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28 Sep 2019

Printers on test: can a refillable tank printer from Canon or Epson save you money?

Tank printers, with ink tanks you refill with bottles, can cost more than £200 to buy. So can brands justify this with long-term savings on printer ink?

Buying printer ink can be expensive - in July we reported that original-branded ink can cost more than crude oil. With a Best Buy printer that's not too big an issue because it will use ink efficiently, but poor models can go through it like a family and tap water.

Instead of requiring you to regularly restock with ink cartridges, brands such as Canon and Epson are manufacturing 'tank' printers with ink tanks that you refill with bottles.

We've just tested six of the latest models to give you our expert verdicts, plus we also compare the costs of printing with a tank printer versus a traditional inkjet.

Printer reviews - see more than 230 tested models including inkjet printers and laser printers

What is a refillable tank printer?

Tank printers have individual black ink and colour tanks (cyan, magenta and yellow) that can be re-filled with ink bottles.

They're expensive to buy, usually costing hundreds of pounds, but the idea is that you save money in the long run with low print costs.

The printers usually come with a selection of ink bottles in the box, sometimes claimed to provide several years' worth of printing. And when they've run out, refill bottles can be bought for between £8 and £13, or between £25 and £35 for multipacks.

Can a refillable tank printer save you money?

You might balk at the prospect of paying more than £200 for a printer, but it's worth considering the long-term savings that can be made.

As you can see in the cost comparison below, based on a scenario of printing around 30 pages a month, the average tank printer we've tested costs a fraction to run over one and three years compared with the average traditional inkjet printer.

If you regularly print documents, webpages and photos, and are concerned about high printer ink bills, a tank printer could be a great choice for your home.

Latest tank printers tested

Canon Pixma GM2050, £200

It's usually laser printers that can only print in black and white, but this Canon printer is a mono inkjet. It comes with three bottles of black ink supplied, which should be good for thousands of pages of printing.

Read our review of the Canon Pixma GM2050 to see if it impressed in the lab.

Canon Pixma G5050, £220

This Canon printer is similar to the GM2050 but it can also print in colour. Alongside the three bottles of black ink, you also get one ink bottle in each of the colours (cyan, magenta and yellow) to refill the tanks when required.

See what our experts thought of the G5050 by reading the full review.

Canon Pixma G6050, £300

If you want to copy and scan as well as print, the Pixma G6050 is the Canon model to choose. It comes with the same supplied ink bottles as the other models, and like the other two models, has wi-fi connectivity.

Get the full lowdown in our expert G6050 review.

Epson Ecotank ET-M1170, £200

While the Ecotank ET-M1170, a mono inkjet, can't scan or copy, it does have wi-fi and is fitted with Epson's Ecotank ink technology, designed for saving you money on printing. The Epson Ecotank ET-M1140 is similar but it doesn't have wi-fi connectivity. We've also tested the Epson EcoTank ET-M3170, which can scan, copy and fax.

See our full selection of tested refillable tank printers to make sure you don't buy a dud.

Tank warfare?

Epson has offered its EcoTank range of printers for many years now, and we've tested a lot of models - some have done well, others have not proved so successful. So it's definitely worth reading our reviews to make sure you avoid the ones that failed to impress.

Canon has since launched its MegaTank range, found in Canon's Pixma G Series, and which uses similar technology to Epson's ink-saving EcoTank. You can see how Canon's printers fare overall in our annual brand reliability survey.

HP has also got into the tank printer market with its Smart Tank range. We haven't yet reviewed a HP Smart Tank printer, but we will be doing so in the near future.