the ET-4550 you’ll remember why you bought this bad boy in the first place. It comes with four bottles of ink, three color bottles and one massive bottle of black ink. Although the bottles don’t specify how much liquid is contained within, I’m making an educated guess that the black bottle holds about 200 milliliters of ink and the color bottles hold about 100 milliliters.
Either way, Epson claims this haul is enough to keep you satisfied and printing for more than two years. Should you go hog wild and need a quick refill, you can buy a new set of bottles for about $52.99 (about £33, AU$67) .
Be careful when emptying the bottles into the compartments. They leak and spill easily. Epson provides you with gloves for this dirty work, and you’ll need them. I somehow managed to spill ink on my legs and on the floor.
Once your printer is full of ink, getting the ET-4450 to work is a fairly straightforward, but lengthy process. Unlike the Canon Pixma mentioned earlier, the ET-4550 requires a 20-minute ink calibration, which is a major anti-climatic bummer, albeit one that is common among workforce printers.
In addition to the calibration process, you’re walked through several quick steps, such as connecting to Wi-Fi and changing your time zone, all of which are easy as cake, thanks to Epson’s intuitive setup process and button navigation. Take note, Canon: we don’t need touchscreen functionality on printers. We just need buttons that help us get to the next step as quickly as possible.