For almost two years now our sole family printer has been the HP ENVY 4500 that I was sent for review. You can read my full review of this printer here, but in summary we’ve been very happy with it, and it does everything we need a family printer to do. Then a year ago Hewlett Packard introduced me to their Instant Ink service as a way of bringing down the consumable cost of running this printer, and I’m a complete convert. Earlier this year we attended a printing event with Helwett Packard in London, and I was slightly confused by them giving me an Epson EcoTank L355 – a printer produced by one of their competitors – and asking me to write a comparative review. This is a manufacturer that must be very confident in their own product if they invite comparison with a competitor!
Initially I was confused as to why Hewlett Packard considered the Epson L355 in any way a competitor to their ENVY range. Whilst it is a similarly-sized inkjet printer, it comes with a very different price tag, and doesn’t use ink cartridges – it instead has ink tanks which you refill from little bottles of ink. But after doing a little more research I realised this review had to be all about the ink. You see, both the HP ENVY and the Epson L355 are designed to try to address the common complaint against inkjet printers – that the ink cartridges are too expensive to replace. And in that regard it is very interesting to compare the two printers, because they both address that complaint in very different ways.
Let’s talk about costs
The big selling point of the Epson EcoTank L355 is that it is supplied with enough ink to last for 2 years, based on an average monthly print volume as derived by TNS Research in June 2013. They claim it will print up to 4,000 pages in black and 6,500 pages in colour with the ink that comes in the box, although obviously there is some small print that says it depends on the images that you are printing, the paper type that you are using, the frequency of your prints and environmental conditions such as temperature. It’s still impressive – think of it as 166 pages in black and 270 pages in colour per month. I certainly don’t print anywhere near that volume, and I think most families are probably the same – it’s over 14 pages per day! The price you pay for up to two years of printing is that you have to fill the printer with ink yourself, by squeezing it out of the little bottles it is supplied with into the printer’s tank.
Despite being warned that this could be a messy process, and despite being super careful, I still managed to get ink all over my thumb, and despite repeated washing it didn’t come off for a day or so. Possibly a small price to pay for so much printing, but definitely worth mentioning, especially if you have kids like mine who would have desperately wanted to “help” if they’d known what I was doing!
The retail price of the EcoTank L355 reflects the amount of ink supplied – the manufacturers Recommended Retail Price is £219.99, although if you shop around you can find it online for less than that – for example it’s currently available on Amazon (affiliate link) for £179.99. Two years of ink is impressive but you do need to consider the ongoing running costs of a printer like this, so I have done some research into how much the replacement ink for this printer costs as well. A quick search on Amazon (affiliate link) reveals that the individual colours are currently selling for between £7 and £8 per bottle, or you could buy a full set of refills for all 4 colours (affiliate link) for £36.99. According to everything I’ve read, these refills contain the same quantity of ink as supplied with the printer, so that should be up to another two years worth of printing. So the Epson EcoTank L355 comes with a high initial cost, but very low running costs.
What about the Hewlett Packard offering? Well, my reliable ENVY 4500 has been superseded by a newer model in the two years I have owned it. Hewlett Packard advise me that their current offering that is comparable is the HP ENVY 5530, which retails at £59. Obviously a much smaller initial outlay than the Epson, but then you have to think about the ongoing ink costs. Hewlett Packard’s way of addressing the ongoing ink costs with their printers is their Instant Ink service, whereby you pay a monthly subscription fee which means replacement ink just arrives to your door before your printer runs out. There are three different monthly plans available, allowing you to print 50 pages, 100 pages or 300 pages per month. Unused pages can be rolled forward to the next month, and you can purchase additional pages if you look like you’re going to print more one month. You can also switch between the plans as required. The HP ENVY 5530 is one of a selection of Hewlett Packard printers that come with a free two-month trial of the 300 page per month instant ink plan to enable you to test it out. If you don’t like the idea of the monthly ink subscription you can also buy “normal” ink cartridges for the printer, but that will work out more expensive over time. For comparative purposes in this review I am going to use the instant ink pricing.
One of the things I like about Hewlett Packard’s Instant Ink subscription is that it means you know exactly what your printer ink is going to cost over any period. For review purposes I want to look at the cost of each of these printers over a 2 year period, given that the Epson claims to come with enough ink for 2 years. So I’m interested to see how the Hewlett Packard compares over the same period. Based on the Epson claims that their printer will print up to 166 pages in black and 270 pages in colour per month, I am comparing the costs to the Hewlett Packard 300 page per month instant ink plan. It is important to remember that this is a difficult comparison to do, because the Hewlett Packard Instant Ink prices are “per page”, no matter how much ink each page uses, where the Epson is a price for a volume of ink where consumption will vary depending on how much ink you use per page. But for comparative purposes I thought it was still a useful comparison to make.
