Best Ink Tank Printers Under $300


March 27, 2019    Electronics Office 
(Image Credit: iStock)

Save Big With Ink Tank Tech!

Ink tank printers have been steadily gaining in popularity since first hitting the market around 2010. And for good reason! Our research shows that these units can reduce the total life-cycle cost of owning a printer by up to two thirds! Compared to typical "cartridge" style ink jet printers, even when accounting for the slightly higher upfront expenditure. Today printers with this technology are available for under $300 and under $200 AND come included with enough ink!

  • OUR TAKE
    PROS
    CONS

  • OUR TAKE
    • This great device has double-sided printing capability, wireless set-up that is a breeze, the largest LCD in our comparison and decent print quality. Our "performance" runner up because it is pricey and does not have an auto document feeder.
    PROS
    • Auto double sided printing.
    • Copy and scan capability.
    • Largest LCD screen in our comparison (2.4 inches).
    • Easy wireless setup.
    • Includes enough black ink for 14,000 pages (2 bottles) and color ink for 11,200 pages.
    CONS
    • We have only seen below $300 when on sale.
    • Display is not touchscreen and still feels relatively small (still by far the best in our comparison).
    • Print quality is acceptable, but not great.
    • Does not have an auto-feed for copying and scanning.

  • OUR TAKE
    • This printer has scan and copy capability, an LCD screen, easy wireless setup and is priced under $200. It is a great entry point into the world of ink tank printers and our "budget" runner up.
    PROS
    • Second lowest price at the time of our comparison.
    • Scan and copy capability (for only around $10 more than the G1200).
    • Easy wireless setup.
    • Includes enough black ink for 4,000 pages (1 bottle) and color ink for 6,500 pages.
    CONS
    • No auto double sided printing capability.
    • Display is not touch screen (still second best in our comparison).
    • Print quality is acceptable, but not great.
    • Vertical rear paper tray.

  • OUR TAKE
    • STAY AWAY! This unit lacks copy and scan functionality, an LCD screen and, crucially, wireless capability. We recommend paying a bit more (only $10 at the time of our comparison) to get the ET-2650.
    PROS
    • Lowest price at the time of our comparison.
    • Includes enough black ink for 6,000 pages (1 bottle) and color ink for 7,000 pages.
    CONS
    • No wireless printing! Must use a USB cord instead.
    • No scan and copy capability.
    • Does not have an LCD screen.
    • Vertical rear paper tray.
    • No auto double sided printing capability.

How We Chose

(Image Credit: iStock)

Print Cost and Features

When researching for today's comparison, we were surprised to learn that there are "ink tank" style printers on the market with refill costs above $100 for the typical 4,000 to 6,000 black pages and 5,200 to 7,000 color pages these units can deliver with a set of ink bottles. Because ink cost is THE crucial variable for total print cost as outlined in the section above, at ReviewDecide we feel refill prices this high do not capture the spirit of these devices. As such, we set a $55 limit for a set of original manufacturer refills as our baseline for inclusion in our comparison.

With this ink cost baseline set, we next looked to features such as wireless printing (another must have in our opinion), LCD screens, print quality and copy as well as scan capability. Other nice to haves included auto-document feeders and double-side printing.

Keeping these factors in mind, we selected the Cannon G4210 MegaTank as our top pick. While it lacks a color LCD screen (it does have a small black and white LCD) and automatic double sided printing capability, it checks all the other boxes we set for in this comparison. More importantly, it comes included with enough ink to print a staggering 18,000 black and 7,000 color pages and has an auto-document feeder for its copy and scan functions—a feature that is unique among this type of printer in the under $300 range.

Our "performance" runner up, the Epson ET-3700 EcoTank is similar in many ways to our top pick. The primary difference is that ET-3700 has automatic double-sided printing capability but not an auto-document feeder for its copy and scan functions. Although we are not huge double-sided fans (it takes longer to print this way and double-sided is not our favorite viewing method), if you are looking to lower your print costs as much as possible then double sided is the way to go. As an added bonus, the ET-3700 also has the largest color LCD screen in our comparison at 2.4 inches (manufacturers are stingy with the screens on these devices). Importantly, make sure to purchase when on sale, as the list price is over $300 at the time of our writing (when on sale it can be purchased for less than our comparison threshold).

We chose the Epson ET-2650 EcoTank as our "budget" runner up, because it is a great entry point into the realm of ink tank printers. While it doesn't have an auto-document feeder or double sided printing capability, it does have wireless printing capability, a small color LCD screen and copy as well as scan functionality.

As for the Cannon G1200 MegaTank, we would recommend staying away from this unit. Despite its low price, it lacks crucial features such as copy and scan functionality and wireless printing. In short, spend the extra $10 and go with the ET-2650, you will thank us later.

