A Guide to Multifunction Printers

How to evaluate an all-in-one's features

A multifunction printer, also known as an all-in-one or AIO, scans, faxes, and makes copies, in addition to performing printing tasks. This level of functionality comes with a large and heavy form factor and sometimes a hefty price tag.

If you're considering a multifunction printer, here's a breakdown of the typical features to help you evaluate your needs. Read on to see if you need an all-in-one printer or if a less-feature-laden printer would be a better choice for you.

Printer manufacturers offer a variety of inkjet and laser multifunction printers with an array of features, depending on if the machine is for home or business use. This article explains general features for evaluation purposes.

Epson Expression XP-630 Small-in-One Printer
Epson

Printing

Consider if your business needs duplex (double-sided) printing. If you want to save paper or print brochures and flyers, duplexing is a must-have feature.

Consider your advanced printing needs, such as stapling, folding, hole punching, cover binding, and more. Some higher-level AIOs do all this and more, and likely at a higher price tag. Still, if you need these functions, the investment may be worth it.

If you use various kinds of paper, such as cardstock or higher-quality paper for presentations, some machines have multiple paper drawers that let you quickly switch paper types.

Consider your color-printing needs as well as the print quality you require.

Scanning

Having a scanner within a printer is handy, offering efficiency and space savings for home and business users. Most multifunction printers provide some level of scanning ability. These abilities range from basic scanning features, such as scanning photos or single-sheet documents, to scanning transparencies or providing document security, such as PDF encryption.

If your business scans and stores documents on an office network, make sure the AIO you're considering works on a network and offers this feature. Other high-level scan features that multifunction scanners offer include multi-page scanning, duplex scanning, high-quality scans, and more.

Many home and business users need email integration with the scanning aspect of the AIO, such as the ability to scan a document and then email it to a client.

If your scanning needs are complex, check the multifunction printer's feature list, weigh the price, and consider if a separate high-quality scanner is a better investment.

Multifunction printers may offer scanning functions with optical character recognition so that you can convert scanned documents into an editable and searchable format.

Faxing

Most all-in-ones feature a built-in fax machine. While email and the internet have largely done away with the fax machine, it's important to have one when the need comes up.

If you fax often, check the speed of the fax modem built into the AIO. 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 multifunction printers, such as the Canon Pixma MX922, store 150 incoming and outgoing pages, meaning the machine can receive faxes when it's turned off.

Consider if you need a PC fax function that's compatible with your AIO, so you can fax documents from your computer without printing the document.

The fax machine within some multifunction printers can act as an answering machine, delivering voice messages to users on a network. This feature is especially helpful to small businesses.

Copying

Much like scanning, having a copy machine for home, business, or home business use is helpful. Consider your copying needs. For example, if you need color copies, a laser all-in-one won't work for you (unless you plan on spending at least $500 on a low-end color model).

Some AIOs don't work as standalone copiers, requiring a computer to perform copy functions. If you need to copy without a computer, make sure your multifunction printer has this feature.

Think about some of your basic copy needs when evaluating an all-in-one. For example, if you need to copy both single and double-sided documents.

Other Features

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

The AIO's connection options are also important. Most multifunction printers have a USB port, while some have Ethernet or Wi-Fi connections so users can share documents. A Wi-Fi-enabled AIO prints wirelessly to any printer on the network or from a mobile device.

Finally, if you have more than one computer in your house or office, a multifunction printer that is networkable is convenient. Even if you only have one computer, some printers can print using Bluetooth. That gives you more flexibility about where to put the printer, which helps if you have limited space.

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