Epson has been listening to its customers, who've been chanting the inkjet owner’s chant: ‘Why does ink cost so much?’ In fact, inkjet ink is generally cheaper per page than laser toner, but the smaller capacity of inkjet cartridges means you run out more often.
So Epson has reversed the printer/ink paradigm and introduced the EcoTank range. As the name suggests, it's dispensed with cartridges and instead produced two printers, the EcoTank L355 and the EcoTank L555, reviewed here, which use tanks of ink, in hook-on modules attached to their sides.
The tanks are directly connected to the printer’s heads via flexible tubes and can take up to 70ml of ink at a time, enough for 4000 black pages and 6500 colour ones. The printers are aimed at the small or home office printing around 150 pages per month, so should last two years or more.
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Apart from the tank module, the Epson EcoTank L555 is a conventional enough all-in-one, with a 30-sheet Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) on top. The wide control panel is logically laid out, but only sports a 2-line by 16-character LCD screen. This precludes previewing photos for printing, but then this isn’t a photo printer, has no card or USB slots in the front panel and can’t produce borderless prints.
There’s a single paper tray, which can hold up to 100 sheets, angled nearly vertically at the back. Connection is either via a single USB socket at the rear or by a Wi-Fi link, which is easy to set up and more versatile. Apart from the ink tanks, the machine bears quite a bit of resemblance to the £100 WorkForce WF-2630WF.
Setting up the printer takes a bit longer than clipping in cartridges, but only has to be done every two years or so. Unhook the tank module from the side of the printer and turn it on its side. Open each of the tanks by removing a plug and squeeze the contents of an ink bottle into each one. It’s quite tricky not getting ink on yourself when you peel the seals from the necks of the bottles.
Even though Epson now uses the ISO standard for measuring print speed, it speeds can still be ambitious when compared with real-world tests. The EcoTank L555 is rated at 9ppm for black print and 5ppm for colour and it got quite close in our mono print tests, with 7.8ppm for a 20-page document, dropping to 7.3ppm with the more normal 5-page document.
However, the colour test, again five pages, only gave 2.5ppm, just half of the claimed figure. It took over 2 minutes to print, but this is still quite a bit quicker than the 2:40 (less than 2ppm) it took to copy a 5-page mono document from the ADF.
It took over 2 minutes to print a 15 x 10cm colour photo in best print quality, too, but improved on this to 1:13 in normal mode, printing from a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone.
The output quality is very similar to that from Epson printers using conventional cartridges, probably because the print heads are the same. Black text is good quality, though not as sharp as from Canon and HP’s thermal inkjets, and colours on plain paper aren’t as bright. Text over colour is well registered and photo prints are of very high quality, as is normal for Epson machines.
As you would expect, the EcoTank L555 excels in its running costs. Printing 4000 pages from a £9 black ink bottle gives a mono page cost of 1.1p, including 0.7p for paper. Colour print is not much more expensive at 1.5p, with the same paper cost. It whomps the page costs of any other laser or inkjet all-in-one at the price.
You could look at the cost of this machine as a £100 printer and a £36 set of ink bottles and wonder where the other £200 comes from, but that would probably be naive. The current paradigm for inkjet sales is to sell the printer cheap and make money on the cartridges. Epson's been quite brave to turn this on its head and offer ink at realistic prices, but to do this it has to charge a more realistic price for the printer.
There’s very little to compare this machine to at the price, mainly because inkjet printers with a similar feature set cost around £100. If you add the cost of the ink to print the same number of pages as the EcoTank L555 can, you start to see the savings.
Taking Epson’s own WorkForce WF-2630WF as a comparison and adding the cost of cartridges to print 4000 mono pages and 6500 colour ones gives a total of just under £800. This would be similar if you used a rival machine and its cartridges.
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If low running cost is your primary requirement and you have £350 to spend upfront, the EcoTank L555 is a brilliant all-in-one. However, if you want duplex print or to print borderless photos, you’ll be out of luck and the speed of the machine, particularly when printing in colour on plain paper or copying from the ADF, is poor.