This all-in-one majors on running costs, to the point where other aspects of its specification sit in the back seat. Straight out of the box, you should have enough ink for 11,000 printed pages, which for some will be most of the life of the printer. Although the price looks high, at more than £300, once you factor in the cost of the ink, this printer is cheaper than buying cartridges for that much print.
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The EcoTank ET-3600 has a very conventional look. It has a flat-top lid to its scanner, with no automatic documet feeder (ADF) for scanning or copying multi-sheet documents. Projecting at a fixed angle from the front is a simple control panel, which uses a simple black-on-white LCD panel with three text lines of information and some simple symbols.
This isn’t ideal, since many status messages and instructions have to scroll from right to left, leaving you waiting to get to the end. Other manufacturers manage to include a fully bitmapped, colour LCD on even their entry-level printers.
Below the control panel is a three-stage telescopic output tray, with a fold-over paper stop, which increases the reasonably modest footprint of the printer when it’s open for printing. At the bottom of the front panel is a paper tray that takes up to 150 sheets – a little meagre for an inkjet designed for high throughput.
The main part of the EcoTank ET-3600’s design that breaks from convention is the bulge on its right-hand end, where you’ll find the four ink tanks. This assembly has been better integrated into the machine than in earlier versions, and a flip-up lid provides access to the four rubber-stoppered tanks, which are filled by the supplied ink bottles.
Epson includes two complete sets of ink bottles, each of which should be good for 5,500 pages, presumably at ISO coverage rates. It’s none too easy to charge the tanks without getting ink on your fingers, but you’re likely to only have to do this every couple of years.
The printer can connect via USB, Ethernet or Wi-Fi, with the last of these options offering the most versatility, particularly if you want to print from wireless devices. Epson’s print apps for Android and iOS are well designed and better featured than those of its competitors.
Epson rates the EcoTank ET-3600 at 13.7ppm in mono print and 7.3ppm in colour. Our five-page text test returned 7.9ppm – quite a bit slower than the spec. However, this increased to 11.8ppm on the 20-page document and topped out at 13.6ppm, printing in draft mode.
The 20-side duplex test gave 7.0 sides per minute. All these results are reasonable for this class of machine. When I say this “class”, I'm actually comparing it with much lower-priced printers, because so much of the purchase price of the EcoTank ET-3600 is taken up with the inks. It'd be unfair to compare this machine with similarly-priced rivals that ship with comparatively meagre ink supplies.
The print quality of the machine is better than from previous incarnations of EcoTank. Text is clean and dense, with less spread around characters than we’ve seen before. Colour print on plain paper is bright and solid fills are smooth. Colour copies are paler than originals but remain acceptable, and photo prints, while being a little over-lively, will be fine for general use.
One notable issue is noise levels. When the printer was feeding each sheet, we measured sound levels at 0.5m of 79dBA. This is a lot louder than the majority of the EcoTank’s competitors and will prove quite intrusive if you have the printer sitting on the desk beside you.
Running costs are extremely low. We include the cost of blank paper in all our page costs, and in this case the 0.7p paper cost swamps that of the ink. We calculate costs of 1.04p for mono print and 1.43p for colour. You won’t see print as cheap as this from other inkjet sources. And, of course, you won’t even see these costs until you’ve used all the ink included in the box.
Most people will look at Epson’s EcoTank range purely on the grounds of running costs, and there’s nothing to touch the machine when viewed from this angle, which makes it unique. The nearest contender would be one of HP’s printers with Instant Ink, but you’re still looking at page costs of 4p for mono or colour.
If other facilities are important to you too, however, there are printers with photo as well as plain paper trays, more sophisticated controls, and extras such as photo card readers. Our best printers guide has a selection of similarly-priced office and photo printers.
Epson’s EcoTank ET-3600 is a notable improvement on earlier versions of the range. While retaining its extremely low running costs – and offering 11,000 pages before you need spend anything – Epson has improved its print quality, while maintaining a good throughput. It’s very noisy, though, and could do with more paper flexibility and a colour LCD – but for print economics, it’s very hard to beat.