There is an abundance of affordable and serviceable home and office inkjet printers on the market. These units tend to distinguish themselves from competitors based on print speed and quality. A new contender has emerged that provides a unique value proposition: tons and tons of cheap ink.
The Epson WorkForce ET-4550 (US-only $499, about £320, AU$678) is a member of the new Epson EcoTank line of printers. Each of the new EcoTank units come with a compartment specifically designed to house dramatically more ink than your standard color printer.
Compared to similar Epson all-in-ones, each of the five new EcoTank models are capable of storing the equivalent of up to 20 previous-generation ink cartridges. That equates to at least two years of ink, or 11,000 black pages or 8,500 color pages.
Unfortunately, inkjet manufacturers often force you to compromise in one area in order to maximize value in another. The Canon Pixma MG7520 ($119, US only) produces stunning prints with precise color accuracy. Unfortunately, it’s a dust collector that doesn’t print very fast and isn’t ideal for small and mid-size offices.
The Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 ($200, £130, AU$253) is a speedy device with an ugly design that runs way too loud for your own sanity. A similar unit, the Canon Maxify MB5320 ($399, £260, AU$505) prints incredibly fast, but its results are pretty awful.
And then there is the ET-4550, a workhorse printer that produces moderately fast prints with little to no image complexity or color accuracy. But at least it will print and print and print without forcing you to restock your ink bottles.
The ET-4550 is composed of a matted black plastic that won’t collect fingerprint smudges or dust very easily. The printer features several compartments, including an upper tray, a scanning bed that can hold up to an 8.5 x 14-inch sheet, a collapsable front-facing output tray that can hold 150 Letter-sized pages, and a tray that can hold up to 20 envelopes and other small form-factor pages.
To the right of the extensive 2.2-inch (5.6cm) Mono graphics display are a series of buttons, including a number pad, a direction pad and a start button for both black and color prints. On the far right-hand side of the unit is the bulky compartment where the ink is held. On a typical printer, your ink cartridges are housed within the body of the unit. With the ET-4550 Epson chose function over form by adding a three-inch-wide, four-compartment container to the right-hand side of the unit, into which black, cyan, magenta and yellow ink bottles are poured.
The added three inches gives the unit an unorthodox look and feel. Most printers of this class, including the aforementioned Epson WF-4630 and the two Canons, have boxy designs that are meant to be overlooked. The ET-4550 stands out, and not in a good way, because of the jutting ink container.
That said, this shouldn’t be a deal breaker for anyone. After all, you’re getting a ton of ink with your purchase. However, if desk space is at a premium, or you’re working in a really trendy office, this extra compartment is an eyesore.
When you unbox the ET-4550 you’ll remember why you bought this bad boy in the first place. It comes with four bottles of ink, three color bottles and one massive bottle of black ink. Although the bottles don’t specify how much liquid is contained within, I’m making an educated guess that the black bottle holds about 200 milliliters of ink and the color bottles hold about 100 milliliters.
Either way, Epson claims this haul is enough to keep you satisfied and printing for more than two years. Should you go hog wild and need a quick refill, you can buy a new set of bottles for about $52.99 (about £33, AU$67) .
Be careful when emptying the bottles into the compartments. They leak and spill easily. Epson provides you with gloves for this dirty work, and you’ll need them. I somehow managed to spill ink on my legs and on the floor.
Once your printer is full of ink, getting the ET-4450 to work is a fairly straightforward, but lengthy process. Unlike the Canon Pixma mentioned earlier, the ET-4550 requires a 20-minute ink calibration, which is a major anti-climatic bummer, albeit one that is common among workforce printers.
In addition to the calibration process, you’re walked through several quick steps, such as connecting to Wi-Fi and changing your time zone, all of which are easy as cake, thanks to Epson’s intuitive setup process and button navigation. Take note, Canon: we don’t need touchscreen functionality on printers. We just need buttons that help us get to the next step as quickly as possible.
Specifications and value
The ET-4550 isn’t a behemoth like the Epson WF-4630. It measures 20.3 x 14.2 x 9.5 inches (50 x 35 x 24cm) (W x D x H) and just 16.3 pounds (7.2kg), compared with the 4630’s 31.6-pound heft and 25-inch diameter. It’s comparable in size to the Canon Pixma MG7520, which is three inches slimmer, four inches shorter and one pound heavier.
