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Epson EcoTank ET-3850 review: A strong inkjet MFP

A capable MFP with a good balance of features for the home

The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 viewed from the front with white background
£275 exc VAT
  • Easy setup
  • Good print quality
  • Comes with full set of ink bottles
  • Low running costs
  • No fax capabilities
  • Expensive

Epson’s EcoTank ET-3850 is an inkjet multifunction printer (MFP) aimed at the home office. It’s a three-in-one machine, offering print, scan and copy functionality, but not faxing. It’s quite well specified, featuring a 30-sheet automatic document feeder, wireless networking and a small colour screen. In the base there’s an enclosed 250-sheet paper cassette, and the printer will print on both sides of a sheet of paper without you having to lift a finger.

All these are typical features for an MFP costing about a third of the price of the ET-3850, so why pay more? The answer, as we suspect you know by now, lies in Epson’s EcoTank system, which does away with cartridges in favour of large refillable tanks built into the printer itself. The ET-3850 arrives with a full set of colour ink bottles, theoretically capable of 5,200 pages, and two large black ink bottles that between them could dash off 14,000 pages of black text. As with other refillable ink devices, the supplied ink alone should make this MFP better value than its cartridge-based equivalents, provided you print at least a few thousand pages over its lifetime.

The ET-3850 is as easy to set up as any modern EcoTank printer. You simply place an inverted ink bottle onto the corresponding nozzle, and it will discharge its contents into the tank below. Everything is physically keyed to prevent mis-filling – take note, petrol pump manufacturers – and we’re yet to encounter any leaks or spills with this system.

The only obvious way you could improve the current generation of refillable printers would be by adding a reliable level gauge to the tanks, rather than relying on visual checks. Then again, we’d also prefer it if you could join the ET-3850 to Wi-Fi before beginning its ten-minute ink system priming process – that way you could get on with the software installation rather than twiddling your thumbs.

Epson is one of the few inkjet manufacturers to still bother supplying a setup disc, making this an easy MFP to set up... provided that you’ve still got an optical drive. Our initial print jobs were plagued by short pauses and slow performance, as though the printer was struggling with network communication, but the issue disappeared after we rebooted both the device and our host PC.

In normal use, the ET-3850 revealed itself to be usefully quick. It dispatched our 25-page black text test at 15.8ppm – slightly faster than Epson’s claimed speed – and this rose to 19ppm with the quality dropped to draft. Our graphics-heavy mixed colour test is less of a pushover, but even then the ET-3850 hit 4.6ppm; that’s a decent showing from what’s essentially a mid-range device.

The ET-3850 isn’t aimed at photo printing, and it’s not especially fast, with each 6 x 4in print taking more than two-and-a-half minutes. On A4 paper, two 10 x 8in prints took a little over seven minutes, which compares a bit better. For an “officey” printer, the results were pretty good, with accurate if understated colours, and plenty of detail across a range of shades. However, we noticed that black-and-white prints, and the darkest areas of colour photos, weren’t up to Epson’s usual high standards. On further inspection, it became obvious that the printer was using its pigmented black ink, which doesn’t play well with photo paper.

Happily, pigment ink looks great on plain paper, so the ET-3850 stamps out authoritative-looking black text. The ink was a little too impactful in mono copies, however, which were overly dark at the default setting. Otherwise, print quality was good, with accurate colours and no particularly obvious graining in everyday prints.

We’re yet to encounter a bad Epson scanner, and the one on the ET-3850 turned in a typical performance. While not the sharpest, images were accurately exposed over a wide dynamic range, with only the very darkest shades difficult to distinguish. This isn’t the fastest scanner, needing 28 seconds for an A4 sheet at 300 dots per inch (dpi), and nearly two minutes to capture a 6 x 4in photo at the maximum 1,200dpi.

Overall, this is a capable MFP with a good balance of features for the home, provided you don’t need fax capabilities. While expensive to buy, its bundled ink and exceptionally low running costs should more than make up for it over a typical lifetime. It’s a shame, then, that Epson doesn’t protect you from the higher upfront cost with a longer warranty, which would offer the reassurance that the MFP will last long enough for you to reap the benefits.

The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 specifications

Format4,800 x 1,200dpi A4 inkjet printer, 1,200 x 2,400dpi A4 scanner
Print speed15.8ppm colour/4.6ppm mono
Display6.1in colour screen
Networking802.11n (Wi-Fi 4)
Print typeDuplex
Tray size250-page casette
Dimensions375 x 347 x 231mm
Warranty1yr RTB
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