The Epson EcoTank ET-2550 might look like a standard small form inkjet printer, but there's one big difference: instead of the traditional inkjet cartridges that most printers use to put images and text on paper, the EcoTank series comes with a set of ink bottles that you empty yourself into a large, refillable reservoir on the side.
The bottles have enough ink in them to print about 4,000 pages of black ink and 6,500 pages of color, which is roughly the equivalent of a two-year supply at moderate print volumes.
With this new ink delivery system, Epson hopes to save users the trouble of running out to an office supply store every month to pick up a new set of cartridges: when the reservoirs are running low, you can buy another batch that lasts just as long, for a lot less than the cost of standard cartridges: $13 (converted, £8.59, $17.71 AU) for each color bottle or $52 (£34.34, $70.84 AU) for a set of all four.
The catch is that you'll pay more up front for these special EcoTank models that accept refillable ink. The ET-2550 is the least expensive of the lineup at $399 (£369.99 UK, AU$499), but it also lacks many of the modern features that you would find in a "regular" inkjet printer at the same price: it can't fax, there's no auto-document feeder for scanning batch jobs, and you don't get a duplexer for double-sided printing.
It does, however, print high-quality documents and images at a speed that exceeded our expectations. Aside from the EcoTank on the side, there's also Wi-Fi built in to the machine so you can take advantage of Epson's host of free iOS and Android printing apps that let you print your smartphone or tablet.
If you ignore the ink reservoir on the side, the ET-2550 closely resembles the Epson Expression XP-320, a sub-$100 budget inkjet printer with a limited array of features. The small design doesn't take up too much space in an office, even with the reservoir included -- according to the manufacturer, the machine measures 19.3 inches wide, 20.7 inches deep, and 11.6 inches tall.
|Price as reviewed||$399 US, £369.99 UK, $499 AU|
|Dimensions in inches (Width x Depth x Height)||19.3 x 20.7 x 11.6 inches|
|Inks||Four-ink refillable EcoTank (Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow)|
|Automatic 2-sided printing (duplexer)||No|
|Automatic Document Feeder||No|
|Memory Card Reader||SD card reader|
|Connectivity||USB 2.0, Wi-Fi, Airprint, Google Cloud Print|
|Paper Input Tray Capacity||100 sheets|
|Display||1.44-inch color LCD|
The front panel has a small 1.44-inch color LCD with a directional pad and three action buttons next to it, and the whole console mechanically rotates up and down to be set at adjustable angles depending on your work space.
The top cover lifts up to reveal a 2,400 dpi flatbed scanner, but you can only scan one document at a time since there's no auto-document feeder. That also means the printer can only accept paper from one source: the input tray that folds vertically out of the back.
It holds 100 sheets of paper, which is typical for a printer that will live in the home or a small office with light printing needs, but you can also pick up the step-up model EcoTank ET-4550 that will net you a larger 150-sheet paper input capacity, more ink capacity per reservoir (roughly 11,00 black and 8,500 color pages), an Ethernet port, and a dedicated fax machine.
Finally, the side of the front panel has a small SD card reader for printing photos and documents directly from an external drive.
Epson gives you the option to connect the printer to your computer using direct USB or Wi-Fi via an installation disc, downloadable software or Wi-Fi Direct if your router supports it. If you don't want to connect wirelessly, you'll need to supply your own USB cable, as usual.
Establishing a wireless connection between the machine and your computer is a two-part process: turn on the machine and click Network Setting, then designate your wireless network and enter its password, and that's it. The entire setup from start to finish, with a connection established on our lab network took us less than 5 minutes.
The installation process also includes a step which asks if you want the system to automatically hunt and install firmware updates, and we recommend you click "yes" when prompted; the appeal of Web-connected printers like this means you don't have to wait for Epson to ship you software updates, so take advantage of it.
Connecting through Wi-Fi also means you can take advantage of Epson's host of free mobile printing apps that let you print directly from mobile devices. First, the Epson iPrint application for iOS and Android devices lets you to print Web pages, photos, documents and anything else on a smartphone directly to the printer.
You can also take advantage of remote printing from any Chrome browser window using Google Cloud Print, or connect immediately to any iOS device using Apple AirPrint. Check out our how-to page to learn more about cloud printing.
