Epson EcoTank printers want to save you from the dreaded "replace ink cartridge" message

Almost everyone who owns an inkjet printer has run into this scenario; you're trying to get something important printed, and the printer tells you that a cartridge is out of ink. It happens frequently, and usually at the most inopportune time. Printer manufacturer Epson has taken a bold step with a new line of five new EcoTank inkjet printers that get rid of the pesky cartridges, replacing them with high volume ink tanks that are designed to keep your printer happy for two or more years of usage.

The printers come with bottles of ink in cyan, magenta, yellow and black, or in the case of the high-end WorkForce Pro WF-R4640, ink packs in the same colors. Squeeze the ink into the appropriate tanks or just slap the packs into the WorkForce pro, and you shouldn't see that dreaded "replace ink cartridge" message for two years or more.

In the past, inkjet printer manufacturers have practically given printers away, with impressively-outfitted all-in-one printers bearing street prices of about $100. Those manufacturers expect users to pay them back by purchasing many expensive replacement cartridges over the life of the printer. For that reason, many users purchase remanufactured or off-brand cartridges that are less expensive, but may not work as well or even void a printer warranty. Epson realizes that they're not going to be making money off of the ink refills with the EcoTank printers, so the off-the-shelf price of the printers commands a premium. The least expensive printer in the new line -- the Expression ET-2500 EcoTank All-In-One Printer -- goes for about $380.

Wilson Rothman at the Wall Street Journal calculated that a typical household could print out 35 black-and-white and 60 color pages every week for two years before the tanks of the ET-2500 would need refilling. Epson sells the full refill pack -- all four colors -- for $52. Over the same period of time using Epson's less expensive high-capacity XL cartridges in an existing printer, you'd spend more than 10 times as much.

Epson can easily switch away from cartridges as its printer use mechanical piezoelectric printheads rather than the thermal ones you see on cartridges from HP and other printer manufacturers. The move is also quite a bit more green, as users will simply need to recycle four small bottles every two years instead of printer cartridges every few months.

The new printers are perfect for Apple users, as all but the low-end ET-2500 support AirPrint printing. The ET-2500 requires the use of the free Epson iPrint app.

Would you spend more money up front for a printer that would go for two years or more of steady use without running out of ink? Let's see your comments below.