How to Choose the Right Printer
Multifunction printers (MFPs), also known as all-in-ones or AIOs, bring consumers a range of features beyond printing. All can also copy and scan, and many—especially business MFPs—add faxing to the mix. Our favorites range from small models suitable for home or home-office use and costing around $100 to behemoths able to anchor a busy workgroup, with duty cycles of tens of thousands of pages a month.
Printer manufacturers offer a huge variety of MFPs, both inkjets and lasers. Finding a model with the right set of features may not be an easy task. Here are the things to consider.
Home or Office?
The single most useful way to categorize MFPs is by intended use: home, office, or both. If you’re looking for a home MFP, you probably care about photo quality, which means you want an inkjet. Beyond that, if photos are your primary interest, and you’re looking for a way to print them from virtually any source—memory cards, USB memory keys, cameras, slides, strips of film, and original photographic prints—you need a photo-lab MFP. There are only a few choices in this subcategory: You can spot them by their ability to scan slides and strips of film, a feature most MFPs leave out.
When looking for an MFP strictly for an office, you probably care more about text than photos, which means you’ll want a laser or laser-class printer (the latter type includes LED and solid-ink printers, and even some inkjets). You probably also want it to support faxing, and to include an automatic document feeder (ADF) to scan, copy, fax, and email multipage documents.
If you need a printer for the dual role of home and home-office MFP, you’ll want an inkjet for its photo quality, but one equipped with office-centric features like an ADF and a fax modem.
Functions and Features
Getting beyond generalities about home and office MFPs, it’s useful to make a list of the functions and features you actually need.
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Printing, scanning, and copying are a given, but even these basics aren’t as straightforward as you might think. Some MFPs are limited to scanning over a USB connection. If you plan to connect over a network, make sure the scanning works on a network. The ability to scan transparencies (slides and strips of film) is unusual enough that it’s often listed as a separate function. Be sure to check the sizes the MFP can handle; transparencies are often limited to 35mm.
Some MFPs need a computer for copying. If you want to copy with the computer off, make sure the MFP will work as a standalone copier.
A fax feature almost always includes standalone faxing, which you control through the MFP’s keypad. But it doesn’t necessarily include a PC Fax function—faxing documents directly from your PC without having to print them first. PC Fax can be in the form of a fax utility, a fax driver that you use like a print driver, or both.
Email features also come in two forms. A direct-email function allows you to scan and send an email directly to your Internet service provider (ISP) or an in-house email server on your network. The more common choice for low-end MFPs is to open an email message on a PC and add the scanned document as an attachment. Any given MFP can offer either or both kinds of email. Note that some direct-email features won’t work with all ISPs, so be sure to find out if they will work with yours before buying.
Most MFPs include flatbeds suitable for scanning photos or single-sheet documents. An automatic document feeder (ADF) will let you easily scan (plus copy, fax, and email) multipage documents. For MFPs with letter-size flatbeds, an ADF will often let you scan legal-size pages as well, but not all do, so check first.
Some ADFs can also duplex (scan both sides of a page). If you deal with many two-sided documents, the feature is well worth looking for. Most MFPs that support duplex scanning do so by scanning one side of the document, turning it over, and then scanning the other side, but some provide one-pass scanning—scanning both sides of the page at once—which is much faster. If the MFP includes a print duplexer also, the combination will usually let you copy both single- and double-sided originals to your choice of single- or double-sided copies.
If you never print in color, there’s no reason to spend money on this feature. Keep in mind, however, that many color laser MFPs can print at high enough quality to let you print your own marketing materials, which could be less expensive than printing small quantities at your local print shop.
MFPs tend to be bigger than single-function printers, and even some home MFPs can be tall enough to make you feel like they’re towering over you if you put them on your desk. Be sure to check out the MFP’s size and weight, though chances are you won’t be moving it very often.
In addition to a USB port, many MFPs include Ethernet and/or Wi-Fi connections for easy sharing. If you prefer Wi-Fi, keep in mind that if you have a wireless access point on your network, you can print wirelessly to any printer or MFP on that network, whether the printer or MFP offers Wi-Fi or not. Some MFPs now include Wi-Fi Direct (or its equivalent), which allows compatible devices to connect with them without needing a wireless access point. A few offer support for Near-Field Communication (NFC), which allows you to initiate printing from a compatible mobile device simply by tapping the printer with the phone or tablet.
