What does “Eco” mean? Often it’s short for “eco-friendly”. But sometimes it’s more about economy. I’m sure Epson is as ecologically aware as any other company, but its EcoTank printers are really about economy. As in, at no cost in quality, they print at extremely low cost.

For years, printer makers have tended to sell into the home and small business market with cheap hardware and expensive consumables – principally ink (or toner, in the case of laser printers). One got the impression many printers were sold at cost, or perhaps even a loss, and profits made on the refills.

A couple of years ago Epson was the first to upend this concept. They still have models which conform to that approach, but it introduced its EcoTank range. The printers cost more or less what you’d expect a device of similar size and complexity to cost, say $400 or $500. But they came with enough ink for thousands of pages. The Epson Workforce EcoTank ET-4500 printer, for example, had a ticket price of $499, but rather than enough ink for a ream of paper, it came with enough ink for 4000 pages of black and white printing, and 6500 pages of colour printing. And if you did the arithmetic, it soon became apparent that if you wanted to print that many pages, it was way cheaper to buy an ET-4500 than just about any other inkjet printer along with enough ink to last.

And when the ink runs out? Refill bottles costing between $17 and $30 could get you another 4000/6500 pages for not much more than a hundred dollars.

Now it’s time for Gen 2. The entry level ET-2610 sticks with the 4000/6500 page paradigm and sells for $399. The ET-2700 ($449) and ET-2750 ($499) move that to 6500 pages in black and 5200 in colour. Both also act as copiers and scanners and have wireless connectivity. The ET-2750 also has a small colour LCD display so you can print and edit your photos without using a computer.

The ET-3700 ($549) and ET-4750 ($699) blows all of them out of the water by offering, out of the box, 14,000 pages in black and white, and 11,200 pages in colour. That’s fifty reams of paper’s worth of printing in total.

Epson ET-7750 A3 photo printer; Epson ET-2750 at top

New non-spill ink refill bottles have been developed. They automatically stop when the tanks are full, making refills easy in addition to cheap.

Finally, photographers, you may want to defer your purchase for just a little longer, because coming very soon are two Expression Premium models, designed for photo work. Both of these use five colours plus black, rather than the three plus black of the others, and include USB and card readers and a 2.7 inch colour LCD display and feature wireless connectivity. The ET-7700 will cost $799 and the ET-7750 $999. Why the higher price? The ET-7750 suports A3 paper sizes.

And both are good for 14,000 A4 pages out of the box in black and white, 9000 colour pages, or “thousands” of four by six inch photos.

Regardless of size and price, the thing I like most about the Epson EcoTank printers is the claim based on not unreasonable assumptions that your purchase will work for two years before you need to buy any ink.

You know, perhaps these things aren’t so good for the environment. I’ve usually been scared by the cost of printing too much, but now …