Two of the terms you may see often when shopping for a printer are “multifunction” printers (MFP) and “all-in-one” (AIO) devices. The terms are similar, and refer to printers that include additional features such as scanning, faxing, and copying. The main difference between the two is that the term “multifunction” is most often used for laser printers that use toner cartridges, and “all-in-one” is most often used for inkjet models that use ink cartridges. The main advantage of these devices is having multiple functions in one unit, keeping maintenance costs down and consolidating operations in one place.
Here are the most common features included in a multifunction or all-in-one machine:
While it might seem obvious, printing is usually the primary function that most users need in an all-in-one machine. When looking at a machine’s printing capabilities, the first thing to consider is whether it can print in color or only in monochrome. You should also look at its print speed, output quality, maximum resolution, the type of media it can handle, and its paper capacity.
Most multifunction and all-in-one machines include the ability to make copies. You should consider whether the device can make color copies, if required, and whether it supports features like reduction and enlargement. You should also pay attention to the machine’s rated copy speed to avoid a model that is too slow for your needs. Another important factor to consider is whether it includes an automatic document feeder for copying multiple pages in one batch, or whether it is limited to a flatbed scanning surface.
Scanning can be a very important function for offices that need to convert paper documents to digital on a regular basis. Some models, like the Brother MFC-7360n, come with OCR (optical character recognition) software that can convert paper documents to editable text in only a few steps. The maximum scanning resolution of the machine will dictate the quality of the documents, though anything higher than 600 dpi (dots per inch) is generally acceptable for office use. As with copying, buyers should consider whether the unit has an automatic document feeder or a flatbed scanner, or both. Modern machines often feature enhanced scanning capabilities like Scan-to-Email, which can save users a lot of time in a networked environment.
While fax machines are losing popularity and being replaced by email and other newer technologies, some users still need to be able to send and receive faxes. Having fax capabilities built into an all-in-one or multifunction machine eliminates the need for a separate fax machine with its own supplies to worry about, even if you only use it occasionally. Most modern devices support the Super G3 standard for fast transmission speeds, and offer a large page memory and multiple stored numbers for quick-dial access.
Another consideration when shopping for a multifunction device is whether it supports networking. An individual user may be happy with a device with a single USB cable, but multi-user environments can benefit from a machine that includes an ethernet port for wired networking or support for Wi-Fi, which allows the device to be shared among multiple computers without wires.
Finding the right printer is all about understanding your specific needs, and choosing a model that meets your requirements as well as your budget. All-in-one and multifunction machines can often meet multiple requirements, and are much more cost-effective to purchase and to maintain than buying separate machines for each function.