Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Everywhere it seems, people are talking about “clearing the clutter.” Will purchasing a multifunction printer simplify your life? We can’t be sure, but at least your home office will gain space so you can work more efficiently. Before you haul out your old stand-alone equipment to the curb, or list it on eBay as a collector’s item, there are a few things you’ll want to know before you purchase a multifunction printer. Not all multifunction printers share the same functions or perform those functions using the same technology. Pronto’s Multifunction Printer Buying Guide will take you through the key pieces of information you need to select the multifunction printer that does what you most need it to do. (see also Inkjet Standard Printer Buying Guide, Inkjet Photo Printer Buying Guide, Laser Printer Buying Guide).
If you’re still thinking that multifunction printers produce lesser quality, prints, scans or copies than standalone units, think again. Today’s multifunction printers are more than space savers, their individual functions often work better together than connecting separate devices.
Multifunction printers are either text-oriented (with the secondary function being the fax) or graphics/photo oriented (with the secondary function being the scanner). “Do it all” units print, scan, fax and copy.
Inkjet is geared for better quality for photos and graphics with a higher lifetime ink cost, while laser is lower operating cost and can produce high volume output for text.
The more dots per inch (dpi), the sharper the print job. Look for printing/copying resolution of at least 600 x 600 for lasers. Today’s inkjets have maximum resolution of 4800 x 1200 which is best for photos and graphics.
The more memory a multifunction printer has, the more it costs. Don’t skimp if you’ll be doing a lot of faxing or scanning—this is where too little memory is most noticeable. A minimum of 8MB should meet most home- or small-office users’ needs. For more complex jobs or high volume, look for units that come with 16-64MB or allow you to add more memory later.
Automatic document feeder. If you’ll be scanning or faxing more than a couple of pages, look for multifunction printers that have ADFs which quickly feed your pages through the scanner or fax and save you from standing around to feed the pages manually.Dots per Inch (dpi). The more dots of ink thrown per inch, the better the printout or resolution. Monochrome printer resolution maxes out at 1200 x 1200 or 600 x 600 but these scales are more than adequate for printing text and graphics. Color Multifunction printer resolution can be as high as 2400 x 1200 which enhances the sharpness and details of the final color print.
Printing speed is measured in pages per minute (ppm), but don’t be fooled by manufacturers’ claims: advertised printing speeds are faster than what users actually experience. The complexity of the print job—a black-and-white text-only letter versus four color-graphics or even heavy grayscale line art, for example for example—is what ultimately determines printer speed.
Memory helps dictate the speed the printer prints and the quality of print it produces. More memory allows you to print better and at a higher resolution.Duplexing. A printer’s ability to print on both sides of the paper. Most printer models today do not have duplexing by default, but offer add-on hardware for duplexing. An add-on like this adds to the upfront cost, however, duplex printing may reduce costs over time by reducing the amount of paper you use.
It used to be that multifunction printers did all the jobs you were looking for but the trade-off was that they didn’t do them better than traditional standalone printers, scanners, faxes and copiers. That’s not the case anymore. Not only have manufacturers improved the individual functionality of these all-in-one units, but they’ve made them so the individual functions work better together because the software that runs the devices is programmed for seamless operation and installation. Once it is set up, your computer is working with only one device, which is easier for most users. With performance no longer an issue, the reasons to purchase multifunction printers are to save space and streamline your most common office tasks. Multifunction printers are physically larger and weigh more than standalone printers, but you’ll gain desk and shelf space by not having an additional scanner, fax machine or copier.
The first question you’ll want to ask yourself before purchasing a multifunction printer is which functions you’re looking to combine in the unit. Multifunction printers are available in the following configurations:
- Inkjet Multifunction with Fax Capabilities
- Inkjet Multifunction Photo Printers (no fax capabilities)
- Monochrome Laser with Fax Capabilities
- Color Laser with Fax Capabilities
How often do you print photos? Some multifunction printers, like the Brother MFC-240C, come with built-in, high-speed fax modems while others require that you hook the unit up to a telephone line in order to fax. Still others require that you scan the document and fax it via your computer. If you’ll be sending faxes on a regular basis, opt for the process that’s least time-consuming for you. If you fax mostly soft copy documents (electronic), you are better signing up with a service like eFax.com, and not putting too much weight on the fax capability of your multi functi0on machine. If you’ll be printing a lot of photos, you’ll want to focus on inkjet multifunction printers (inkjet printers are the standard for printing digital images; for more information see Inkjet Photo Printers or Inkjet Printers).
If you’re not going to be printing photos, you may want to consider a multifunction laser printer instead of an inkjet. If your printing needs are text heavy and you’re printing text documents frequently, a multifunction laser printer is likely your best bet (the output quality is as good as it gets). If you mostly print graphics or photographs and only the occasional document, you’re better off purchasing an inkjet multifunction printer. You’ll also want to consider how frequently you’ll be printing. If you are a high volume printer, inkjet cartridge replacement is high vs. the cost of the toner found in laser printers. If you’ll be printing at a high volume, what you’ll spend on cartridge replacement for an inkjet will far exceed the cost of laser toner over the lifetime of the printer. You should go with a laser multi function printer for high volume need. You should go with a an inkjet photo multi function printer if your needs are lower volume and higher color quality for pictures.
|Printing Needs||Best Printer||Reasons|
|Text Only||Laser Multifunction||Printing speed; cost per page|
|Mostly Text, Occasional Color Charts, Graphics, Presentations||Laser Multifunction||Printing speed, adequate print quality for plain-paper documents that mix text, graphics and photos. Lower operating cost over long run.|
|Photos Only||Inkjet Photo||Top quality prints|
|Mostly Graphics and Photos, some Text||Inkjet Multifunction||Good balance between quality and speed. Ability to print photos and color jobs.|
Printer resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). The more dots per inch, the sharper the print job. With a higher dpi, the more detail is visible to the naked eye. Monochrome laser printer resolution maxes out at 1200 x 1200 or 600 x 600. These scales are more than adequate for printing text and graphics. Color laser printer resolution can be as high as 2400 x 1200 which enhances the quality of the color print. Today, most inkjet printers have maximum resolutions of 4800 x 1200 dots per inch (dpi), which make it possible to print high-quality graphics and photos without having to rely on professional printers or photo labs. Many inkjet printers also include software that enhances photo quality by sharpening details or evening out color and tone. These enhancements can contribute to print quality as much as the printer’s resolution.
Memory helps dictate the speed the printer prints and the quality of print it produces. Printers store documents in memory as they’re sent to the printer as well as store TrueType fonts. More memory allows you to print more complex jobs at higher resolution at faster speeds. If you send a high-resolution job to your printer, but don’t have the memory to handle it, the printer automatically adjusts the job’s resolution to match the printer’s capabilities. especially important if you’ll be networking the printer for multiple users in a small office. For home users and small offices, look for models with 8-16MB; for larger offices 32-64MB should meet your needs.