It's tough to get excited about printers, those workaday bridges between the worlds of digital and dead trees. it’s mostly about quality, speed and cost per page. Inkjets, with their expensive and profitable cartridges that can easily exceed the cost of a printer with the first full refill, have often been at a disadvantage.

Epson, though, is trying a new approach to the inkjet with its line of EcoTank printers. Instead of cartridges, the printers employ reservoirs of ink reloaded from bottles that can last up to two years. According to the company, an ink bottle can serve as the equivalent of 20 or more cartridges. Those are game-changing economics. Furthermore, the printers print with the same quality as their cartridge-based counterparts from Epson.

But the EcoTank printers are not for everyone. For one, they’re much more expensive — an average of three to four times the cost of comparable cartridge-based printers from the same company. Second, while the ink bottles they use have a long shelf life, it’s unclear if they’ll be as readily available at retail for some time to come.

Finally, most of the printers have an unsightly bulge at their base that holds the reservoirs, allowing one to see their ink levels through the case. At first I thought their placement might be to prevent pouring ink on parts of the printer that might be harmed. However, an Epson representative notes that it’s to showcase the EcoTank technology at retail where the printers might otherwise blend in. The company is planning better integration of the tanks in future iterations.

Why is Epson doing this? There could be a few reasons, including trying to circumvent ink refillers by making its ink dirt cheap. Another may be trying to stop HP, with its cheap color laser printers, from creeping into its market. Yet another may just be trying to get more money up front as people print less and less. Still, for those who churn out a lot documents and who don’t mind shelling out a lot more for a purchase, the EcoTank could be the best thing to happen to the ink bottle since the fountain pen.