Out of the Closet
Epson 3800 Printing Costs
By Mark D. Segal
Readers of my previous two articles on the cost of printing with the Epson 4000 and the Epson 4800 will be familiar with the methodology explained there for recording the data and allocating costs between ink for printing and ink for cleaning.
When I acquired an Epson 3800 last October, I thought it would be a simple matter to clone the same Excel spreadsheet and implement the same analysis for a long enough time period to collect a reliable sample of information from which to calculate trustworthy Epson 3800 printing cost estimates. It was not to be, because in Epson driver version 5.51 for Windows, comprehensive information about the amount of ink used for maintenance is no longer reported – definitely not in the nozzle check print-outs as it used to be, and some of it only in a cumbersome manner by activating the LFP remote panel for each job. I won’t speculate as to why Epson made this change to the driver’s behaviour, but rather focus on the ink for printing data the driver does report and the work-around I developed for estimating ink used in maintenance.
Now that I have used this printer for about 9 months and made the equivalent of over 1400 “standard prints”1, I have enough information for reporting reliable printing costs – with one revealing twist. Over this period, my printing had two distinct categories: one being “Yellowstone in Winter”, and the other “everything else”. The distinguishing characteristic is that the Yellowstone images have lots of snow and the others don’t. It uses much less ink to reproduce light, snowy scenes than it does for the other stuff, which is more colorful and more saturated. Therefore I dismissed the overall average ink use for the entire output as not generally useful and instead disaggregated the data into the Yellowstone and non-Yellowstone categories. The interest of this experience is that it shows just how substantially ink usage can vary depending on the character of the image, and therefore why large data samples are needed for deriving reliable results. Unless most of your photography is of winter scenes or equivalent, I would recommend the non-Yellowstone results as the more indicative of the printer’s general-purpose performance. Hence I’ll report the two sets of results and then explain the derivation of the ink usage for maintenance.
Chart 1 shows the distribution of results for 32 non-Yellowstone print sessions. In aggregate there were 395 SPs consuming 252 ml of ink, or 0.64 ml/SP, or 0.012 ml/sq.in. About 58% of the SPs fell within a range of 0.6~0.7 ml/SP. Chart 2 shows the same information for the 36 Yellowstone print sessions; in this case about 981 SP using 515 ml of ink, or about 0.53 ml/SP – 0.0097 ml/sq. in. About 66% of the SPs fell within a range of 0.5~0.6 ml/SP.
1 A “standard print” (SP) is 9*6 inches of coverage (54 sq.in.) on an 11*8.5 inch sheet. Actual ink coverage varies from image to image and each is recorded in the data base, then converted to “SP-equivalent”.
Chart 1 – Non-Yellowstone ml/SP
Chart 2 – Yellowstone ml/SP
(The blue arrows show the average ml/SP)
Most of the printing was done on Ilford Gold Fibre Silk, and the rest on Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper. I have not switched inks or printed on matte papers with this printer.
Here in Toronto, my cost of ink is CAD 63 (including both sales taxes) per 80 ml cartridge, or CAD 0.79/ml. Hence the average ink cost is either CAD 0.50/SP (CAD 0.0093/sq.in.) or CAD 0.41/SP (CAD 0.0077/sq.in.) for non-Yellowstone or Yellowstone respectively.
To make a full-frame (e.g. Canon 1Ds3, Nikon D3) print on a 13*19 sheet allowing a minimum one inch margin on each dimension, the printed area is 16.5 * 11 inches, or 181.5 sq.in., the ink cost is CAD 1.69 for a typical (non-Yellowstone) print without considering the use of ink for maintenance. (A 13*19 sheet of Ilford GFS paper costs CAD 2.80 including taxes here, hence the aggregate cost of a print this size rounds-up to CAD 4.50 for ink and paper, before ink for maintenance.
To extract the total amount of ink for maintenance from Epson’s closet I used what I call a “total inventory” approach - a balance sheet of ink coming in versus ink going out, the residual value being the ink consumed for maintenance. I “took stock” on June 2nd, 2008.
Total Assets is the usable ink which came with the printer, being 595 ML (my machine had already used a bit of ink before I installed it at home, hence I did not start with a full load of 8*80 ml2), added to which is all the ink I purchased since installing it, being 960 ml, yielding a Total Asset figure of 1555 ml. Total Accountable Disposition includes sealed inventory, inventory in the printer and ink used for prints. The difference between Total Assets and the sum of those three dispositions is the residual, which must be ink used for maintenance. This is shown in Chart 3.
Chart 3: Ink for Maintenance
The Unaccounted Loss was 153 ml, being the difference between Total Assets and Total Accounted. Total ink used is therefore the 731 ml used for prints plus the 153 ml loss, summing to 884 ml. Losses are therefore 17% of the total, or about 21% of ink used for prints. Hence on average, the cost of ink for a print should be multiplied by about 1.2 to take account of losses.
By the way, this printer produces stunning colour and B&W, and in the nine months I've been using it, I've only experienced one obvious episode of clogging.
By Mark D. Segal
2 The machine has 9 cartridges, but Matte Black is not in contention here because it is never used.