Epson EcoTank ET-3850 review: a reliable, versatile home printer

The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 prints, scans and copies well – here's our review

Epson EcoTank ET-3850
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

There's a lot to like about the Epson EcoTank ET-3850: once you get past the high upfront cost, the actual ongoing ink costs are very low, plus it's a unit that will give you reliable, fast, good quality printing, scanning and copying. It's not quite perfect, but it's very impressive.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Ink tanks will last you

  • +

    Good quality printing

  • +

    On-board display

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Tedious setup process

  • -

    Not the most well-built

The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 wants to be the best printer for a large group of people: those people who are after affordable, uncomplicated home or office printing, and who can also make use of the scan and copy features that this particular model can provide.

As you can tell from the name, this is one of the EcoTank series of printers, which use refillable ink tanks rather than cartridges. The idea is that you pay significantly less for each page that you print as a result, which we'll get into in this inkjet printer review.

Given its versatility, the Epson EcoTank ET-3850 could also qualify as one of the best student printers on the market at the moment. While not everyone will be able to afford the upfront cost, though, we think it's still value for money considering all that you get in return.

Epson EcoTank ET-3850: price and availability

The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 is out and available to buy now, from the usual retailers: in the UK that includes Amazon (opens in new tab), Argos (opens in new tab) and Currys (opens in new tab). Check the widgets on this page for the most up to date pricing, but at the time of writing this review, the printer is available for around £350/$400 online.

Epson EcoTank ET-3850 review: setup and design

Epson EcoTank ET-3850

(Image credit: Epson)

The setup process for the Epson EcoTank ET-3850 isn't exactly straightforward, even with an on-board display to help you out. Using the mobile app, our smartphone wasn't able to 'see' the printer, so we turned to the desktop programme. After about 20 minutes of watching a very slow progress bar, we finally got the printer connected to Wi-Fi and saw a message that the device was ready to go. It wasn't, unfortunately, and we had another 10 minutes of firmware upgrading and ink initialisation to do via the printer's own screen.

It took roughly 45 minutes from opening the box to actually getting to print anything – that's not a complete disaster, but setting up a printer really should be easier than this, and it doesn't help that Epson's software/app looks like it's still using an interface designed in the early 2000s. Once the printer is up and running, however, everything is relatively straightforward, and we appreciate being able to print images and documents directly from a phone or tablet.

As for the overall design of the Epson EcoTank ET-3850, it's a big block of black plastic. At least Epson has put some curves on the sides and the corners to soften the aesthetic, and we like the way the top tray folds down to save space when it's not in use. The on-board screen and keypad are clear and straightforward to use, and we can forgive a little bit of flimsiness when it comes to the paper trays and the top cover that conceals the scanner.

The overall dimensions of the printer are 375‎ x 347 x 231mm and it weighs in at 6.7kg. As we mentioned at the start, it uses refillable ink tanks rather than cartridges: you get a set of ink bottles with the printer, and filling up the tanks only takes a few minutes. It's also difficult to get wrong, because of the guides that you place the bottles into, and you can see the ink levels while you print via the translucent windows on the corner of the device.

Epson EcoTank ET-3850 review: performance and features

Epson EcoTank ET-3850

(Image credit: Epson)

The Epson EcoTank ET-3850 offers a printing resolution of 4,800 x 1,200 dots per inch (DPI) as well as maximum printing speeds of 33 pages per minute for black and while or 20 pages per minute for colour – we were able to get up to more or less those levels in our testing, although more complex and higher quality printouts are going to take longer. For a top-quality, A4 photo page print in colour, for example, you're looking at 20-30 seconds, so you're only going to get two or three of them per minute.

As long as you're printing medium-quality documents – reports, pie charts and so on – the printer goes along at a fair clip, and it stays nice and quiet too. It's not completely silent of course, but we're not talking washing machine levels of volume. Print quality is excellent too, with nothing in the way of streaking or unevenness: details are sharp and smudge-free, while colours look well-balanced and realistic.

The scan and copy features are a nice bonus of course, though they mean the price of the device goes up accordingly as well. We were reasonably pleased with the speed of scanning and copying, and as long as you're not expecting photocopier levels of quality – which you shouldn't be on a consumer-level inkjet printer – you're not going to be disappointed. There is an automatic document feeder for scanning or copying multiple pages at once, but it won't work with double-sided pages, so you'll need to sort these out manually one side at a time (the printer can print double-sided pages though).

You can put up to 30 sheets in the automatic document feeder at once, while the main paper tray at the bottom of the printer is capable of holding 250 sheets of standard A4 paper – that gives you some idea of the kind of workhorse this is. We did experience a couple of paper jams when sheets got stuck in the feeder on the bottom tray, but that might just be down to our slapdash paper loading technique. But in general, everything worked very smoothly.

Epson EcoTank ET-3850 review: verdict

Epson EcoTank ET-3850

(Image credit: Future)

If you need a relatively affordable inkjet printer for your home or small office, and you don't want to be spending loads in terms of ink, and you need to do some copying and scanning too – then the Epson EcoTank ET-3850 could well be the printer you're looking for. In most of the areas that count most, including print quality and speed, it scores highly.

There are issues with a rather flimsy build quality in places and a frustrating setup process, but when you consider the package as a whole it's not too difficult to look past these shortcomings. 

What's more, while the cost for the printer is relatively high for this sort of consumer model, the ongoing ink costs are going to be low enough to make up for it: Epson says one set of ink bottles will be enough for 14,000 black and white pages and 5,200 colour pages. We weren't able to do quite that much printing during our testing, but based on how little the ink levels shifted while we were reviewing this printer, it looks promising in terms of how little you'll have to spend to keep the tanks topped up.

Epson has been making printers for a long, long time now, and the ET-3850 is a solid choice for some heavy duty tasks at home. If you can overlook some quirks in the software and you have the budget to pay this much initially, it's likely to be able to serve you dependably for years. All we would say is do plenty of research before spending your money – it might be that a laser printer makes more sense for you if you're printing at high volumes over a long period of time.

Also consider

The Epson EcoTank ET-1810 is an obvious alternative to this one if you like the idea of the refillable ink tanks but don't want to pay quite as much. You still get the ink bottle system, as well as printing that's high quality, fast and quiet, but there's no scanner and copier built into this model. If you can live without those features then you might well find that the cheaper model suits you better.

There are lots more ideas in our comprehensive best printers guide. Take the HP Deskjet 2630, for example, which offers printing, scanning and copying just like the Epson here. It's cheap and reliable and compact, although you don't get the convenience of an integrated display to help you with setting up the printer and troubleshooting problems.

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.