I calculate the two year running cost of the Hewlett Packard printer as follows – initial price of the printer is £59, and this comes with two free months of Instant Ink. So a further 22 months of Instant Ink are required, and the 300 page per month plan costs £7.99 per month. 22 x £7.99 = £175.78. Add this to the printer cost and you get £234.78.So if the Epson really does come with enough ink to print 300 pages per month for 2 years at a retail price of £219.99, the Hewlett Packard printer works out slightly more expensive to run over the same period. The price difference becomes more significant if you manage to buy the Epson at less than RRP.
But what if you don’t print 300 pages per month? How do the printers compare then? Well, as far as the Hewlett Packard is concerned, you could choose a cheaper Instant Ink subscription level (50 pages per month for £1.99 or 100 pages per month for £3.49), which would bring the 2 year cost of ownership down. I find myself switching between the two plans – most of the time the 50 page plan is fine, but some months we print a bit more and so I switch up to the 100 page plan. As far as the Epson is concerned, you might think that if you’re using less ink it would last even longer than 2 years, but that might not be the case. I have noticed with the Epson that if I go for more than a week or so without printing anything, the next time I switch it on it performs a head clean. Part of this involves pumping ink through the system, and this will decrease the supply. This process was demonstrated to us by Hewlett Packard at their printing event, and the ink that gets discarded through this process is not an insignificant amount. Over time, multiple head cleaning processes are going to decrease the ink supply. Unfortunately I don’t have 2 years or any scientific means to test this, so I can’t give any exact information, but it does mean I don’t think you can assume that if you print less the ink will last longer.
What about print quality?
Whilst purchase and running costs are important, they are not the only factors when choosing between two printers, and print quality is obviously a very important consideration. When I said this review had to be all about the ink, I really meant it. Hewlett Packard sent me a list of tasks to perform with both printers in order to give some side-by-side comparisons of the print quality. Let me say up front that based on my experiences I am happy that both printers print very nicely, and in terms of print quality I think you would be happy with either as a family printer. I must also acknowledge that the recommended tests were provided by Hewlett Packard, and are likely to be biased towards their printer. But there are a couple of comparisons that I think are worth mentioning. First up I did a straight head to head photo printing test where I printed the same A4 photo out on each printer from my PC. In both cases I used the standard printer drivers for Windows, and the only options I changed were the paper type to indicate that I was using glossy photo paper, and the print quality, making sure it was set to “best”. The Hewlett Packard printed the page faster, taking just over 3 minutes where the Epson took over 5 minutes. On top of that I found that I preferred the images that the Hewlett Packard produced. The colours seemed more vibrant, with better contrast, and I found the Epson made a plain black and white photo have a slightly blue tone to it. Now both printers come with comprehensive drivers, and you can tweak the colour balances as much as you like, so I am sure you could get a print you were happy with out of either printer. My experience is just based on the “out of the box” experience, as I’m not sure many family users want to spend ages tweaking the colour settings on their printer.
The second test I want to mention is the water resistance test. Hewlett Packard were keen for me to test our their claims that using a combination of the genuine Hewlett Packard ink that I get as part of my Instant Ink subscription and the HP photo paper they provided me with would enable me to print water resistant photos. I printed out the same photo from my PC on both printers, and then took the photos to my kitchen where I proceed to tip a cup of water over both prints. I then followed the Hewlett Packard guidelines to act fast, blot the paper up with kitchen towel (no rubbing), and then left the print to dry.
The photo above shows the print from the Hewlett Packard printer immediately after I tipped the cup of water over onto it, and you’ll see that there has been some smudging of the ink. I carefully blotted the water up, and there didn’t seem to be any further smudging. I then carried out the same test with the Epson print, and was shocked to discover that my careful blotting action was just lifting the ink right off the paper! Here’s what both prints looked like after they’d had the chance to dry off – the Epson print is on the left:
This test highlights the great improvement in water resistance you get using Hewlett Packard inks with Hewlett Packard paper. You can see that whilst there is some smudging, the text is still readable, so if you did have family photos printed out in this way which accidentally got wet, they would not be completely ruined. Hewlett Packard say that they consider photos to be water-resistant if, when exposed to water and carefully dried in a timely manner, they do not need to be reprinted. I think my test shows that is possible. The Epson photo would definitely need to be reprinted. Obviously this test was designed by Hewlett Packard, and completed using Hewlett Packard paper – I don’t know how the Epson would have fared if I had used Epson photo paper instead. In my research for this review I found a paper by Wilhelm Research stating that the Epson EcoTank L355 provides a high level of water resistance when using Epson photo paper. So maybe the two printers are not so different when using paper produced by the matching manufacturer.
