Should your next printer use cartridges or an Ink Tank?

Let's not kid around, ink cartridges are expensive. In fact, there's always been an inverse relationship between the the price of a printer and the cartridges. The cheaper the printer, the more expensive the cartridges... especially original ones (which the cheap, yet clever printers know to detect if they're not original).

I have a small home office and print out various documents every single day. Nothing excessive, but enough for me to use my printer cartridges sparingly. Most of the time I print using "black and white draft" mode to try and make the black ink last a little longer. I try not use the yellow, cyan or blue at all.

For the last 3 years I've had an HP Officejet 8620 and it's served me relatively well. Some motherboard thingy packed up in it after 2 years, and it was going to cost me almost the same to fix as opposed to buying a new printer, until I realised I had opted for the extended 3 year warranty and got it repaired at no cost.

Being a bit of a gadget lover (I think word gets around), last week Epson offered to drop off their new L6160 Ink Tank printer for me to play around with.  I had the CEO of Incredible Connection Craig Lodge on my radio show a few weeks ago and he was raving about Ink Tank efficiency, so I vaguely knew about it, but had never used one. I was keen to see what the hype was about, so asked Epson to "bring it on over".
 Ink Tank printer

Usually a cartridge printer has a "starter cartridge" that can print a few hundred pages before you have to go running off to the shops and sell a kidney to buy new cartridges. So on the Ink Tank printer box a number stood out for me right off the bat... it can print 14000 pages on the ink that the printer comes with!? Holy crap, that's a lot.

Taking the Epson L6160 out the box I noticed the printer is incredibly light and much more compact than my older HP Officejet 8620. The Ink Tank printer also comes with a few bottles of ink which you literally pour into the printer like you would milk into your morning bowl of cornflakes.

Ink Tank Printer

I was a little concerned it might be messy pouring the ink in. What if I mess it all on the table? So I placed a black refuse bag underneath it, but soon released that Epson were one step ahead of me. There are little notches on the bottle heads that fit only into the correct colour receptacle on the printer, they fit snuggly in place and just glug their into contents into the printer.

Pouring ink into Ink Tank printer

The printer has viewing windows in the front chassis so you can see exactly what your ink levels are. One bottle has exactly the right amount of ink to fill the respective colour reservoir from empty. Once you've filled it up, you switch on the printer and allow it 10 minutes to "charge the ink". I have no idea what this means, but you only do it once when filling the machine up.

Ink Tank charging the ink

And that's it. A few screen prompts later, the Epson L6160 was connected to my home Wi-Fi (and even automatically prompted for a small software update).

I love the fact that the Epson L6160 is much more compact than my older printer and fitted nicely into the shelf space I had. The model above mine (the L6170) has an automatic document feeder on the top, but I really use mine more for printing than multiple-scanning, so was not too phased (but something to think about if you need to feed a lot of documents into the printer for scanning).

Ink Tank

So here's the big question everyone is asking... is ink tank technology much more cost effective than using conventional printer cartridges?

As a test, I did print out a 120-page university document that I needed and the ink levels didn't even budge, but that test isn't really scientific I suppose. The box the Epson came in said it prints 14000 copies with the 2 ink bottles included in the packaging. I don't print enough to get a real sense of usage in just a week or two, so I mentioned the Ink Tank technology on my Twitter feed and got some positive responses from heavier users:




Being a quantitative market researcher by profession (yep, I was part of another world before becoming a radio deejay) I decided to crunch some numbers.

The premise of my calculation is, since the Epson L6160 prints 14000 black copies straight out the box, how much does it cost to buy and use, compared to my HP Officejet 8620 (to buy and print 14000 copies as well)?

The HP Officejet starter cartridge (that comes in the box) prints about 1000 pages, so I simply added the cost of printing another 13000 pages using extra cartridges (each HP Officejet 950 XL cartridge prints about 2500 pages so I did the calculations below).

I must mention, to make it as practical as possible (in case you want to pop off to the shops and buy a printer after this), I went onto Incredible Connection's online site and chose models they listed that are as close to my 3 year old HP Officejet 8620 and the Epson L6160 that I could find. I found the HP Officejet 8610 and the Epson L4160. If you want to compare different models, just change the purchase price in the calculation below.

Hp Officejet 8610

Epson 4160

Here are my numbers:
Ink Tank vs cartridge printer comparison

So, there is a R2330 saving by printing 14000 black and white pages using the Ink tank vs cartridge printer. Put another way, printing the same pages on the cartridge printer will cost you about 50% more than if you use the Ink tank technology.

It would appear that whilst an ink tank printer may cost you more than a cartridge printer at the initial purchase stage, in the long run, if you're a small business using your printer all the time time, ink tank technology is the winner.
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