Epson ET-M2170

The Best Printer for Making Monochrome Zines at Home

7 min read by Dmitri ☕️.

I’ve been looking for a quality laser printer for over a week, shuffling through hundreds of options in hopes of finding something that could produce sharp photographs cheaply on regular (or fancy) printer paper. Unfortunately, most options out there seemed to be expensive on the cartridges, electricity, or subpar when it came to the resolution.

A stack of magazine pages, sorted and separated with bookmarks.

Turns out, monochrome laser printers aren’t made for photography. Aside from poor resolution, they create a pattern on paper that makes gradients look like utmost garbage with the best models boasting their ability to create suitable pie charts and diagrams — a step down from the aspirations for a home publishing machine I was looking for.

The project I was shopping for is a quality monochrome, self-published, self-bound magazine with loads of photography that needs to look good.

In despair, I drifted into the inkjet section, unimpressed with overpriced, wasteful cartridges, sluggish print speed, and the typical absence of duplexing — a crucial feature that would let me print on both sides of the paper. That’s until I came across Epson ET-M2170, a monochrome inkjet printer with proprietary ink bottles that go for $30, expected to last for around 6,000 pages or ¢⅓ per page.

A printer designed to produce less waste and save money on ink, is that even real?

The ET checked the boxes I was hoping it would: duplexing, all-monochrome operation, an OK 20-page-per-minute print speed, and a decent-sounding 1200 ✕ 2400 DPI resolution. But there were also a few more features I struggled to understand as a new shopper. My further research is for your information below, whether you’re looking to learn more about this particular printer or to help understand what may be important for your particular project with another machine.

Epson ET-M2170 print resolution and its monthly duty cycle.

1200 ✕ 2400 DPI is a strange number. It’s much larger than the typical 300 dots per inch, which could be understood as the printer’s ability to generate gradients. A single dot of ink creates the printer’s absolute black; thus, to print gradients, the printer should be able to vary the number of ink dots for each pixel. So if a pixel is 1/300th of an inch, ET will have at least (1200/300) ✕ (2400/300) = 32 levels of grey available.

This gets more complicated. Besides placing uniform dots, printers can create dots of different shapes and sizes to add more levels of gradients, plus the double resolution in one of the print directions implies that the dots can also be overlapped. While not as impressive as photo printers’ typical 2880 ✕ 1440 resolution, ET stands well above most monochrome laser printers that usually hover about 600 DPI. And it shows: the font and images this printer produces are indeed crisp and have no weird textures in the gradients.

ET-M2170 lists its monthly duty cycle as 5,000 sheets and recommended printing volume as 800 sheets per month. These numbers are the Epson’s test results that suggest that printing approximately 5K sheets per month or more will cause problems, while 800 is a “safe” number, again, based on their tests. A website that explained these values supposes that a good rule of thumb is to print no more than 2,500 sheets per month, or half of the max. For me, this means I could make no more than 100 copies of the magazine that’s 25 sheets/50 pages thick. I am by no means a big-time publisher so this number, though tight, works. I figured that if I actually end up needing more, I’ll get another printer to offset the load. The remaining features of ET-M2170 seem to be a reasonable trade-off.

Epson ET-M2170 software and duplex jobs.

2MB memory. The mechanical limitations of the printer head aren’t the only thing that may slow down printer output. The onboard memory cache stores image data; the more complex it is, the more often the printer will have to stop and download the next increment before resuming the work. The ET has never choked on me in this fashion, suggesting that 2MB is plenty appropriate.

Software and connectivity. ET-M2170 works well over WiFi — both the printer and the scanner — and the driver suite it comes with is regularly updated, isn’t too clunky, and it could be found online. For those of us who no longer sport CD drives.

Setting up duplexing is a little tricky, and the menus sometimes look different based on the app you’re printing from. Given time with a manual or just by reading the menus and trying thigns, it’ll begin to make sense. I highly recommend you enable collated duplexing, which means that the pages would be sorted and arranged in the order your book/zine is meant to be, instead of non-collated printing, which will create batches of individual pages that you’d have to sort yourself after.

You may play with ink density, sharpness, resolution, as well as the time delay between pages so that your ink has time to dry. There’s even an option to print over email, though I’ve never used that. The tiny colour display on the printer is also fairly straightforward with plenty of service options but nothing that’s beyond laymen’s understanding, maybe with a tiny bit of research. My only issue with this printer is that you have to reset the ink levels yourself after filling it up. Otherwise, it’ll keep showing a “low ink” warning — which I’ve learned to ignore.

EcoTank, PrecisionCore, and Edge-to-edge printing.

EcoTank. This is my favourite feature of this printer. In practice, a $30 bottle of ink dumped directly into the printer is enough for about 50-200 copies of 50 heavily illustrated pages in HQ mode. It’s not just cheaper than the traditional toss-a-cartridge system; it’s less wasteful and is the first clearly non-asshole printer technology available for the general public. I love it. ❤️

PrecisionCore TFP1S-mono printhead. This is a new piece of technology Epson has recently developed that claims faster print speed and precision. Thanks to EcoTank, it stays with the printer permanently. I found it fascinating that the same class of hardware is used for commercial printers, which, if anything, makes for good “researchertinment.”

Edge-to-edge printing. Epson ET-M2170 won’t quite print edge-to-edge, but it will get very close to the page border, leaving just 3mm or ⅛” of white space. This is fantastic for printing photography, where a tight margin can make a huge difference for the reader’s experience.

The Scanner.

It just kinda came with the printer. On paper, it has a decent resolution; it can be conveniently connected to the computer over wi-fi, though I found it to have a tough time scanning my Polaroids, especially the slight under-exposures where the ET would not be able to distinguish the blacks very well.

This book has been printed with Epson ET-M2170. Those tight image margins! 👌

So there you have it, Epson ET-M2170, the best printer for monochrome zines and self-publishing, according to my experience. Relatively fast, capable of handling decent (but not huge) jobs, decent image quality, incredible ink economy and all the right features to make your next work shine.

Oh, and you gotta love those Shaq ads!

If you’re interested in seeing my results, check out the shop section for the books and magazines I’ve created using this printer.