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Hands-on with Epson Ecotanks: ET-3830 vs ET-8550

I've had the opportunity to use both the Ecotank ET-3830 (also known as the ET-3850) and, more recently, the higher-end ET-8550. Both printers have their unique strengths, and I'd like to share my experiences to help others make an informed decision.

Ecotank ET-3830 (ET-3850) vs Ecotank ET-8550

The Epson Ecotank ET-3830 I bought from Walmart a year ago, a bit unexpectedly, but with no regrets.

I was using an old Canon photo printer at the time, and was starting to hate it. The ink ran out quickly and using it was also a pain. As a result of lack of use, the ink would often dry out, and this forced me to replace the print heads twice over the decade. It also lacked WiFi, the USB drivers were no longer supported, and so I had to use a print-server to make use of it.

Looking to escape cartridges, and these new ink subscription hijinks, I was eyeing an Ecotank printer at the time, but they were just too expensive! I couldn't justify them in my mind since I rarely was printing anymore, but I still wanted one.

Good fortune found me though, as my local Walmart had a clearance sale going; for 50% off, I just couldn't resist grabbing the ET-3830. I paid ~$270 CAD, plus taxes, which is about $100 less than even a used specimen of a similar model. Still a lot for a printer, but I figured I could sell it for a profit if not happy.

After heavy use, the ink levels are still good, with a front paper tray large enough for a home office.

The initial experience with the ET-3830 was mixed. It is a home office printer, not a photo printer, and so I was trying to get it to do something it wasn't really intended for.

The Epson Print Layout (EPL) software refused to detect the ET-3830, despite the EPL software being lauded as being so great. I was forced to instead use the Epson Photo+ print software to print with, which is consumer oriented. Once I got used to it though, it worked quite well, and in some ways it has grown on me. I noticed that to get the best results with it though, I need to import my images as JPEG, rather than PNG, and to upscale the images myself ahead of time, as it didn't upscale images that well.

There's also a mobile app for printing using your smartphone, and while it's good, it's pretty basic. I was getting mixed results when using it, and I just find I get usually better results when using the desktop app instead. Both the mobile and desktop apps allow you to print crafty things, like wrapping paper, and many other things.

Another problem I had with the ET-3830 was with paper. This printer has a pigment ink and 3 color dye inks. It simply isn't good at printing to paper that is glossy or even paper that has a luster. There's a few compounding reasons, but needless to say, the ONLY good results I got with this printer were to matte paper, and even then, only certain matte paper.

Epson inks will not print well onto most paper types. Anything designed for laser printers or most third-party photo papers will simply give you horrible results. Furthermore, Epson only provides calibrated color profiles for their own paper, not other brands, and there is no easy way to use custom profiles using the Epson software.

So, for example, I bought some Canon premium matte photo paper, and found it was really nice, however there were no ICC profiles anywhere online for that paper type and this printer. For more expensive printers, profiles existed, but not this one. Results on the Canon paper were good, but colors were clearly off a bit. Even then, the blacks pigment inks left an odd texture mismatch on the Canon paper, ruining the results.

After buying several paper types, including ultra premium Epson presentation paper, the best results I got were on the cheap Epson basic presentation paper ($15 CAD per 100 sheets of 8.5x11"), and the next best results were on some plain Xerox copy paper. Both paper types are pretty thin, and would ripple a bit due to being wet with ink after a photo print, and they would then curl like crazy when drying, but I got good results and it didn't cost much.

The more expensive Epson papers didn't work well though; I got worse results for some reason. While there were profiles for premium Epson presentation papers, the blacks came out bluish, and not actually as dark in contrast as if I were using the basic presentation paper pre-sets.

Good results using Epson's (basic) Presentation Matte 8.5x14" paper

Given all that, the two paper types I'd recommend for the Epson ET-3830 are the basic Epson Presentation Paper and your basic ~20-lb plain white copy paper.

With the basic Epson presentation paper, the blacks are near black, the colors are vibrant, and other than the paper curling, I'm pretty happy. It's an incredibly inexpensive  way to print half-decent photos. I wish it was heavier, but that's a minor issue for me. I can use the heavier presentation papers, but I need to still print with the basic presentation profiles for them to look right to me.

The most basic copy printer paper I had also worked well, so long as it was compatible with ink-jets. For casual photo printing and documents, plain paper never looked so good. Third-party cheap photo paper often looked horrible though, worse than useless at times; the blacks didn't show or the ink never dry, but it was hit and miss.

While legal-size doesn't fit into the printer's front bay well, it does let you get the largest photo prints possible out of this printer, so I've used that a lot. That said, borderless printing worked with 8.5x11" paper, but not with the 8.5x14" legal paper. While borderless printing is nice, I ended up giving up on it since it increased the chance of an ink smudging and mess, and it meant I had to crop the images to get them to fully cover the page correctly.

