Wayne asked: "Thanks for taking the time to relate your experience with the Epson printer. I am always interested in such things as I have yet to take the dive into high quality inkjet printing. The obstruction is the horrific, or at least seemingly horrific, prices associated with ink. There are two areas of printer evaluation that seem always to be difficult to determine: 1.) on average, how many 8x10 color prints can one expect to glean from a new set of ink tanks? and 2.) are the various refillable ink tank options a viable option to control expense related to ink? On the first question, I realize much will depend on the type of prints produced; but some indication of what a print will cost would be helpful. On the second question, without information from someone who has taken this route, it has the taint of being one of those episodes of throwing good money after bad. At 56, I have had experience with that type of episode and am anxious to curtail them in future."
Mike replies: I can only speak to your question no. 1, as I haven't tried any refillable cartridges. The problem there is that most of the available archival testing information available for print life expectancy (called print LE) is for manufacturer inksets. While it's possible that third party inks might be as good, there's little scientific corroboration available. Getting a print right is exacting enough work that I want to be reasonably assured that I don't have to do it all over again sometime.
As to how many 8x10 prints you can make from a set of inks, I suspect the only way to get good data would be to keep careful records of the number of prints you make—probably by square inches—and the amount of ink you use over a long period of usage. I mean hundreds of prints or even into four figures. The problem is that not all pictures are the same, and different pictures can use varying amounts of ink; plus, the cartridges don't deplete all at the same rate. Sooner or later, if you keep careful records, all the variables will even out and you'll have a pretty good answer for yourself.
For instance, look at my current ink usage on the P600:
(The grayed-out bar on the right is for matt black ink or MK—"K" being an old printer's term for black). What would you say—about a third used up? Be aware that the bars are probably not precise readings, either. And the machines leave ink left over even in fully depleted cartridges.
[Correction: I forgot to mention that new printers need to have the lines charged which uses up some ink. Ken Tanaka reminded me—thanks Ken. I did at least call Epson to confirm that the carts that come with the P600 are full ones, not partially filled starter cartridges. —Mike]
At the moment I've made 24 prints on letter sized paper. That's three on Epson Hot Press Bright and 21 on Epson Ultra Premium Photo Paper Luster. Most of them are 7" wide and of varying heights. Five are B&W. Several are 9" wide and three (one dark) fill up the entire 8.5x11" sheet.
See what I mean? At this rate my VLM and PK will exhaust first, and I'll replace those before the others run dry. By that time I'll have an even less precise idea of exactly how much I've printed.
Finally, what do you consider "an 8x10 print"? Any 8x10 print, or just the final, finished, successful one? Because it might take you a few passes to get to that. If you make four prints to get to the one that's just right, does that count as four or one? I'd call it "one print." Not four.
This—ink use as part of the creative process along the way toward a final print—is in part a technical and workflow issue, in part a matter of your skillset and experience as the printmaker, and in part it is purely a matter of aesthetic process. That is, you sometimes need to take some steps toward deciding what you want the final print to look like. The technical part (equipment calibration, color management, paper profiles) can presumably be mastered, and your use of ink might get more efficient. The aesthetic part of the process might be another matter. Your process might demand first a workprint, then a good trial print, then some time for reflection, then finally the finished print. You might improve your efficiency there over time, too: I knew a National Geographic printmaker in the days of RA-4 and JOBOs who could look at a proof sheet of color neg, set the color pack on the enlarger, and get a pretty good print at the first go. She had a great eye for color and density.
How few or how many trial prints you have to make toward a finished print is not entirely a technical matter, is what I'm saying.
So your question seems straightforward and easily quantified, but I wonder if it's not, in the end, almost unanswerable!
But at least I've described for you the P600's ink use as accurately as I can thus far.
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
bandbox: "Yes, the OEM inks are expensive, but for me the expense of printing on my 3880 is certainly less than my costs of printing paper and chemicals when I was into silver based photography and using my own darkroom. There was much more testing and waste involved before getting to a final print, to say nothing of the time setting up, printing and processing, and cleaning up. After many years of doing that, and watching the rise of digital and decline of silver, in 2005 I threw in the towel: got rid of the darkroom equipment, switched from enlargers to an etching press, and converted the darkroom into a studio for painting and printmaking.
"And then I watched as digital imaging got better and better, eventually bought a digital camera, started using Lightroom, bought the 3880.... All of this fits into a corner of the studio and I can do everything in full daylight. The finished print quality is better than my old silver prints and there's much less waste of materials and time.
"Really, it's orders of magnitude better. Yes, I thought about the price of the inks and realized that it's insignificant compared to the old darkroom costs. So just suck it up and use that new printer."
Andre Y: "Charging the lines with ink only happens for printers where the ink doesn't sit on the printhead. Generally, lower-end printers have cartridges on the printhead, while higher-end printers have their cartridges sitting separate from the head, with hoses to bring the ink to the head.
"Why would anyone use a lower-end printer, especially your august readership? Well, if you're into B&W printing with dedicated B&W inks (Jon Cone's Piezography as mentioned already, as well as Paul Roark's more DIY approach), the Epson Artisan 1430 is a fantastic printer to modify with B&W inks because it's cheap, well-supported, and can lay down very small dots (1.5 pL in the highlights). If you're worried about the waste ink pad, you should install a waste ink receptacle. I use Octoinkjet's Printer Potty. Installation varies by printer model, but it's not too bad if you go slowly. Shipping to the US is very fast too."
