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Friday, April 28, 2006

Digital Myth #1: Pro Printers are More Expensive

By Paul Butzi
One of the digital photography myths I’ve run across doesn’t quite take on the status of a myth…but it is a pretty pervasive misconception. The misconception is that a printer like the Epson Stylus R2400 is a cheaper way to make prints than its upscale, pro-level brother, the Epson Stylus Pro 4800. That might be true, but only if you plan to make very few prints.

Right now, the street price for an R2400 delivered to my door is about $780. The street price for the 4800 is quite a bit more—$1800 delivered to my door. At first blush, the R2400 looks a lot cheaper. The trick is that in the box with the 4800, there’s a set of 110ml ink cartridges. To really level the price, we need to add in ink cartridges to the R2400, so that we’re buying the printer and the same amount of ink in each case. Ink cartridges for the R2400 would run me $13 apiece, and they have a capacity of about 11ml of usable ink. So we need to add in 9 cartridges, in each of the 8 colors we’re going to use. Nine cartridges, 8 colors, $13 a pop—that means we’re buying $936 in ink, just to get up to the 110ml level we’d get with the 4800. That brings the total cost for the R2400 up to $1,716, so that the R2400 costs us just $84 less than the 4800. Eighty-four dollars isn’t a whole lot to get a printer that’s built to pro standards, can print wider, and has the self-calibration features of the 4800.

But wait! There’s more!
There's more. The 4800 can also use 220ml ink cartridges, which really cut the cost of ink. A 220ml cartridge costs $84, or 38 cents per ml. Compare that to the cost for the little cartridges for the R2400, which run $1.18 per ml—more expensive by a factor of three.

If you compare the cost of running the two printers until you’ve run an additional full set of 220ml cartridges through the 4800, and 20 sets of 11ml cartridges through the R2400, the additional ink cost will be $672 for the 4800 and $2,080 for the R2400. Total cost for the R2400 to this point is $3,796, and total cost for the 4800 is $2,472…a difference of $1,324 in favor of the "more expensive" Stylus Pro 4800.

Posted by PAUL BUTZI


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The other way of thinking about it is that you burn an additional $936 worth of ink trying to clear clogs before swearing off Epson.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I never thought about it that way. Thanks for making clear what is not.

3:54 PM  
Anonymous Carl Dahlke said...

I'm curious at to what anonymous would suggest as an EPSON alternative and what EPSON printer he experienced.

I have been using an EPSON 2400 extensively for 6 months and have never had a clog. I used an EPSON 7600 for a year and a half and had a couple of ink clogs which cleared up with one cleaning cycle. On the other hand when I used an EPSON 1270 I had quite a few bad clogs. So clearly not all EPSON printers are the same and not all people have the same experience with EPSON printers clogging.

4:40 PM  
Blogger eolake said...

Well done, Paul!
I never even considered it that way, much less did the math.
I warmly recommend the Epson 4800.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Dave Richardson said...

While I agree in general with your thesis I would like to point out that you will use approximately 30% of the ink that comes with the 4800 doing the initial setup.

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Nicolai said...

Swear off and switch to what? (That's not a rhetorical question, I'd actually like to know as someone who's about to buy a printer.)

For those of you who actually own Epson printers, how big a problem is clogging and how often do you need to print to prevent it?

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another myth is that you "lose" all of the ink used to charge the printer. The printer has to prime the lines. That ink will be used eventually.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Fazal Majid said...

Both HP and Canon are coming up with pigment ink printers now, but of course the jury is still out on those first-gen products.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Paul Butzi said...

"...trying to clear clogs before swearing off Epson."

That's not been my experience. I got my Epson Stylus Pro 9600 in March, 2004. It's run like a champ, without any clogging problems, up until last month. I ran a series of cleaning cycles, and the problem is gone. There have been several periods of very heavy use in that two years, and several periods where the printer sat idle for a long time between prints.

I'm tremendously pleased with the reliability.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Paul Butzi said...

"While I agree in general with your thesis I would like to point out that you will use approximately 30% of the ink that comes with the 4800 doing the initial setup."

That's a good point - it does take quite a bit of ink to charge the 4800. I don't know that it's 30% but it's sure not zero.

That pushes the break-even point out a bit, but the shocking disparity in price between the small cartridges for the r2400 and the 4800 means that, unless you just don't print very much, you'll hit the break even point pretty quickly.

Another point - changing from matte black to photo black or vice versa uses up substantial amounts of ink as well. You'd have to change back and forth an awful lot to make the r2400 cheaper to run than the 4800, though.

7:09 PM  
Blogger LostBryan said...

The inverse of this observation is that for people (like my mother) who print VERY few pages, it may be more economic to go to some discounter (e.g. wal-mart) and buy a whole new printer for $37 (really) once a year than to ever buy ink at all. This is "wrong" in an environmental, engineering, and how the world should work sense, but sometimes seems to be the best plan. In the context of this discussion, the R2400 is probably a great solution for somebody who needs to make 10 prints and has to show they printed them themselves...

11:29 PM  
Blogger robin said...

I've heard this discussed before amongst working photographers. I just purchased a 2400 but hemmed and hawed plenty about it. I finally backed off because what I was told is the Pro-4800 is truly the more efficient with ink and I just couldn't spring for the $2500 price tag. (especially since i just got a 5D). Also the amount of square footage that the 4800 takes up is another issue. You can't stick it at the end of a desk- but then again- what price glory? To the previous poster- I don't need to brag about printing my own images- I must print my own pictures-not unlike I must put camera to eye- to each his own poison.

5:10 AM  
Blogger scotth said...