I undertook a variety of other tests – smudge tests, fade tests, speed tests, quality tests, and the results from both printers were very similar. Yes, the Epson prints draft quality a little faster than the Hewlett Packard. Yes the Hewlett Packard prints photo quality a little faster that the Epson. But on the whole the results felt so similar that I didn’t find any reason to favour one over the other. At the end of the day they are both good printers, suitable for a variety of family uses, and I think if you’re looking to buy an inkjet printer for your family, either is a good option in terms of print quality.
After comparing the costs and print quality of these two printers, the last thing I want to cover is their overall functionality. How easy they are to set up and use on an ongoing basis? Well, in terms of set up the Epson is more tricky given that you have to fill the ink tanks yourself, but if you believe the marketing you only need to do that every two years at most. Setting up the Hewlett Packard is very easy – simply unpack the printer and install the ink cartridges. I have installed the drivers for both printers on both an Apple Mac and a Windows PC, and both installs were straightforward and I didn’t experience any problems.
Both printers are WiFi enabled, and that is how I have been using them, as I don’t like having trailing cables if I can avoid it. The Epson needed to be plugged into a computer via a cable for initial setup, but could then be unplugged. The HP could be connected to the WiFi entirely using the menu system on the front panel of the printer, and so it could be argued that it was easier to set up in that regard. Since initial setup, both printers have been running fine for me, and I haven’t experienced any problems with them.
One thing I like about the Hewlett Packard printer is the fact that I can print to it directly from any app that supports printing on my iPhone or iPad. The Epson doesn’t support that kind of printing natively, but there is an app available in the Apple App Store called Epson iPrint which allows you to check the status of your L355, and also print photos out on it. This is useful, but not quite as useful as being able to print from any app on my phone – for example I regularly receive permission slips from my children’s school which need to be printed and signed – I can do this all from my phone with the HP, but would need to switch to my desktop machine to print to the Epson.
In addition to printing, both the Epson EcoTank L355 and the Hewlett Packard ENVY 4500 (and 5530) can operate as photocopiers and scanners. Both have a flatbed area that you insert your document in to for copying or scanning, and both can take up to A4 paper for those functions.
Since receiving the Epson printer I have used that as my main printer, to give it a fair test (as I’ve been using the Hewlett Packard for over two years now and feel like I know it very well already). On the whole it has suited my needs perfectly, but there have been a couple of times I have needed to go back to my HP. First of all is, as previously mentioned, if I’ve wanted to print anything other than photos from my phone. Second of all I tried to print some Avery address labels in the Epson and found it printed most of the sheet fine, but went lopsided on the bottom row, where the HP printed the whole sheet fine. And finally the Epson has an auto power off mode, so if it doesn’t print anything for an hour or so it switches itself off, so I have found myself sending prints to the HP (which switches into an energy saving mode when not in use, but doesn’t switch off) because I am too lazy to get up and walk across the office to switch the Epson on before printing! Personally I like having a printer that prints whenever I need it to, that I don’t need to worry about whether it’s switched on or not.
The last thing to mention is moving the printers around. We recently undertook major furniture removals in our home office, and moved every single piece of furniture to a new location in a great big sliding puzzle exercise. As part of this we had to move the printers. The Hewlett Packard was fine – we just picked it up and moved it. The Epson we had to be a little more careful with, due to the ink tanks – obviously you don’t want to be sloshing ink about all over the place if you move the printer. There is a little switch on the side of the ink tanks which you have to remember to turn to shut off the ink supply. You also have to be quite careful moving the printer because the holder for the ink tanks just hooks onto the side of the printer, and can be quite easy to knock. So whilst we managed to move the Epson printer with no problems, we did have to be a little more careful with it than with the Hewlett Packard.
My findings are that both the Epson EcoTank L355 and the Hewlett Packard ENVY 4500 are perfectly decent family inkjet printers. I like that both manufacturers are taking steps to bring down the ongoing cost of inks, and it’s really personal preference whether you choose the bigger up front cost of the Epson or the ongoing subscription model of the Hewlett Packard. Both printers fit well into the family environment, and would perform all family printing jobs more than adequately.
My personal preference is the Hewlett Packard ENVY printer. And that’s not for any big reason, more a combination of little reasons. First of all the fact that it supports natively printing from mobile devices means it is more versatile in that regard. I like the fact that it is always on and ready to print when I need it. And I like the way that I can pay for my ink on a “per page” basis and not worry about how much ink I am using on each page. I also like that I can switch between Instant Ink subscription levels as and when I need to.
And when it comes down to print quality, I find that I prefer the colours that I get on photos printed on the Hewlett Packard printer just using the default settings.
Disclaimer: I was given an Epson EcoTank L355 printer by Hewlett Packard, and they provided paper supplies and a series of recommended tests to carry out. I was previously provided with my Hewlett Packard ENVY 4500 printer for review purposes. All words and opinions are my own, and I have not been told what to write or cover in this review. Amazon links in this review contain my affiliate ID – if you make any purchase after clicking I receive a small commission payment. I link to Amazon because I use them myself and recommend them.