Epson recently announced a new set of all-in-one photo printers in their EcoTank line of cartridge-free printers. The EcoTank Photo ET-8500 (letter-size; $600) and Photo ET-8550 (13-inch; $700) inkjets have six refillable inks (five dye, one pigment), the capability to handle thick media, full network connectivity options, a flatbed scanner/copier, and more. These printers are Epson’s first photo-centric entries in the “supertank” printer market, and the company is hoping to reach photographers, designers and small office/home office folks who want high-quality, wide-gamut prints on a range of different media formats.
What is an EcoTank, anyway?
Epson’s EcoTank printers were originally aimed at one of the biggest user complaints about inkjet technology: the cost and waste inherent in replaceable ink cartridges. These printers, now in their sixth generation, do away with ink cartridges altogether, using ink reservoirs that are refillable from keyed bottles of ink (so you don’t accidentally put the wrong ink color in the wrong reservoir). The goal is to provide more economical printing than you get with traditional four-color inkjets and color lasers. With the EcoTank Photo ET-8500 and ET-8550 printers, Epson claims that the cost of 4×6-inch photos will be approximately 4 cents per print, which is a fraction of the cost with most cartridge-based inkjets.1By way of contrast, our friends at Red River Paper estimate that a 4×6 print on the SureColor P900 costs 17 cents, and 39 cents on the P700. See their True Cost of Inkjet Printing for more.
The printers use a new formulation of Epson’s inks, called Claria ET, with five dye-based colors — Photo Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Gray — and a sixth, pigment-based Black ink, for printing basic documents and on matte-finish papers. While some of Epson’s earlier dye inksets for their photo printers included a Red or Green ink, the EcoTank Photo models use Gray, which Epson says will help produce “stunning” black and white prints.
Each color in the Claria ET inkset comes in 70ml bottles. The five dye inks are priced at $17.49 per color (an impressive $0.25 per ml),2That’s less than a third of the 84 cents per ml cost of the P900 inks, something I lauded in my review of that printer a while back. while the pigmented Black ink is priced at $19.99 ($0.29/ml). A full set of ink is included with the printers.3Epson claims that the cyan, magenta and yellow inks will yield up to 6,200 pages per bottle, the photo black to 7,300 pages, the matte black to 6,700 pages, and the gray ink to rather remarkable 46,600 pages. These numbers are based on the ISO page yield of 5% coverage, and aren’t applicable to photo printing per se, but they do show the much better efficiency of the EcoTank system.
The printers include many of the features we’ve seen on the SureColor line: a large touchscreen display, USB/Ethernet/WiFi connectivity options, and direct printing (and scanning) from iOS and Android devices. And, like Epson’s other photo printers — dye- or pigment-based — they also incorporate Epson’s micro-piezo print technology, which uses variable-sized droplets of ink as they print, so I would expect to see exceptional photo print quality from the EcoTank Photo printers. Will they be as good as those from Epson’s pro-level printers, with their 10 (or more) inks and their extremely wide color gamut? No, but they should be darn good for a six-color inkset, and most people should be happy with the results that they get.
Media support is also very good for this class of printer. They support borderless printing up to the printer’s maximum print width (letter-size for the ET-8500, 13 inches for the ET-8550). You can print on card stock and specialty media up to 1.5mm thick, and there is driver-level support for many of Epson’s professional papers, including such papers as Premium Luster and Velvet Fine Art. And, if you’re in that small circle of people who still burn CDs or DVDs, you can print directly on that media as well.
Why are these printers important?
Who really cares about a six-color, all-in-one, dye-based photo inkjet printer anyway? I do, for one. Here are three reasons why:
- As noted above, the cost of ink is one of the primary pain points for people interested in printing photos. It’s a true barrier of entry, and the EcoTank Photo printers lower that hurdle. And doing away with cartridges adds to that lower cost, eco-friendly message. There isn’t a photographer I know who doesn’t complain about paying for ink.
- Most people don’t want to have two printers at home; they want a way to print good-quality photos quickly and easily, but they also want to print documents, maps, invitations and the like. The EcoTank Photo printers give those people a way to deal with both the photo side and those simple mundane tasks of everyday life.
- Lastly, most people are more than content with printing snapshots and fine art photos for home use, without the need for ‘gallery quality’ prints. They want to show their work, put it on a wall, make calendars and projects in that vein. They don’t need the cost, the incremental quality or the hassle of a 10-ink pigment system like the one found in the SureColor P700/P900 models.
I spend a lot of time talking to people about pigment-based printing. It is, without a doubt, a technology that produces excellent, high-quality, archival prints. But dye-based printers are excellent in their own way, and the quality in these new printers should be more than good enough for those photographers who want to print, but don’t want to pay higher costs involved with pigments, or with other cartridge-based photo printers. For me, getting people printing is the important part, and I think the Claria ET inkset and the lower costs per print should be big draws for a lot of people. I have plenty of confidence that Epson knows how to get the best color it can out of six inks, and when coupled with the economics of the EcoTank model, these should be fairly impressive entries in the photo printer market.
I’m hoping to get my hands on either the Photo ET-8500 or the ET-8550 in the coming month; I’ll post my thoughts once I’ve had a chance to work it through its paces.
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