Why take two or even four devices into your office when one can do the job just as well? The modern multifunction or all-in-one printer does exactly what it says on the tin, more than one job and usually a lot better and faster than older standalone models can manage.
For a small business - or larger company used in specific departments - choosing the right model is essential. The right multifunction printer can be an office powerhouse cranking out office documents and scanned forms by the tens without breaking into a sweat. Choosing the wrong model though can cause frustrating delays, poor quality and costly downtime.
Making the right choice depends on selecting models with a high-enough work rate for a business environment, low-enough running costs to meet budgets, the connectivity to seamlessly fit into your IT infrastructure and of course the right range of features to do the jobs you need. The key features to look for when making buying decisions are outlined below:
The office choice for connectivity is a network printer. These models provide the advantage of tying directly into your existing office network and being made available to everyone. Networking options will be either wired Ethernet or a wireless connection. Your choice of a WAN, or a Wi-Fi, or both connection will depend on your office infrastructure, however the increasing growth of BYOD devices like the iPad and smartphones means at least one Wi-Fi capable device should be specified for the office.
It should also be pointed out that many multifunction printers provide PC-less features. So many will print, copy and fax without the need for a computer at all – they normally save to a USB key or an SD card. This offers the advantage of lower overheads, reduced training and easier installation in the right circumstances. A USB memory card input is also useful for bringing documents to the printer directly and could be useful if you anticipate allowing office visitors to use the printer.
The printer element is the main power behind a multifunction device. It's important to choose the right type to meet business needs, in terms of duty cycle, capacity, speed, quality, colour output and costs.
- Duty cycle is the upper number of prints a device is designed to handle per month. For a basic small office/home office desktop printer this could be as low as 2,000 per month. A low-end business printer will be around 10,000 prints per month and this figure moves upwards with price. The model you choose should have a duty cycle far higher than your expected monthly print demand.
- Capacity is based on the cartridge or toner a device uses, it's important that these can last long enough to be economical and deliver enough pages to be useful.
- Speed. It's no good getting a device just to have employees stood around waiting for jobs to finish. Speed is measured in Prints Per Minute, usually based on an industry standard coverage amount of 5 per cent per page.
- Quality of documents. Almost all new devices should produce satisfactory office documents for day to day use. If presentations are required something higher-end may be required in terms of colour in conjunction with the ability to handle more expensive paper stock.
- Colour. You'll need to decide if you want black and white, basic document colour or photo-quality output. As each requires an increasing amount of money for a suitable office device.
- Total cost of ownership (TCO). Costs build up from a combination of the amount of usage and price per print. Tied to this is the paper stock used and the type of cartridge or toner chosen.
- Input/Output trays refer to the paper trays used to store blank and printed pages. If you're expecting a high turnover then ensuring a unit offers multiple 250 or better 500 page input trays is ideal. As one empties the unit will automatically switch to using the full one.
Dedicated scanners are still available and for film, slide or restoration jobs could still be preferable. However even multifunction printers offer slide and negative film scans, alongside standard photo and document scanning. Basic all-in-one devices should be able to scan colour documents at 600 dpi resolution, which is the minimum required for office work. More important is the time required to complete an A4 scan.
ADF - Automatic Document Feeder
Very much connected to the scanner, an ADF is all about scanning bulk amounts of documents automatically. It enables you to drop 20, 40 or more sheets depending on the model and have them scanned or copied automatically in one go. If you expect to need to scan any amounts of documents look out for this as a feature.
The ability of the printer to print on both sides of the paper automatically. On a basic level this can save paper but it can also automate creating cards and pamphlets by printing on different sections of the paper. Many printers mention this as a manual feature but that isn't of much use, so avoid.
Once you've combined a printer with a scanner then a copier is the next logical step. All scanners do colour, so the copier element will also be a colour one if the printer can handle colour. The better and faster the printer, the better and faster the copies will be. Often a separate copy speed of Copies Per Minute is quoted so you can assess the speed of the copier.
If your business still needs access to a fax machine then many all-in-one models offer these capabilities via a built-in fax. These use the printer to output any received faxes and the scanner to send. A model with an ADF and Fax will send multiple pages at once, but keep in mind it'll need to be located near a phone socket.
Displays and card readers
Often tied to PC-free use these enable staff to interact with the device more easily. Built in screens help select the number of copies, scan type or paper size, if your device is liable to be in use constantly then a touchscreen display can reduce the time spent waiting by staff. Additionally for larger offices an optional ID card reader can be added to ensure that only the right people see the output from the device and that paper isn't wasted.