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 high level of functionality comes with a larger and heavier form factor, and sometimes a heftier price tag.

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

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

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

Printing

This is an obvious feature, but one that needs some thought. Consider if your business needs duplex (double-sided) printing. If you're looking to save paper or need to 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, but 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 out paper types.

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

Scanning

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

Some businesses may want to scan and store documents directly on the office network, so make sure the AIO you're considering works on a network and offers this feature. Other higher-level scan features some multifunction scanners offer include multi-page scanning, duplex scanning, high-quality scans, and more.

Many home and business users will 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 even offer scanning functions with optical character recognition, so 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 Canon's Pixma MX922, store 150 incoming and outgoing pages, meaning the machine can receive even when it's off.

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

The fax machine within some multifunction printers can even 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, 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).

Some AIOs don't work as standalone copiers, requiring a computer to perform copy functions. If you'll 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 be able to copy both single and double-sided documents.

Other Features

You'll likely want your 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.

Your 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-enable AIO will let you print wirelessly to any printer on the network, or even print from a mobile device.

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 helpful if you're limited on space.