As for inks, the ET-3830 has a large black ink reserve, allowing for endless document printing. The ink is also super cheap; the ink type is named T502, and it's probably the most budget ink Epson offers. You can mass print to plain paper all day long, and pay almost nothing. Even the no-name third party ink aren't really that much cheaper than than the T502 inks, and they can be found at your local Walmart.

Other benefits of the ET-3830 include a one-sided auto-document scanner, duplex printing, and and Ethernet port. It also has a front-loading paper tray, so the printer sits compact on a shelf, without needing a rear paper tray to get in your way. There is no touch-screen, but there is a small color screen, which is enough to offer clear feedback of any printing issues.

Ecotank ET-8550

The ET-8550 was bought because I wanted something more photo-oriented.

I had printed hundreds of photos since buying the ET-3830, as printing was so easy and accessible now, that I was going nuts. I also was embracing AI-art creation, and being able to print out the AI generated artwork I prompted for was really fun. I quite literally was able to wall paper an entire wall in my bedroom with nothing but photos, and I hadn't even run out of ink yet.

So, after waiting for quite some time for a sale, I ended up buying the ET-8550 used for $800 CAD. It's the best price I could find after several months of keeping my eyes open, and while I strongly don't recommend buying used printers, I gambled and got a bit lucky.

ET-8550 sample prints on Epson premium matte paper

The ET-3830 is great, but it will now be going to a family member who does a lot of at-home printing, and who has kids. They are using an old budget Brother inkjet, and for them, I think it is perfect; it just isn't perfect for me.

The ET-8550 takes up a lot more space than the ET-3830, which is a downside. It can of course do 13" x 19" prints, much larger than the ET-3830, so more space is expected, but it no longer fits on a shelf or small countertop.

The front paper tray for 8.5" paper is very small; it's not for heavy use, unlike the ET-3830, that had a larger paper tray.

It does have a large touch screen display, which is nice to use. No office functions really though, like an auto document scanner, but it has Ethernet at least.

The first thing I noticed when printing with the ET-8550 is that the paper pre-sets for the Epson premium matte paper actually work. Like, OMG, the results on the Ultra Premium Epson Presentation matte paper looked amazing. It makes me wonder if the ET-3830 was even given proper color profiles for the premium presentation paper, or perhaps the paper just requires photo black dye ink to shine.

Borderless printing was a bit hit and miss, as the prints rarely were properly aligned, so I have to over-print a bit to ensure things don't need manually cropping after. The rear paper feed needs a tap now and then to get the paper to actually feed, as well, which is a bit annoying I suppose.

But given that this printer has extra inks, 6 vs 4, I can now also do luster and glossy prints. The colors might be a bit wrong at times, as the reds/greens were a bit problematic at times I find.  Still, I'm not aware of a tank-based printer that can do better. I can't afford to run a Canon Pro 1000 for example, so this is the next best thing for me.

This printer takes 6 inks, under the classification of "T552", an replacement costs end up being twice as much as the T502 used by the ET-3830 printer. There's plenty of third-party inks available of course, for 1/4th the price, but I will stick to the official inks for the time being. Given the cost of the ultra premium luster 13x19" paper I'm using ($2.50 CAD/sheet), cheaping out on the ink just doesn't make sense.

Printing to plain paper, I found little difference between the Epson ET-3830 and the ET-8550; I actually almost found the ET-3830 performing better in that role. Considering the cheaper ink on the ET-3830, if you intend to print mostly to plain letter paper, I'd say don't waste the money on the ET-8550 and just get the ET-3830.

I do notice some mechanical noises with the ET-8550 when printing; as if something isn't quite right, so I wonder if this is due to it being a previously owner issue, or if its just the way it sounds. Regardless, it's printing just fine, but it's louder than the ET-8550. There is a quiet mode, and I don't have that enabled; I figure there must be some trade off with quieter operation, as otherwise it would be quieter by default.

The Epson Print Layout software worked with the ET-8550, so that was also a relief. It makes it far easier to load custom ICC paper profiles with it, although I found the feature set to be basic otherwise. It also had problems opening certain image types, but after converting them to JPEG with my own imaging software first, they were able to load fine.

Both the ET-3830 and the ET-8550 have a maintenance cartridge that stores left over ink, and it needs to be emptied every 25,000 prints or so. You can reset it with a chip resetter (via aliexpress), or you can just buy a new cartridge for not much money online.  I'm no where close to filling mine up yet, and since it is replaceable, I see no reason why the printer can't keep you happy for years to come.

That all said, the Epson print-heads are not user replaceable, so if you do not print every couple weeks at the very least, I can't recommend you buy it. In such a case, get a laser printer instead and order any photos you want printed from the web. Inkjets are also not compatible with all paper types, with results varying greatly. Given the price of the printer as well, when it eventually dies, it won't be cheap to replace.

Ultimately, if you're expecting to print a thousand photos over the next couple years, the ET-8550 will pay for itself in that time, and then some. The ET-3830 will pay for itself even faster though, but it's far more limited with only standard matte paper options being usable.

The real problem is, with either of these printers, you'll be printing a lot more often and will soon run out of space to hang your new prints.


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