Multifunction Printers Buying Guide

Multifunction printers (also called all-in-one printers) combine a printer, scanner, copier, and sometimes a fax machine into a single device. Having all these functions in one unit not only saves room, but it can also be more affordable than buying separate individual devices.

But with that convenience comes questions about how to differentiate between seemingly similar all-in-ones. If an MFP is on your shopping list, this holiday season, here are some tips to keep in mind when considering different models.

Multifunction printer buying advice

Inkjet or laser: MFPs use either inkjet or laser technology for printing. Inkjet is ideal for consumers and small businesses with low print demands. Laser MFPs are good for medium to large businesses that print often.

Inkjet and laser MFPs targeted at businesses print using four colors, which are enough for charts, graphs, and text. Inkjet MFPs that use more than four colors do a better job at printing photos; more colors allow the MFP to create a wider range of tones.

An MFP's initial price may seems attractive, but remember to factor in the cost of replacement ink or toner over the long haul. Ink can cost between $10 and $40 per cartridge, while toner for laser MFPs can cost $50 to $100 or more per cartridge.

How fast can you go: Print speeds are usually rated by how many pages per minute (ppm) a printer can produce. Image quality settings can affect print speeds, and not all manufacturers use the same quality setting. Many manufacturers use speed ratings using draft mode to get the fastest ratings--keep in mind, the print quality isn't optimal at that setting.

Page counts: Most base model MFPs hold between 100 and 250 sheets of paper. If you plan to print frequently, consider a MFP with a large paper capacity, or optional additional paper feeders.

A built-in duplexer in an MFP allows you to print on both sides of a page. That can save paper over the long haul. However, using the duplexing feature often significantly increases the time needed to print.

What about the scanner: Most MFPs come with a good, general-purpose color scanner that performs 24-bit scanning. These scanners can handle business documents, charts, and artwork. They're also suitable for non-professional photos. Professionals who want the highest quality photo scans should consider a separate scanner that can perform 48-bit scans.

If you plan to scan frequently, look for one-button scanning, which lets you scan an item without using the software interface on your Mac. Just place an item on the scanner, press a button on the MFP, and the scan is automatically saved to your Mac.

The scanner on an MFP does double duty as a copier. Look for an automatic document feeder if you want to be able to copy multi-page documents.

Make a connection: A majority of MFPs have USB interfaces for connecting to a single Mac. If you have an AirPort Extreme, AirPort Express, or Time Capsule at home or in a small business, you may be able use USB to connect the MFP to the network device and share the printer over a network.

To connect to a medium of large business, look for ethernet or wireless connectivity. This may not come as standard equipment, and may be an additional cost. Some MFPs also support Bluetooth for printing from portable devices.

Our favorite multifunction printers

The Konica Minolta magicolor 1690MF ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ) is ideal for the small office or home office. For a color laser printer, printing in color is slow--expect about five pages in a minute. But the 1690MF is fast with monochrome documents, taking about 40 seconds to print 10 word document pages. Color photos on plain paper looked good, with pleasing skin tones. The copies printed from the 1690MF were also pretty impressive. Read our full review. [$449 (Get best current price); Konica Minolta]

If you don't need color, the HP LaserJet M1319f ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) is a monochrome laser printer, sheet-fed scanner, copier, and fax machine that's ideal for producing text documents quickly and can affordably perform many duties necessary for a small business. In addition to being fast, the M1319f produced text that's ideal for professional-looking documents. Read our full review. [$300 (Get best current price); HP]

Need to print large-format business documents? The Brother MFC-6890CDW ( Macworld rated 3 out of 5 mice ) is a large format inkjet multifunction device targeted at small- and medium-sized businesses. When using the high-capacity inks, the MFC-6890CDW's cost per page is a reasonable 3 cents for a monochrome page and 10 cents for color.  It has a ton of features and prints good quality office documents. Read our full review. [$350 (Get best current price); Brother]

[Roman Loyola is a Macworld senior editor.]

[Editor's note: This article originally posted on 11/20/2008. It has been updated to relfect changes in the market and with recent picks.]

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