The first printer I bought was a real bargain at something like £30, and I was rather pleased with my purchase until the all-in-one cartridge that came with it ran out and I went online to buy a replacement only to find they were eye-wateringly expensive, with no cheaper third-party versions available.
Having tired of having my wallet emptied on a regular basis, I spent a bit more on my second printer, for which cheaper compatible inks were available, but the quality of the printing wasn’t that great, so when it stopped working after a few years, I went back to only buying the more expensive ‘official’ cartridges for my current printer.
So when I was offered a cartridge-free Epson EcoTank ET-4500 printer to review, I leapt at the chance!
Upfront cost vs ongoing expense
It’s well known that razor-blade manufacturers sell their shavers at a low price and then make a killing flogging replacement blades, and, as I found out to my cost, many printer manufacturers have adopted the same business model, simply switching the shaver handle for the printer and the blades for the ink cartridges. The Epson EcoTank ET-4500 challenges the status quo by using ink tanks rather than cartridges, and comes with two years’ worth of ink in the box*, which is apparently enough to print up to 4,000 pages in black and 6,500 pages in colour**. And for peace of mind, the ET-4500 also comes with an extended three-year warranty.
With an RRP of £299.99, the ET-4500 is significantly more expensive than your average cartridge printer, although it can be found a little cheaper on sites like Amazon and there’s currently a £40 cashback offer from Epson. However, with an average saving of 70% in printing costs according to Epson***, it should prove to be a lot less expensive to those who do a fair bit of printing in the long run.
Having unboxed the printer and removed the protective shipping packaging, the first job is to fill the four ink tanks on the left side of the printer using the ink bottles provided. Each tank comes with a rubber cover and has a transparent window so you can see how much ink is left.
Expecting this to be a fairly messy affair compared to snapping in some new cartridges, I donned a pair of latex gloves, shifted the printer away from the edge of the desk (and the light coloured carpet) and put some newspaper down under and around the ink tanks. To fill a tank, you first prepare the appropriate ink bottle by snapping off the tip from the neck of the bottle, removing the top of the bottle, peeling off a seal and then replacing the top. Next you open the ink tank compartment, remove the rubber cover from the tank and insert the neck of the bottle into the opening of the tank. You then have to squeeze the bottle several times to force all of the ink into the tank, and then repeat the process until all four are full.
As it turned out, the only part of the process that I found slightly messy was finding somewhere to put the ink-covered seals from the bottles, so I’d suggest having a piece of kitchen roll or something to hand to put these on. While this process is a little fiddlier than replacing cartridges, once the tanks are full you can print thousands upon thousands of pages before having to fill any of them again.
The printer comes with a set-up disc for Windows users, but as I was setting it up on an iMac I visited the Epson website as instructed and connected my computer using Wi-Fi without any problems (an ethernet or USB cable can also be used). As you would expect in this day and age, you can also connect the printer to a tablet or smart phone. There’s also the option to connect it to a telephone socket and send and receive faxes, but as I wasn’t expecting any messages from the 1980s, I didn’t bother with this functionality (which, admittedly, could still be of use in a small office environment).
Testing the printer
The ET-4500 has a control panel rather than being operated using a touch-screen, but the controls are intuitive and straightforward to use. I found the fanfare when the printer’s switched on or off, the beeping when pressing the buttons and the high-pitched tone when it’s finished printing a bit too much, so was pleased to find the the volume of these alerts could be turned down or, in my case, turned off. The level of noise when picking up the paper and then printing is fairly standard compared to other printers I’ve used, but it is possible to switch to the slower Quiet Mode to reduce the noise while printing if required.
I was impressed by the print quality of both documents and images, and the ET-4500 churned out an impressive number of pages per minute when I did a hefty print run. The main paper tray at the back of the printer takes 100 sheets and can accommodate the usual range of paper formats, while the handy automatic document feeder used when copying a document takes up to 30 sheets.
At 49cm wide by 38cm deep and 23cm high, the ET-4500 can easily sit on a reasonably large desk alongside a monitor or iMac, and is light enough to be lifted by a single person (although be careful to keep it level once the ink tanks are full or there may be some spillage!). If you’re going to be taking this printer to and from uni a few times, then it would be worth hanging on to the original packaging to try and avoid giving the interior of your mum or dad’s pride and joy a technicolour make-over when they come to pick you and your gear up at the end of the summer term!
Without doubt, the biggest selling point for the ET-4500 is its low ink cost, and this is definitely a printer worth considering if you’re going to be printing a fair few drafts of your essays over the next few years. It would be easy to dismiss a printer costing more than double your average cartridge-based model, but once you’ve taken into account the long-term cost of running a printer that’s sold on the cheap razor handle/expensive blades model, then the ET-4500 suddenly seems like a good-value option. Not only does it come with around two years’ worth of ink, but replacement ink bottles from Epson are currently only £7.99 each, so even when the ink that ships with the printer has run out, your ongoing running costs will still be much lower than having to repeatedly buy costly cartridges.
To decide if this would be a worthwhile investment for you, I suggest calculating how many pages you might print on a typical week during term time, multiply that by the number of weeks you’re at uni a year and then ‘do the math’ to calculate approximately how long it would take for the cost of buying a standard printer plus the number of cartridges you would need to buy to equal the cost of buying an ET-4500 with its two years’ supply of ink. If you’re going to reach this break-even point fairly quickly, then this printer should prove a shrewd purchase as, from that point onwards, your running costs will be significantly lower. If, however, you’re not going to be printing that much during your course, then this may not be the right model for you.
In summary: Despite the initial outlay, the ET-4500 will prove a highly cost-effective option for students who print enough for its low ink cost to make a difference in the long run
* 2 years of ink based upon user’s average monthly print volume (TNS Research – June 2013)
** Quoted yields/CPP are extrapolated based on Epson original methodology from the print simulation of Test Patterns provided in ISO/IEC24712. Quoted yields/CPP are NOT based on ISO/IEC24711. Quoted yields/CPP may vary depending on the images that you are printing, the paper type that you are using, the frequency of your prints and environmental conditions such as temperature
*** Average saving for printing the number of pages using the bundled ink bottles with the EcoTank range, including hardware price. Comparison made on the average of the A4 EcoTank range versus the average of the top 10 best-selling models in Western Europe, in the period May 2014 to April 2015, as tracked by GfK