A multifunction printer (MFP)—also known as an All-in-One (AIO)—makes sense for a lot of small businesses. Along with the printer, an MFP includes a scanner to digitize documents like store receipts, bills, and correspondence; a copier (though many inkjet MFPs copy documents slowly) and, depending on the model, fax capability.
You have a number of factors to consider when making your choice, all of which will influence the price. We look at the major features to help you winnow the field, and take a look at five worthy small business MFPs.
How to Buy a Small Business MFP
Small Business Printer Use
One of the most important considerations is how you plan to use your small business printer. Will you use the MFP sporadically? What kind of print and copy jobs do you expect to produce—and how frequently? An MFP that handles the occasional invoice, letter, report, and copy doesn't have to be the most expensive model in the line. In fact, it doesn't necessarily have to be a model targeted at the business market. Many "consumer" models do a fine job printing 100 pages, or fewer, a week.
The specification you want to examine is the manufacturer's Recommended Monthly Print Volume. If your anticipated printing use will come close to the specification's upper limit, you're better off with a heavier duty (and more expensive) model.
The Epson EcoTank ET-4450 multifunction printer includes two years' worth of ink—in the box and in its price.
Ink and Toner Cost
Small business owners frequently overlook ink or toner costs—until they need to replace it. Many MFP vendors price the printer very attractively, and then hit you with a huge bill when it's time to change a cartridge. When researching your purchase, look beyond the purchase price of the MFP and calculate what printing will cost on a per-page basis over time.
Inkjet or Laser Printer
Today's inkjet MFPs produce output that's just as good, or even better, than most laser printers. And they do it at a cost-per-page that's frequently 50 percent less than laser printing, and in many cases, just as fast.
Laser has the advantage when it comes to producing images on plain paper. Inkjet printers and MFPs use a liquid ink, and standard copy/print paper is porous enough so that some of the ink gets sucked down into the paper and spreads out, slightly blurring the image. This is called wicking, and it's why photos printed on an inkjet look so much better when printed on special photo paper that's immune to wicking.
A laser printer/MFP uses powdered toner suspended in a plastic binder that literally melts onto the surface of the paper. It adheres to the paper, but it doesn't wick the way ink does. The result: sharper images on standard inexpensive paper.
If you frequently produce reports or marketing materials that contain photos, you may want to seriously consider a laser-based MFP. If your images tend to be charts and graphs, most inkjet-based devices will deliver quality that's more than acceptable. But if you need all-out speed, laser and LED-based MFPs are often considerably faster than inkjets; they produce an entire page at a time rather than bit-by-bit as the paper moves past an inkjet's printhead.
We consider automatic duplexing—where the MFP prints one side of the page and then turns the paper over and continues printing on the second side of the page—a must-have feature in a business setting. Auto duplexing not only saves paper, it also gives your output a more professional look. An Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) that duplexes is a nice plus, since at least some of the documents you scan, copy, and fax will be two-sided.
Color or Monochrome
The majority of inkjet MFPs are color devices; finding monochrome inkjet MFPs these days is rare. Laser-based MFPs are a different story. Monochrome units are widely available, and they're considerably less expensive to buy. And, with only a black toner cartridge rather than four different toner colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black), they also cost less to operate.
Is Fax Dead?
Finally, consider whether you need a three-function or a four-function MFP. A four-function MFP adds the capability to send and receive faxes. While faxing has dropped in popularly as emailing documents has gained, plenty of companies that insist that you fax them a document rather than scanning and emailing it. Four-function models don't cost much more than those without fax capability. We suggest that you select a four-function MFP unless you are absolutely certain you will never need the capability.
Check out page two for our take on five small business multifunction printers.