Multifunction printers (MFPs) let you handle paper and digital content with equal ease as they have a printer base and a scanner on top. These versatile machines allow you to upgrade your home office without much hassle, and they’re underrated gifts for students or loved ones.
The multifunction market is growing, so there are models available for every budget and user; the options range from budget-friendly to envy-inducing ones. Home and student users vary widely in how much they print or scan; how many users need access to the printer; and whether their output skews toward photos, other creative projects, or home-office tasks. There are a few rules of thumb depending on what the printer is being used for.
A budget model, even if it’s slow and has pricey inks, could actually be a decent deal if you don’t print or scan much. Busier households will want to buy a higher-priced model that has cheaper inks and better paper-handling features, including an automatic document feeder (ADF) for the scanner and automatic duplex (two-sided) printing. Built-in Wi-Fi is increasingly common, and it’s essential if you want to share the printer among roommates or family members. Photo enthusiasts should look for useful extras, such as dedicated photo-paper trays, six-ink systems, or the ability to print on specially coated CD and DVD media.
Best budget MFP for home (around $100)
On the budget end (around $100), the Epson Expression Home XP-400 Small-in-One is a bargain with just a few compromises. It’s compact, easy to use, and the output is quite nice. Standard connections are USB and Wi-Fi, and it’s relatively quick. The inks are expensive, but that’s acceptable for low-volume printing given the printer’s other strengths. Duplex (two-sided) printing is manual and only for PC users.
Best midpriced MFP for home ($150-$200)
Many good models crowd the midrange MFP market, but HP’s Photosmart line is particularly strong.
For around $200, the HP Photosmart 7520 sports a few office-friendly extras, including an automatic document feeder for the scanner.
Best high-end MFP for home (around $300)
Home users with budgets up to $300 can have it all. The Epson Expression Premium XP-800 Small-in-One Printer also has CD/DVD printing, plus an automatic document feeder (ADF), fast performance, and a deep-midnight-blue case that’s a refreshing departure from basic black.
The ideal MFP for business has at least a little bit of everything—and a lot of flexibility. Small-office models need to be compact as well as capable. Small-workgroup models need good speed and generous paper handling. Wireless connectivity is becoming a must for accommodating visitors and traveling colleagues. My top picks are models that do everything competently, or close to it, from paper handling to photo quality. Note that high-end inkjets are overshadowing low-end color lasers, offering better speed, print quality, and consumables costs.
Honorable mention: The Brother Business Smart MFC-J4510DW is distinctive for its 11-inch-wide paper path, all the better to admit paper sizes up to 11 inches by 17 inches.
Truly portable MFP has its own battery
Even though it’s expensive ($400 as of this writing), the HP Officejet 150 Mobile All-in-One is the only portable MFP choice. It has Bluetooth connectivity for printing from mobile phones and devices, and its battery allows for true off-the-grid operation. Its printing and scanning output are top-notch.
Best high-end inkjet MFP for office
A busy small workgroup should consider a high-end inkjet MFP, which offers many advantages over a low-end color laser. My top pick: The $400 Epson WorkForce Pro WP-4540 is fast and cheap to operate, and it has more paper capacity than the competition: two 250-sheet input trays, plus an 80-sheet rear feed.
For laser lovers, there’s one bargain: the $400 Brother MFC-9125CN. Its good speed and toner costs make it a justifiable option for a small office, even though it’s otherwise unremarkable.
Best midpriced color laser MFP
Even though it can be slow, the $750 HP LaserJet Pro 400 Color MFP M475dw gets the nod because it’s well rounded in terms of features and capabilities. Its connectivity includes Wi-Fi, it has good paper handling, and it produces exceptional photo prints for the price.
Notable newcomer among high-end color laser MFPs ($1000 and up)
Once you hit the $1,000 price point, color laser MFPs really ramp up in terms of speed and features. A notable newcomer to this class is the Samsung CLX-6260FW. For $1,000, it offers good photo quality and speed. However, its toner can be a little expensive.
Melissa Riofrio spent her formative journalistic years reviewing some of the biggest iron at PCWorld--desktops, laptops, storage, printers--and she continued to focus on hardware testing during stints at Computer Currents and CNET. Currently, in addition to leading PCWorld’s content direction, she covers productivity laptops and Chromebooks.