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.
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