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Review Epson L455 Ecotank colour printer: a new old idea

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Here’s a new old idea. I mean the idea is old as it seems obvious: a printer with ink tanks you can fill up  yourself instead of self-contained ink cartridges. It’s new because no vendors have really offered it. And you know how the economic equation works these days: you buy a printer for $79 because your last one broke and it’s not worth fixing these days, and you happily print for what seems like only weeks before the ink needs replacing. You buy four (or whatever) cartridges, and all up they cost more than the printer. Repeat, until the printer gets replaced again because it wears out fairly fast. And you think to yourself ‘these guys are making a mint from all these damn cartridges’ while trying to track down the particular ones for your particular model, as that hardly seems to be a standardised thing, either.
This purchasing model makes lasers seem good as the toner carts might be fiddly and you should recycle the old ones diligently, which isn’t always easy, and as with the colour cartridges above, that all adds up to travel time, and or time online finding the correct replacement – at least lasers got for months or more on one toner cartridge.
Of course, a laser printer usually costs hundreds rather than tens of dollars, and colour lasers more still.
So, Epson has created this: you pay $470 or so for the printer, but even that initial set of supplied inks lasts about two years and does reams of A4 before you have to buy more. Epson reckons you’ll get 4000 black-and-white pages and 6500 in colour – impressive. Want some even better news? Because you’re probably thinking at that point you run out of ink, you will have to trade an arm and maybe even some leg for one of those ink bottles, but no – they’re under NZ$20 each!

Setup and operation — The tank farm for this is on the right side of any of the three models available in now GodZone. This has a lid on top and the whole rectangular unit flips outwards for the filling operation.

Just squirt the right colours into the right tanks
Just squirt the right colours into the right tanks

Yes, you can do it without getting a drop of ink on your hands. No, it’s not very likely. Gloves – good idea. As even with Swarfega, this ink does not come off! On the good side, that proves it’s pretty permanent ink …
Don’t rush this job! Apart from general spill-and-messyness potential, you’d really hate to get the wrong ink into the wrong tank, assuming you’re not an abstract expressionist artist, anyway. Patence is a virtue anyway – and it’s a 20 minute process to ‘charge’ the inks after you turn it on and confirm the tanks are filled. (I’ve always wondered what ‘charge the inks’ means, apart from being noisy and lengthy.)
I had the lesser of the three models to evaluate. But the word  ‘lesser’ doesn’t really do it justice: the L455 has built-in wireless for cable-free printing – and this includes from mobile devices via Epson Connect, Apple AirPrint and Google Cloud Print. It has a 1200x2400dpi A4 scanner plus copy function, a little TFT (1.44-inch) LDC screen and even an SC card slot. It holds a 100 sheets of standard A4 paper and can manage smaller sizes plus 20x25cm envelopes.
The colour model is CMYK, for cyan, magenta, yellow and black tanks to fill.

Print quality — This is not a photo printer as such, it’s a home/small office printer for that kind of job: graphs, forms, letterheads, homework projects. You can put Epson photo paper in as stock, but it won’t do the marvellous job that modern, dedicated photo printers do these days. Or so Epson maintains, and so you’d think …

The difference between colour prints on ordinary A4 (right) compared to photo paper.
The difference between colour prints on ordinary A4 (right) compared to photo paper.

Colour — On ordinary A4 paper, the L455 does as well as you can expect: acceptable for letterheads and business graphics. Because of the dull, porous nature of bog-standard paper, you can’t expect much from any colour printer on this kind of paper stock. But printing to Epson Glossy Photo Paper is a revelation of clean, crisp, bright, detailed colour. But please note, this ink-tank ink does not have the colour fastness and long-life you get from dedicated photo printers. Your print will not last as long without fading, particularly if they’re on display and in the light.
Epson has been very clear to state this is a home/small business printer and not a photo printer, but I have to say, the results on good paper are remarkably and surprisingly very good. You can’t set up a proper colour/print profile, as the pros like to do, but for ‘just’ having a nice image for something, this thing has you covered in style.

I am very pleasantly surprised at the print quality on photo paper
I am very pleasantly surprised at the print quality on photo paper

What’s great — Two years without buying ink! Cheap ink! Surprisingly wonderful colour prints on photo paper! Wifi! Scanner!

What’s not — The ink tank really does kind of hang off the side. You wouldn’t want to knock it too much and break it off, so try and place it somewhere where knocks are less likely to occur. Don’t let the colour-blind fill it and don’t try this in a hurry – if you get the wrong ink in the wrong tank … ouch!

Mac NZ’s buying advice — If you can afford the initial entry price, you will love the quality, features and world-beating convenience of this line of printers.

Epson ecotank L455 colour printer, NZ RRP $479

System — Mac OS X 10.6.8, 10.7x, 10.8.x, 10.9.x, although drivers for 10.10x are online  (and Windows XP/XP Professional x64 Edition/Vista/7/8/8.1), wireless 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and ethernet 100BASE-TX/10BASE-T plus USB 2 (but no cable is included).
Available from — Harvey Norman and other electronics retailers.
More info — Epson NZ Ltd.