Last week a video created by Bellevue Fine Art went viral after it showed how much ink their large format Epson 9900 printers were wasting (Spoiler Alert: It’s a lot!).
Epson 3880 Ink Waste
A couple days ago our Epson 3880 printer (a 17 inch large desktop printer) indicated it was time to change the cyan ink cartridge.
After seeing the video from Bellevue Fine Art I was curious, so I decided to break open the “empty” cyan cartridge to see how much ink was left. The folks from Bellevue Fine Art were estimating 15-20% ink wastage for their large Epson 9900 ink cartridges.
Can you guess how much ink would be wasted from a smaller Epson 3880 ink cartridge….
After breaking open the cartridge (which was really easy to do and only took a knife and a screw driver), and then carefully cutting the ink bag open, I was able to pour out just over 20mL of ink.
How much ink wastage is that? Well Epson 3880 ink cartridges are only 80mL. That means that this particular cartridge wasted over 25% of the ink!
This cartridge costs $54.95. That means that it wasted nearly $14 worth of ink for one cartridge. For a full set of 9 ink cartridges that works out to about $125 of wasted ink. Money into the garbage.
Since I saw the Bellevue Fine Art video I’ve been thinking about this problem from a couple perspectives:
First, it’s obviously a frustrating situation. Ink is already quite expensive, but I figured it was worth paying the premium for the excellent results the printer produces. It’s ridiculous to discover how much of this expensive liquid just gets wasted.
Then I was thinking that perhaps the ink cartridges are designed with extra ink to account for the wastage. So maybe I actually am getting the full 80mL of ink. Maybe? I doubt this is the case though, Epson would have stated this…
I spent some time look at the design of the ink cartridge and it made me wonder why the connection port for the cartridge was right in the middle of the cartridge (not facing down, and not at the bottom of the cartridge). The way it sits in the printer means that anything below the centre is harder to extract, and there is no way for gravity to help coax out the last 15-25% of the cartridge. I’m not an engineer, or printer designer, but it seems like a pretty obvious design flaw.
So I’m left to just wonder why they waste so much ink. Is it a design problem? An oversight? Some conspiracy to make me replace my ink cartridges sooner so they can make more money? I don’t know.
What I do know is that Epson printers are great, and if they need to charge more for ink to stay in business, I’ll pay for it (grudgingly). But it would be great if they designed their printers so that I’m not just throwing money into the garbage like a fool.
P.S. The Epson 3880 actually has a user replaceable “maintenance tank”. This is a essentially an absorbent cartridge that catches excess ink from switching between matte black to photo black, but I’ve also seen color ink in the maintenance tank. So even more ink is wasted than just the stuff that stays in the “empty cartridges”.
P.P.S. Here’s one trick I’ve used in the past: when the printer says an ink cartridge is empty, take the cartridge out of the printer and give it a few good shakes then pop in back in the printer. I’ve been able to squeeze out a few extra prints by doing this (which make sense since there is still so much ink left in the cartridge).
Editor’s Update: Here’s what Epson tells PetaPixel regarding this issue/video:
The ink reporting and ink cartridges used in Epson’s Stylus Pro 9900-series large format printer reports on ink levels and simultaneously protect the health of the printhead. During printhead maintenance or cleanings, if a cartridge doesn’t have enough ink to complete the cleaning, a fuller cartridge must be used. However, users have the choice to swap out a cartridge that is reporting low levels for a fuller cartridge for the cleaning maintenance as needed, and then replace it with the original cartridge to use the remaining ink. The original cartridge does not need to be discarded.
About the author: Rob Lim is a photographer, a photography educator, and the owner of Photography Concentrate, where he and his wife Lauren write about photography for photographers. This article was also published here.