First, Why Go Ink Tank?

(Image Credit: iStock)

The Cost Savings!

Our research at ReviewDecide has shown that the cost of ink is a close proxy for total print cost, which is composed of the fixed upfront cost for your printer AND your variable expenditures for ink and paper. Crucially, we have found that over years of printing the upfront cost of a printer is marginal (at least for the printers in this comparison which cost between $179 and $299 at the time of our writing), while the cost of the paper is largely independent of the printer (except for models with double-sided capability). What this leaves is the crucial variable of ink cost.

To get specific, the upfront cost of a printer is typically 5% or less of your total print cost. This makes sense when you think about a $250 investment being spread across 15,000 pages, which results in a cost of 1.6 cents per page. The cost of typical printer paper ranges from 0.5 cents to 2 cents per page (we'll assume an average of 1 cent per page). While the cost of ink for a typical ink jet printer—assuming an average set of color and black cartridges costs $50 and are good for printing a total of 700 pages—runs around 7.1 cents per page (and much higher if you frequently print in color). This means the cost of ink is a whopping 73% of total print cost with your average ink jet printer!

Now assume you can print an average of 10,000 pages (4,000 black and 6,000 color) with a $55 set of ink bottles using an ink tank printer. The ink cost per page drops to .6 cents per page, meaning the cost of ink is now only 19% of total print cost. In fact, the cost is even lower than this because all of the models in today's comparison come included with a substantial amount of ink—anyway, you get the point.

In short, ink tank printers cost about a 1/3rd the cost of your typical ink jet printer when the total cost of ownership is calculated.

Some Differences With Traditional Printers

(Image Credit: iStock)

Things to Keep in Mind

Know The Trade-Offs – There are some trade-offs with the models in our comparison that keep the prices low (for ink tank printers) and also with ink tank printers in general. Specifically, the print speeds are relatively slow (approximately 10 pages per minute in black and 4-5 pages per minute in color) and we feel the print quality isn’t quite as good as many traditional ink jet printers. This being said, we have found that the speed and quality with ink tank printers are still acceptable and worth the trade-off in terms of cost savings, especially if you plan on printing a lot.

Paper Matters – Ink tank printers may be unable to handle thick card stock or print labels. Keep this in mind if you plan on using for applications that will require the use of these paper types.

Properly Store Your Extra Ink and Printer – If you decide to purchase additional ink with your printer purchase, make sure to leave the ink in its original packaging (for example, the Epson cartridges come in a vacuum sealed pack) and store in a cool, dark place. This will ensure the ink is ready to go when you need it (proper storage makes sense as it can be two years or more before a refill is necessary with these units).

Related to proper ink storage, is the proper placement and storage of the unit itself. Specifically, these units need to be placed on a flat surface to prevent the ink from spilling out of the tanks (possible if placed on an uneven surface for an extended period of time). If you need to move the unit long distances, such as in a moving truck, read the owners manual for the preparations necessary to avoid ink spills.

Consider Going Double Sided – If you are purchasing an ink tank printer, it is likely because you are aiming to lower your printing costs. This is why you are (smartly) willing to pay a bit more upfront for one of these units. With this in mind, remember that the ink and printer cost are only two of three pieces in your price per print equation. The third component is the cost of the paper. You can effectively halve your paper costs if you decide to print double sided. Consider a unit like the ET-2750 if you want double sided printing capability with a unit in the price range for today’s comparison.

The ReviewDecide Method

(Image Credit: iStock)

What We Do...

We started ReviewDecide on the premise that a great deal of the information required to properly evaluate a given product is already right in front of your (and our) eyes. In fact there is too much information! A crucial skill necessary to picking the best products is instead the ability to cull through the available information, focusing on what should really drive a purchase decision.

To make those crucial determinations as to what matters and what doesn’t, we begin by thinking through what really matters to us when we use a particular product. We then use the that type of product to further refine the features we care about and that we think you will care about too. Next we search the web, looking to manufacturer’s websites, product specifications, consumer reports, expert blogs, research reports and the like to obtain crucial insights and the facts.

Finally, we distill the results of our research and combine it with our own experiences as consumers, professionals, techies, mothers, fathers, hobbyists, designers, software engineers, attorneys (sorry) and more. Ultimately, this process results in the reviews we present to you. We hope you enjoy!

Credits:

  • Background photo of hand refilling printer ink from iStock.
  • Photo of ink jet printer consuming Euro bill from iStock.
  • Photo of ink refill bottles from iStock.
  • Photo of printing press by Wendelin Jacober.
  • Photo of group jumping in office from iStock.

*Images have been cropped and/or resized.