- Uses less ink that conventional inkjet
- All-in-one functionality
- Convenient online functions
- Ink refill can be messy
- Ink levels are imprecise
- No paper feed scanner
Try as we might to move toward a fully paperless office and a completely paperless society, that's just not realistic. Things still need to be scanned and copied and printed. Some things, surprisingly enough, still need to be faxed too. If you're tired of burning through buckets of ink or toner, the Epson Expression ET-3600 with its "EcoTank" technology could be an ideal solution. For starters, there are no ink cartridges at all.
Just Another Multifunction Printer?
On the surface, the Expression ET-3600 from Epson is everything that you would expect from a relatively compact "all-in-one" printer. It's a color printer that can handle documents just as easily as photos, printing on all manner of paper. It's got a flatbed scanner (but no paper feed scanner) and you can run it all together as a color copier. And it comes in any color you want as long as that color is matte black.
The controls on the front are decidedly basic too. The small 2.2-inch mono LCD really only displays two lines of usable text at a time and you navigate around using the standard five-way controller. You get a number pad, plus the buttons for color or black and white printing, along with the stop button. No surprises here. There's also WiFi with some smart function, which I'll explore in just a moment.
Realistically, what sets this multifunction printer apart from others you'll find from the competition is the unique EcoTank "supertank" technology. This helps you save up to 80 percent on ink, because instead of swapping cartridges, you use low-cost replacement bottles. And there's enough ink to print up to 11,000 black and/or 8,500 color pages included in the box.
Filling Up the EcoTanks
After all these years of using ink cartridges for our inkjet printers and toner cartridges for our laser printers, the cartridge-free printing of the Epson Expression ET-3600 can feel a little disorienting. There are a series of four vessels (black, cyan, magenta and yellow) on the side that you fill up with bottles of ink.
The actual process of filling up the tanks is easy enough. Each vessel has a rubber cap that you remove and place on the holder above. Cut the top off the ink bottles and start squirting. This is hardly rocket science, but you will want to be extra careful when doing this. The ink is decidedly dense, so if you get any of it on your clothing or furniture, you could really struggle with getting out the stain.
Another potential challenge is that once you've filled the tanks with ink, you basically can't ship the printer anywhere without risk of the ink leaking out when the printer is tilted. You should be careful when moving it around your home or office too.
This decidedly "analog" solution to our first world problem also introduces another possibly frustrating situation. In the case of most ink cartridges, the printer is able to detect the ink levels automatically and tell you when it's time to get a replacement.
Because you're using ink "tanks" here, from what I can gather, the printer doesn't really know how much is left. Every time I start a print or copy job, the screen reminds me to check the ink levels. This is inherently imprecise, because I'm gauging it purely on the semi-translucent windows on the side of each vessel. Thankfully, there's plenty of ink and the need to top up will be a very rare occurrence.
Smart and Connected
Even though the outward appearance of this printer differs little from one that could have been released many years ago, the internals are largely brought up to our more modern expectations. This starts with the Wi-Fi capabilities, so you can connect the printer to your computer without a physical USB cable. That's straightforward enough and it's something you establish during the setup wizard. (Aside: The setup wizard also looks decidedly dated, but it's totally functional.)
Things start to get a little smarter when you dig into the Epson Connect functionality. When you are away from your computer, you can leverage the power of Google Cloud Print. The printer is also assigned an Epson Connect email address and any message you send (from a whitelist of authorized senders) will print automatically. That's really handy, especially if you're on mobile.
The communication works in the other direction too. I really like how I can scan something on the ET-3600 and have it send the document to me via email. I can also save it to a cloud-based service like Evernote, OneDrive or Dropbox.
Expression ET-3600 Print Speed and Quality
While you cannot expect the same kind of speed you get with an equivalent laser printer, the ET-3600 is certainly fast enough for most home office and other modest applications. Officially, it's rated at about 13.7 pages per minute in black and about 7.3 pages per minute in color. When I printed out a mixed document of about 25 pages, it took a little about four minutes.
By default, the Epson Expression ET-3600 uses a more economical setting for printing, meaning that it will generally use less ink for your print jobs. I didn't find that the resulting documents were lacking in saturation and this similarly bodes well for how long the included ink bottles (both the initial bottle set and the smaller replacement bottles) will last you. I could be concerned about the ink "drying up" from lack of use, though, perhaps even more so than with conventional inkjet cartridges.
MEGATechie EcoThankful or MEGATechie Expressionless?
For professionals who work out of a smaller office but still find themselves printing a fair amount, the EcoTank supertank technology of the Expression ET-3600 could save you a lot of money in the long run. It does everything you'd want out of a multifunction printer, though the lack of a paper feed for scanning could be a deal breaker for some. For everyone else, the smart functionality and economical ink could make it wholly worthwhile.
The Epson Expression ET-3600 retails for about $400, including up to two years of ink (equivalent to about 50 ink cartridge sets).