Does Epson leave a volume of ink, or a percentage (~10%) in each cartridge before they tell you it is empty. If it is the former, bigger cartridges will save you even more money.

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Artie said...

No one's mentioned continuous ink systems. I use a 1280 with a Mediastreet setup. Pigmented ink is ~$110 for a set of six four-ounce bottles making the overall savings compared to Epson cartridges quite substantial.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Erio said...


Thank you for your great observation and pointing out a different way of seeing this. I've been in the market for a printer and was going to go with the 2400, mostly because of cost. I'll be rethinking this purchase with the thought of actually having a 4800.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Civengine said...

You say that you need to buy 9 types of ink for the R2400. As I recall from a friend's purchase of a 4800, he only got photo black with it. It's only about $60 more, but it counts.

The other thought is: Do I really need this monster sitting in my house? My answer was "no" when I saw my friends, so I bought a R2400. I sometimes kick myself for the choice but how many prints larger than 12" wide have I sold? None. But I've sold quite a few 8x10's and 11x14's which my printer makes in spades. If I need a bigger print, I'll get my friend to make it for a small fee or send out for one.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous vbsoto said...

What lostbryan says is very legitimate.

I was in the process of setting up a two printer arrangement. One for BW and the other color. I was going to use the C80 for color and BO. But one of the black nozzles is permanently out. I was going to live with it since it doesn't seem to affect my color prints. But I found a R220 on clearance price from my local Taget for $25! About a third of the price of a set of ink for it. Its safely stored in my garage until I use up the inks in my C80. Then I'll probably sell (or give) the C80 to someone in the photo club I just started at work.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm! Based on quoted prices from a lab in Atlanta with over 40 years experience that I've used for over a year now, they will color-calibrate and print on ANY paper I want and their costs for a 16 x 20 on a superb archival paper is $20 a print, including shipping. So let's see, that means I can print just over 1200 photos AS I NEED THEM without the hassles of buying, configuring and supporting the appitites of a 4800 Pro. It might be nice to have an on-demand setup, but my modest budget won't let me do it, so a couple of days patience pays off for me much more affordably!

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analysis!

Now what about filling spongeless carts from 220ml bottles? Does it reverse the cost considerations?

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your figures aren't quite on the mark. Anyone who has run a large format epson printer out of the box knows that first batch of cartridges don't last as long as subsequent ones - by the time you do your first few prints you are down to 2/3'rds or less on most of them.

Some claim it's all the pumping and priming and cleaning during the set-up. Some claim those cartridges in the box aren't actually full. Who knows. Either way, they last far less than any subsequent new cartridges

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Dan Wells said...

The 4800 is also a remarkably easy printer to use. I have experience with the 2200 and 4800 (but not the 2400), and the 4800 is by FAR the easier machine to deal with (other than trying to move the monster). I don't know whether it is because of superior factory calibration (so profiles work better), self-calibration, or the K3 inkset (if it's the K3 alone, the 2400 will be easy as well), but the 4800 matches a calibrated monitor VERY closely, while the 2200 is always off by some amount, and generally takes multiple prints to get right.
Also remember that the 4800 is primarily a roll paper printer, and loads 100 foot rolls without a problem. The 2200 (and I assume the 2400) is a roll printer only as an afterthought, and uses 33 foot rolls. Epson prices media in 100 foot rolls at 1/3 the cost per square foot of sheets or 33 foot rolls! The 4800 has an excellent sheet feeder in addition to its roll capability, but mine runs rolls to take advantage of cheap media.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous John Koontz said...

My R300 got clogged after non-use for three weeks. I thought it was time for the trash but it eventually sprung back to life after 20 cleaning cycles. But yes, if you don't print very often, I wouldn't recommend Epson. You can't replace the print head for less than the cost of a new printer either.

Scotth, there is a class action lawsuit just settled with Epson regarding leaving too much ink in the cartridge. The claim was that they left upwards of 30%.

1:19 PM  
Blogger The Dentonista said...

Yes, if you have purchased an Epson consumer level printer you too can be included in the class action lawsuit. I received my paperwork just the other day - let's see, I think the best choice of options would be the $100. in Epson Coupons - D'oh.

There are all kinds of deals being made - rebates and such - on the Epson 4800. Since it came out a few months after I purchased the 4000, I decided to wait this generation out. Look, if you have to remove and insert an ink to change the functionality of the printer --- Houston We Have A Problem. IMHO, this (the 4800) is a tween machine and the next will have moved past the primitive removing and inserting ink cartridges. There's a reason why they are dealing on these printers.

I am wondering if anyone has been able to figure an "ink cost per square inch"? I know my paper costs, but is it possible to formulate an average cpsi on inksets? shannon

5:54 PM  
Blogger Will said...

$973 for ink? And remember they are selling that printer to you at a stepp discount betting that you will buy more ink.

OK, I can buy 200 sheets of Ilford Warmtone Fiber 20x24 and everything else I need to print them for $1000 (roughly - and I am including the chemicals and enlarger in that price). How many 20x24 prints can you get from $1000 of ink? (Remember that the printer and the paper cost extra - and the computer, and the electricity, and the extra time it takes waiting on the prints, etc.)

12:00 PM  
Blogger robin said...

Hey will- did you include the cost of the extra square footage to build a darkroom? Here in NYC at roughly $1,000/sf that would add another $150-200K to you cost. And how about the environmental cost of all that water and hard chemicals? I was a b/w gallery printer for years, and love the darkroom-but nothing beats the digital lightroom. I'm sorry- I can make 1 print and walk away, the darkroom is a minimum 4 hour commitment.

Any thoughts on the HP130?

6:05 AM  

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