Scan/Print Quality & Quantity
In addition to checking out the print output quality, you may need to check scan quality. It’s not an issue for offices, because virtually any scanner can scan documents at sufficiently high quality. For photos, however, you’ll want to take a closer look, particularly for transparencies.
When you’re calculating the duty cycle and input capacity you’ll need for an MFP, remember to add copies and incoming faxes to the total number of pages you’ll print. Also, be sure to check cost of ownership over the life of the printer. Compare the total cost for each model you’re considering to find out which will be most economical in the long run.
So, Which All-in-One Printer Should I Buy?
Whether you’re looking for a home or office all-in-one, a good place to start your search is with our highest-rated MFPs, listed below. For more, check our top printer picks overall, as well as our favorite inkjet and laser models.
Epson EcoTank Pro ET-16650
Pros: Two years of unlimited ink
Excellent print quality
Very low running costs
Thousands of pages worth of ink in the box
Two-year warranty with registration
Excellent mobile connectivity options
Cons: High initial purchase price
Bottom Line: The Epson EcoTank Pro ET-16650 wide-format AIO prints well and inexpensively, and it comes with two years of unlimited free ink, making it an exceptional value for small businesses and workgroups.
Canon Color imageClass MF746Cdw
Pros: Enterprise- and fleet-ready. Expandable. Excellent output quality. Multiple connectivity options including NFC. USB thumb drive support. Single-pass auto-duplexing ADF.
Cons: Somewhat expensive to buy and operate. Relatively slow for its price and positioning.
Bottom Line: Canon’s Color imageClass MF746Cdw all-in-one laser prints well and comes with a strong enterprise-oriented feature set, making it a good bet for larger organizations.
Canon imageClass MF269dw
Pros: Small footprint. Competitive running costs. Good-looking output. Auto-duplexing ADF. Versatile connectivity options, including mobile.
Cons: Lacks flash memory drive support. Antiquated control panel.
Bottom Line: The Canon imageClass MF269dw is an entry-level monochrome laser AIO printer with just the right feature set, speed, and output quality to make it an excellent value for small and home-based offices.
Canon Pixma G6020 MegaTank All-in-One Printer
Pros: Rock-bottom running costs.
Up to 18,000 pages worth of black ink included.
Excellent print quality, especially photos.
Good feature set, software bundle, and paper capacity.
Auto-duplexing print engine.
Cons: No automatic document feeder.
Archaic control panel.
Bottom Line: The entry-level Canon Pixma G6020 is a bulk-ink all-in-one printer that produces excellent output for home offices.
And better yet, it costs very little to use over time.
Epson EcoTank ET-4760 All-In-One Printer
Pros: Excellent print quality.
Very low running costs.
Light and compact.
Single-pass auto-duplexing ADF.
Excellent mobile connectivity options.
Cons: Relatively low duty cycle and recommended volume ratings.
Lacks support for flash memory devices.
Bottom Line: The Epson EcoTank ET-4760 is an excellent multifunction color printer for small offices that don’t want to sacrifice features to get low long-term running costs.
Epson Expression Premium XP-7100 Small-in-One Printer
Pros: Exceptional output quality.
Single-pass duplexing ADF.
Large, easy-to-use control panel.
Cons: High running costs.
Low paper capacity.
Bottom Line: The Epson Expression Premium XP-7100 is a small but capable photo-centric all-in-one inkjet for homes and small offices.
HP OfficeJet Pro 9015 All-in-One Printer
Good print quality overall.
Competitive running costs.
35-sheet auto-duplexing ADF.
Attractive, compact build.
Cons: Only one paper input source.
Bottom Line: HP’s OfficeJet Pro 9015 All-in-One Printer churns out quality output at a low cost per page, making it a good value for small offices with light- to medium-duty copy and print volume requirements.
HP OfficeJet Pro Premier All-in-One Printer
Pros: Stylish, light, and compact build.
Good print quality.
Free ink for two years.
Low recommended monthly volume.
Bottom Line: The HP OfficeJet Pro Premier is a compact and stylish inkjet all-in-one that produces quality output and comes with two years worth of ink.
Excellent print quality.
High maximum and recommended volume ratings.
Cons: Somewhat expensive to use.
No Wi-Fi Direct or NFC.
Bottom Line: The Lexmark MC2535adwe is a fast color laser all-in-one printer that offers many valuable productivity and security features that small and midsize offices will love.
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