Ken James (partial comment): "I cannot imagine taking pictures if I could not print them."
[Note: When I "feature" entire comments, they do not appear in the Comments Section, but when I feature only part of someone's comment, the full text of their comment always appears in the Comments Section. —Ed.]
Michael Perini: "In answer to Wayne, there are people who have done the kind of analysis you ask about, but it is usually done with some sort of test print, which, as Mike points out, will never match your experience. You are also correct, there are huge markups on ink, which seems difficult to take, but ink is just a charging mechanism for all the R&D and incredibly complex technology that ink jet printers represent. They are also selling us the printers for a fraction of the cost of manufacture.
"I am not an apologist for the printer companies. I would like ink to be cheaper too. But they are providing the ability to make better color prints than we ever made in the smelly expensive darkroom, in two square feet of desk space. I really believe the answer is to look less at what you give and more at what you get, which is the ability to make the finest color prints ever possible, for under $10 bucks apiece.
"But it has to be worth it to you. there are many Internet services who make perfectly nice prints cheaper than you can make them yourself. Printing inkjet prints yourself is not cheap, and not for everyone. It doesn't lend itself to the kind of analysis you would like. The printer manufacturers know that, and are aggressive in their pricing, but, given the results possible, I still think it's a bargain. If you worry about the cost every time you print, you probably won't enjoy the experience. There are many folks who rarely print anything. And that's OK too."
Wayne: "Thanks for the comprehensive response to my question. I see what you mean regarding the definition of 'print.'"
Steve Rosenblum (partial comment): "This discussion reminds me of the ones my father (may he rest in peace) and I used to have when we went on our fishing trips. At the end of each trip (usually a week) he would ask what the cost per fish caught worked out to. It's true that if you are a local who lives near a great river, tie your own flies, use the same gear for years, and go wade fishing on your own, it's a pretty economical pastime. However, we would fly out to Montana (or another fishing Mecca), fish with guides (to be sure we caught some fish and so he could do it despite his elderly frailty), and stay at a motel or lodge. Even if we caught a hundred or so fish each, the cost per fish was quite substantial.
"But, then again, we weren't spending the week together to catch a certain number of fish—we did it for the experience fishing provided for us. I think that doing your own printing is the same kind of thing...so long as you can afford it."
Winwalloe: "Mike, could you please mention how you set for picture to have a white margin in the printer? Do you specify it at the printing step? Do you have the margin prior in Photoshop for instance?
"I wish I could 'automate' the addition of margins to my prints, depending on the paper size and the image ratio, but I've no idea how (except by using the same ratios most of the time, and have a script to add margins based on that, but it's a bit of a pain)."
Mike replies: Sure. In Photoshop it's in the Print Settings dialog box that comes up when you hit "Print." I assume it's the same or very similar in Lightroom.
You'll find it under "Position and Size." Clicking on "Scale to Fit Media" makes the picture as large as possible on the sheet you're using; if you unclick that, you can set image size based on Height or Width or Scale (percentage). As long as "Center" is clicked under "Position," the image will be exactly centered. While it's centered, you can read the exact measurements of the borders. The you can unclick Center and set one of the values to move the image up or down (or sideways) on the sheet. With this image (I sneaked in another image of Butters, which I enjoy doing—this one taken on Wednesday with the Nikon D7200 and Sigma 17–70mm, by the way), when it was centered it was 1.834 inches from the top. I changed that value to 1.5 inches to move the image up on the sheet a little, which is called "bottom weighting."
Notice at the top of this dialog box that you can also choose between portrait (vertical) and landscape (horizontal) paper orientation.
This will be somewhat different in different programs, but I think most will have easy-to-understand controls for positioning the image on the sheet.
Alan Carmody: "I have a far more humble model of Epson photo printer. I've reduced ink usage greatly ever since I learned not to turn it off—at all. Apparently, turning the printer off and on causes the printer to go through at least one cleaning cycle, in which it uses ink to clean the pipes. Turning the printer off nightly, in the false belief that one is saving the world by doing so, merely causes most of the ink to be used up cleaning the print head nozzles. I'd say I've reduced ink consumption by at least half, if not two thirds."
William: "The business models for printers and ink is a significant factor in my decision to send files to a very good lab and let them do the printing."
Chris Kern: I think concern about the cost of ink is misplaced. Since I bought an Epson P800 about a year ago, I've been spending more on ink and paper than I did when I was ordering prints from a custom lab, but I'm printing a lot more of my images than I ever thought of doing when I was paying someone else to print them.
"In other words, I enjoy the process of printing—of soft-proofing to get the colors just right and tweaking the tone curve in an attempt to replicate as closely as possible the high dynamic range of a transmission display (my monitor) on a much lower dynamic range reflective medium (photo paper). I'm not sure my results are any better than what the lab tech would have produced, but I'm learning a new craft (my previous experience printing was many years ago in a black-and-white wet darkroom) and producing a physical artifact I can hang on a wall or use as a gift.
"I'm assuming anyone selling prints in volume would be better off turning over the production to someone else. It seems to me that photographers should print their own work for two reasons: 1.) they want to control the result as precisely as possible in order to preserve their brand or 2.) they're amateurs, like me, and printing is a part of the craft they enjoy practicing. In either case, the cost of materials shouldn't produce a lot of angst."