Ink tanks printers vs. laser printers for the very occasional printer (Week 40, 2023)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 40, 2023

Q. I occasionally (and by occasionally, I mean not often at all) need a printer to print out documents. Do you have a recommendation? I saw your 2019 column recommending the Epson EcoTank printers. Is this still the best choice? I don’t want to spend a lot of money, but I also don’t want the ink to dry up or spend a lot of money on cartridges. I would consider a laser printer, but I really want to be able to print in color.

-G.L., Santa Clara, CA

A. We will start with the laser printer. I do think a modest (under $150) black-and-white laser printer is often the best choice for home printing needs. They are fast, reliable, and cheap to run. For a long time I had a black-and-white Brother laser printer that I bought on sale for under $100, purchased out of frustration with high ink costs and inkjet nozzles that clogged up and made spotty prints. I also had a high-end inkjet for fine photography work that used 8 inks and could print on 13×19 inch paper. I figured that if I wanted a color document I could just put some plain paper in my inkjet, and print my more mundane documents with the laser printer. What I discovered was I quickly adapted to only having black-and-white documents and I cannot remember when or if I actually put any plain paper in my photo printer. If you or any other readers are willing to give a laser printer a try, the Brother HL-L2300D is a modern successor to my very good printer of years ago. It sells for $119.99.

And what of a color laser printer? They are pricey and you will have four toner cartridges to maintain. This is not a good option for the occasional printer.

This brings us to a printer with ink tanks. These are available from most every manufacturer, but I tend to favor Epson. I have been using an Epson EcoTank ET-4850 for several years now and it has delivered the highest satisfaction of any printer I have ever owned, which is saying something because printers can be fussy and high maintenance and I am very picky when it comes to equipment I buy for myself. The ET-4850 has been very satisfying because it just works and I do not have to think about it. Setup was easy, I never have any glitches or problems using AirPrint, the print quality is very good, and I have seen no evidence of the nozzles clogging up even when I have not used the printer in a while. The EcoTank design delivers outstanding cost efficiency because ink cost is drastically reduced, and you are less likely to find yourself unable to print because a cartridge ran out and you do not have another one around. You will only run out of ink when in the process of refilling the tank, so if you order new ink bottles as you finish them you will always be able to print.

The ET-4850 is probably overkill for a home user, especially with its fax function. If you have a Costco membership I suggest you check out the Epson EcoTank ET-2850 Special Edition. The regular ET-2850 lists for $349.99 and has a street price of around $270. The ET-2850 Special Edition at Costco sells for $279.99 and includes a bonus black ink bottle that will print another 7,500 pages. It is very similar to my excellent ET-4850, and with the extra ink and Costco’s customer-friendly policies it is a very good buy.