Specifications and performance
Here is the Epson ET-4550 configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
- Print speed: 13 black ipm, 5 color ipm
- Print resolution: 4,800 x 1,200 dpi
- Paper sizes: Up to 8.5 x 47.2-inch
- Paper capacity: 150 sheets
- Dimensions: 20.3 x 14.2 x 9.5 inches (W x D x H)
- Weight: 16.3 pounds
Manufacturer-provided specs can be quite deceiving. Despite claiming print speeds of 13 black pages per minute and five color pages per minute, I was only able to print five Microsoft Word documents in black and white in 60 seconds. I failed to print even one color image in under a minute. In fact, it took two minutes to produce a color photo on plain paper.
These speeds are pretty unforgivable, especially for a workforce printer. You can accept 13 black images per minute if the image quality was top-notch, like the Canon Pixma MG7520. But with a top resolution of 4,800 x 1,200 dpi, the ET-4550 needs to be much, much faster than it is.
To provide some context: the Canon Pixma MG7520 produces 12 black images per minute. The Canon Maxify MB5320 gets you up to 23 images per minute, and the Epson Workforce Pro WF-4630 can get you 20. The ET-4550 gets dusted by all of these devices.
On Windows computers, you can adjust your settings to produce lower quality prints at faster speeds. I was working on a Mac and was only able to adjust the quality from Normal to Best, which added a second to the Microsoft Word document print time. It’s possible that on a Windows machine you can lower the quality of the document to improve the print speed, but given that the maximum print quality on the ET-4550 isn’t great to begin with, why would you want to further downgrade?
Small business owners should be particularly wary of these dreadful speeds. Imagine having to print a 10-page PowerPoint presentation, and then standing at the printer for 20 minutes waiting for the document to emerge? Shoot me now, please.
The prints don’t come out awful, though. The blacks are bold and the bright colors pop. However, there isn’t much contrast here; your darks fade into one another and the detail output isn’t complex. If you need a printer for company memos and homework assignments, then this is all you really need. But if you’re trying to print photos of your daughter’s five-month birthday, or if you need to run off a ton of copies quickly, look elsewhere.
Let’s be honest: You’re not interested in this printer for its speed or quality. You want a ton of ink and you want to get that ink cheaply. Well, you’ve succeeded. With the comparable Epson WF-4630, you’ll use Epson’s $22.99 (£14, AU$31) standard-sized cartridges, which are rated for 900 pages of printing, equating to a cost of 2.6 cents for black-and-white prints and 11.6 cents for color.
With the ET-4550, you’re getting 8,500 color prints for $54.99 (about £35, AU$75), which works out to less than a penny per print. That’s pretty darn economical!
Additionally, the printer works with Epson Connect print and share technology, which enables you to access the device from mobile phones and tablets. It also works with Google Cloud printing, Mopria, Kindle Fire Print and Apple AirPrint, so you’ll never really be left in a lurch.
For you cord-lovers, the ET-4550 also features a USB 2.0 and Ethernet port.
Every bone in my body wanted to love this printer. Who doesn’t hope for the day when we’ll never have to load another ink cartridge into a printer? At 11,000 black pages per bottle, Epson has come closer to this dream than any other manufacturer to-date.
By adding storage space for additional ink, and lowering the cost of its ink bottles, Epson has made printing easier and more cost effective.
If your main concern is how cheaply you can print documents, and how seldom you have to refill your tank, then the ET-4550 is the right printer for you.
Unfortunately, given how long it takes for each print to come out of the printer, and how poorly each image is produced, the ET-4550 is only ideal for specific situations. For example: if you’re a student or you have a home office and simply need to produce documents at an affordable rate, then try this device out.
But if you’re in a fast-paced office where documents need to get run off quickly between meetings, you’re better off going for a device that can deliver faster results.
Like most printers on the market, the Epson ET-4550 forces you to compromise. However, instead of compromising quality for speed, or vice versa, you’re compromising quality and speed for low print costs.
For some, this may make sense. But, for those of us who value our photos and documents (not to mention how quickly we get them) more than we value a few extra cents per page, the ET-4550 leaves a lot to be desired.