The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 is a superb printer for offices, with low running costs, multiple functions and great performance for black-and-white documents. It unfortunately can’t fax and only has a one-year warranty, but it’s still worth a punt if you’re looking for an economical home office printer.
- Incredibly low running costs
- Does everything except fax
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- Great refillable ink system
- Expensive to buy
- Only a one-year warranty
- No duplex (double-sided) scanning
- UKRRP: £430
- USARRP: $400
- EuropeRRP: €450
- A handy multifunction peripheralThis compact device can print, scan and make copies – but it can’t send or receive faxes
- Refillable ink tanks, not fiddly cartridgesThe ET-3850 uses ink tanks, filled from big bottles, so printing is cheap and there’s less waste
- Colour screen with button controlsNo touchscreen, but Epson’s button/screen combination is easy enough to use
If you’re after a compact inkjet to take on document duties, the Epson EcoTank ET-3850 could be just the ticket.
It’s a multifunction printer (MFP) covering prints, scans and copies, and you can connect and share to it over Wi-Fi. Try not to let the high purchase price put you off, though – this MFP’s trump card is ultra-low running costs that should make it better value in the long term.
But is it one of the best printer options for the office right now? Here are my thoughts.
Design and Features
- Great ink-tank system
- Colour screen control panel
- Automatic document feeder (ADF) for multi-page scans and copies
The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 is a reasonably compact colour inkjet MFP, designed for print, scan and copy duties in the home or a micro-office. It’s a smart black device, with a fully enclosed 250-sheet paper tray in the bottom, and an automatic document feeder (ADF) on top. You can load this with documents up to 30 pages long and have the ET-3850 pull the pages through while scanning or copying them – a great timesaver.
The ET-3850 supports automatic duplex (double-sided) printing. Not only is this a great way to save paper, it helps you produce professional-looking reports and other handouts. Unfortunately, the ADF is only single-sided, so you can’t make double-sided copies or scans of double-sided originals, as you can with some competing MFPs.
Talking of the competition, we need to explain the Epson EcoTank ET-3850’s comparatively high price. Go by specifications and performance and this Epson competes with others around the £100-150 mark, yet it costs twice that.
The reason is that it uses the EcoTank refillable ink system, which does away with wasteful, fiddly cartridges in favour of big bottles of ink. The ET-3850 rocks up with enough to print a claimed 14,000 black or 5,200 colour pages. Try those volumes on a regular printer costing say, 2p per black page and 7p in colour, and you’ll be forking out £644 on ink on top of what you already paid for the printer.
With this in mind, the ET-3850 looks like more of a bargain. Even when its bundled bottles run dry, you’ll pay less than half a penny per full colour page to keep it in ink.
If the idea of ink sloshing about is a worry, it needn’t be: Epson has made the initial fill-up almost foolproof. You can’t put the wrong colour in a tank, and I’m yet to spill a drop with this second revision of the EcoTank system. Once the tanks are full and the printer ready, it’s simple to get it on the network, update the firmware, and start sharing it among users. While there isn’t a touchscreen, the combination of colour screen and buttons works fine.
The only major criticism I have is that Epson currently provides only a single year’s warranty. Given that it may take a couple of years of printing for a refillable ink tank printer to offset its higher price with cheaper printing, it would be good to have the piece of mind that the ET-3850 will last long enough.
Print Speed and Quality
- Fast printing
- Reasonably quick scans and copies
- Great quality, except on photo prints
The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 has an office focus, which includes using pigment-based black ink – ideal for bold black text on plain paper. Sure enough, it produced crisp and reasonably dark text, perfectly fine for anything from hurried drafts through to formal letters.
This is a very rapid text printer by inkjet standards, delivering five pages of text 31 seconds after I clicked on ‘Print’ – a rate of 9.7 pages per minute (ppm). This rose to 10.5ppm on our 20-page document, although I recorded a high of 19ppm over 25 pages in Draft mode.
Inkjets are typically far slower when duplex printing, as they must allow a little drying time to avoid ink smudges. The ET-3850 printed 20 sides onto 10 sheets in three minutes, which is still a decent rate of 6.6 images (sides) per minute.
In colour, this printer needed 1min 23secs for a five-page graphics document, which equates to a speed of 3.6ppm. I’m very happy with the results, which, while not having the punch of the best office inkjets, were free of obvious inkjet issues such as banding or excessive grain. However, I did notice that duplex prints were more faint than single-sided ones – the PC driver lets you adjust the trade-off between ink density and drying time on double-sided print jobs.
The ET-3850 isn’t ideal for printing photos. For lighter subjects, its dye-based colour inks work brilliantly on suitable paper, delivering a glossy finish with good colour and shade control. The problem comes on darker subjects, when bigger pigment particles from the black ink remain on the surface of glossy media, spoiling the finish and diminishing colour accuracy. I’m surprised Epson hasn’t configured the ET-3850 to print photos without using black ink at all.
When it comes to copying and scanning, the ET-3850 is fast enough if not overly zippy. Using an imaging program on a PC, I obtained a preview image in 12 seconds, but this MFP took an unhurried 28 seconds to scan an A4 page at either 150 or 300 dots per inch (dpi).
The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 was quite quick to make black-and-white copies. It took 14 seconds to copy a single page, and 2mins 24secs to copy 10 using the ADF. Typically for an inkjet, colour copies were slower, with a single page taking 31 seconds. I waited four long minutes for a 10-page colour copy.
Happily, I wasn’t wasting my time in either case. Photocopies were reasonably faithful to the original, although black copies were a touch on the dark side. Scans were well above average, displaying superb colour accuracy, and faithful detail reproduction except among the very darkest shades.
Overall, there’s lots to like here, with fast printing – especially for text – and high quality all round. The ET-3850 is only really let down by the poor finish on dark photos, but that isn’t the end of the world for an office-focused device.
Should you buy it?
You want an all-rounder that’s cheap to run
The Epson ET-3850 does almost everything well, and delivers incredibly low running costs.
You need a fax modem
This printer can’t send or receive faxes. Its ADF is also single-side only, ruling out duplex scans.
The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 costs far more to buy than its true competitors, but factor in its bundled ink and low running costs and it should work out better value. It’s a decent performer, particularly with fast, bold black text and great scan and copy quality. It’s a shame there isn’t a longer warranty, but if you’re looking for an economical home office MFP then this is a great choice.
How we test
Every printer we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things including print quality, speed and cost.
We’ll also compare the features with other printers at the same price point to see if you’re getting good value for your money.
Tested printing with monochrome and coloured ink
Measured the time it takes to print with various paper
Compared print quality with other printers
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I’ve never spilled more than a drop with ink tank printers. Epson improved the EcoTank system a couple of years ago, after which we literally haven’t spilled any.
This printer becomes better value the more you print. If you’re unlikely to print more than around 3000 pages over its lifetime, a cheaper, cartridge-based model may be better value.
It’s ideal, provided you don’t need to send or receive faxes.
Yes, but it isn’t brilliant at photos.