A Guide to Multifunction Printers

Matched to the Right Environment, Multifunction Printers Deliver

Epson's super high-volume WorkForce Pro WF-6590 multifunction printer
Epson's super high-volume WorkForce Pro WF-6590 multifunction printer. Photograph courtesy of Epson

Since Peter wrote this article back in 2008, the printer market has seen many changes. Most of his descriptions of the various MFP functions, however, are still quite valid. If you are unfamiliar with the functions of an MFP (a.k.a. all-in-one, or AIO), I suggest you read on. 

Meanwhile, I'm also including to additional links to material that should help you become more informed about printer technology in general. The first, The Enduring Inkjet describes the ins and outs of buying and using, as well as inkjet technology in general. The second,  Laser-Class LED Printers, describes the difference between LED-based printers and actual laser printers. Combined with the material below, you should have a good understanding of MFP or AIO printers.

An all-in-one (also known as a multifunction, or MFP) printer sounds like the perfect deal. After all, it not only prints, which is the whole reason for buying a printer, but it can also scan photos and documents (often directly to a USB drive or to a PDF document), fax (often in color), and make copies. Why wouldn’t you want one?

Well, space is one reason to think twice about whether you need an all-in-one printer. At nearly two feet wide and a foot deep, you’ve got to have a place to put it before you can use it. They’re not lightweight, either, often weighing in at over 30 pounds. So before you buy, think carefully about how often you really need those extra functions. If you don’t need them, then you might not need the larger machine.

Scanning

There’s no question that a scanner can be a handy item to have. If you’re the kind of person who’s set on having a tidy and organized office (and I certainly wish that I were that kind of person), scanners can help eliminate much of the paper you need to store, and archiving PDFs takes a lot less space.

Most multifunction printers are going to provide decent but very basic scanning capability. That’s fine if the items you’re scanning are just for your own use; but if you scan as part of your work, a separate high-quality scanner might be a better investment.

Faxing

My all-in-one features a built-in fax machine that I’ve used about six times in three years.

When I need it I’m very glad to have it, but now that e-mail has become ubiquitous, it seems that faxing is on its way to becoming obsolete. If you fax often, check the speed of the fax modem built into the printer. It would be unusual if it were less than 33.6 Kbps, which takes about three seconds to fax a single black-and-white page. Another important consideration is how many pages the fax can store in memory. Some, such as the Pixma MX922 stores 150 incoming and outgoing, meaning the machine can receive even when it’s off.

Copying

Much like scanning, having a copy machine in your home office is helpful. Think again about how you plan to use a copier. If you need color copies, then a laser all-in-one isn’t going to work for you (unless you plan on spending at least $500 on a low-end color model). But if you just need something for your own use, most inkjet printers I’ve seen will do a fine job.

Other Features

Every multifunction printer should have an automatic document feeder (ADF), but not everyone does. An ADF allows you to put a lot of paper in at once and not have to feed more in every few minutes. You’ll want at least the capacity for 30 letter-sized sheets of paper.

Another feature to consider is duplexing, or the ability to print on both sides of the page.

If you’re looking to save paper or need to print brochures and flyers, duplexing is a must-have feature. But, like the ADF, it’s not available on every all-in-one (and it’s an extra cost for others).

Finally, if you have more than one computer working in your house or office, a multifunction printer that is networkable is a huge convenience. Even if you’ve just got one computer, some printers can print via Bluetooth, a short-range wireless protocol. That gives you a lot more flexibility about where to put the printer, which is worth a lot, given that most all-in-ones are behemoths.