Filling up the EcoTank reservoirs might seem like a daunting task when you're doing it for the first time, but it's actually a very simple process if you follow the instructions Epson includes in the manual.
You'll find four separate ink bottles in the box with printed letters and numbers on them that correspond to matching silos on the device: one for cyan, magenta, yellow and black. For this part of the installation, Epson actually includes a pair of plastic gloves for you to wear so your fingers don't get stained with ink, but if you're extra careful it shouldn't be a problem.
When you're ready to fill up the tanks, all you have to do is twist off the top cap to break the seal, then you just turn the bottle over and squeeze all the ink into the tanks until the bottles are empty. When you're done, the printer will take roughly 20 minutes to charge the ink to prepare it for printing.
Thanks to a translucent window on the side of the tanks, you can monitor your ink levels at any given time, which is really helpful for knowing when you need to re-order colors. Also, you can screw the top cap back onto the bottle to seal it up, just in case you want to refill as you go.
Epson says it should take about two years of moderate volume printing to deplete the ink bottles that come in the retail package. When you're ready for a refill, each color tank (including the black bottle) costs $12.99 (£8.52, $17.70 AU) each, or about $52 (£34.35, $70.84 AU) for the whole set.
Using the page yields Epson provides (4,000 black, 6,500 color), I calculated the cost for both black-only and full-color pages to be 0.3 cents and 0.2 cents per page. Both of those figures are much lower than the average cost per page for a typical inkjet printer, and Epson even sells XL-size ink bottles that cuts the price even more.
Again, those figures are stated under the assumption that you've used the printer long enough to offset the inflated cost of the hardware. If you only print things a few times a month, you're probably better off sticking with a cheap model like the XP-420 (widely available for $50 [£33.03, $68.12 AU]), and paying for new ink cartridges on occasion.
As usual, I ran the ET-2550 through CNET's internal speed tests and the results confirm my thoughts that this printer is a baseline inkjet printer with a large ink reservoir added to the side. But that's not to say that the printer lags on output speed: it flew through our text speed test at an impressive average of about 8.33 pages of plain black per minute and tackled the full-color graphics job at 2.41 pages per minute.
Those results are nearly identical to the logged speeds of the aforementioned Epson XP-420. Over the years, I've come to expect impressive throughput results from Epson and these tests prove that the ET-2550 is well-equipped to handle medium- to high-volume jobs with minimum latency.
You're probably wondering whether or not the new ink delivery system has an effect on the overall print quality compared with traditional cartridges. Well, I'm happy to report that the ET-2550 also impressed me in this area, producing black text of a quality that appears nearly indistinguishable from its cartridge-bearing linemates.
The overall quality easily competes with the crispness of expensive laser printers, even at smaller sizes. Full-color graphics and presentations fared equally well, and quiet offices will certainly benefit from the whisper-quiet of the printer's operational sounds, which are easily drowned out by clicking keyboards and soft conversation.
Compared with irritatingly loud devices that make their scanning, spooling and printing processes well-known, the XP-420's stealthy operation is a satisfying alternative.
You can potentially save a lot of money on ink cartridge refills by opting into the EcoTank brand, but you'll have to exceed the cost of the initial retail price first, which will likely take a few years of consistent printing. If you don't need those extraneous features and don't mind keeping this printer around for the long term, the ET-2550 could be worth the investment.
If you're reading this and realizing that you don't want to marry yourself to the brand for over two years, I recommend checking out some of Epson's traditional cartridge inkjet printers like the Expression XP-420 that only costs $50 (£33.03, $68.12 AU) online right now. If you go that route, just know that you're buying back into the old razor blade business model and can expect to pay $30 (£19.81, $40.87 AU) for the black refill cartridge and $17 (£11.23, $23.16 AU) for each color.
On the other hand, if you're into the idea of the refillable EcoTank but need more features, the upgraded EcoTank ET-4550 costs an additional $100 (£66.05, $136.24 AU) but you get a lot more for your buck: a larger 150-sheet paper input capacity, more ink capacity per reservoir (roughly 11,00 black and 8,500 color pages), an Ethernet port, and a dedicated fax machine.