The most basic all-in-one (AIO) is a fax with added copying and printing capabilities. These start below $100, and you can get a startup started for next to nothing. You won’t be turning this into your regular printer, but it’s a quick way to get going.
At the next level, you’re looking at printer-based multifunction printers (MFPs). These have scanners and are capable of doing light-duty copying, and some models also include fax capability. Printer-based models can be desktop-sized, but these can also be floor-standing configurations — though not as big as the full-sized copier-based options. The prices range from $200 to $2,000, depending on the printer at the core.
The higher-end MFPs are based on copiers. Some of these are desktop models, but copier-based capabilities also get you into the floor-standing options that look like your standard full-sized office copy machine. Prices for these start around $800 for a desktop document-management system.
How to Choose Your Multifunction Printer
If you’re looking for an upgrade your existing all-in-one, consider whether your business needs the full document-management capabilities that a fancier MFP can offer. Would rapidly scanning multiple documents, automatically saving and distributing them, storing files for quick printing later on, and producing photocopies with various stacking, collating, grouping, hole-punching, and other copy tricks improve your workflow? Do you need to save trips to Kinko’s? If so, shop for copier-based MFPs.
If you don’t really need the document-management stuff, consider upgrading to a set of stand-alone printers, scanners, and faxes that will keep up with everyone’s needs.
If you’re mainly looking for an MFP for the space and cost savings, think of multifunction devices in terms of core competency, and investigate models that are centered on your mission-critical function — faxing, printing, or copying.
Never Mind the Name
When you’re shopping for printer-scanner-copier-fax combinations in the price range below, say, $1,000, you’re most likely to see models listed under the term “all-in-one” (and it’s acronym AIO), though you may also encounter “multifunction” or MFP.
Among retailers and manufacturers who make the distinction in terminology, all-in-one refers to a smaller model for consumers or home offices, and a multifunction printer, or MFP (and sometimes also MFD, multifunction device), is a bigger model with the kind of copying, scanning, and faster printing that a workgroup or busier corporate department would need. Dell, for example, calls their models based on inkjet printers all-in-ones, and reserves “multifunction” for the model that adds copying and scanning capability to a laser printer. With HP, “all-in-one” designates options for personal and home office use – both laser and inkjet – mainly of a size to sit on a desk or counter top. MFPs, then, are the products intended for small and medium businesses, as well as large enterprises.
Once you start looking at the big multifunction options, you may also come across the term MFD, or multifunction device; you could get further confused by the fact that with Hewlett-Packard MFP stands for multi-function product. These are the floor-standing jumbo models, based on large office copier and document-management functionality.
These names highlight the fact that not every option is essentially a printer with other functions layered on. As we mentioned earlier, multi-functionality is built on to different base functions. On the lowest end, for personal or home office use, you can have a fax machine that has just enough capability to double as a printer and copier for very low-volume jobs. On the other end of the spectrum, you can have an MFD that is basically a high-volume copier with network printing and integrated document-management capabilities added on.
Get a Starter AIO or Big MFP (and Beware in Between)
It’s true that multifunction printers and all-in-ones are great for the home office, and for any business that’s under serious space constraints. In many cases multifunction printers and all-in-ones also offer a chance to save money in addition to space. With the lower-end all-in-ones you can pay a fraction of the up-front price for three or four separate devices.
You can get an AIO that’s essentially a built-up fax machine for under $100, and this can be a perfect solution to tight office space and a small budget. You’ll tax its printing capacity as soon as you start printing regularly and the ink costs may hurt as you increase your print volume, but it’s one way to quickly set up the basic functions of an office.
For closer to $300, you can get a workgroup MFP that still offers the space- and money-saving advantages that make sense for startups. If you only occasionally fax and scan, your basic inkjet or laser MFP saves you from purchasing dedicated devices for these secondary functions and, as long as you choose a printer that’s adequate to your print volume and color needs, you’ll be set.
This level of MFP can also make sense if you already have a dedicated monochrome printer and need something to handle occasional color printing – in that case, consolidating several lightly used functions into one machine can be an smart way to go.
However, when it comes time to upgrade from your starter AIO or MFP you should think twice before getting another multi-tasking type of device. A basic all-in-one becomes inconvenient when job functions collide – that’s when the integration of the functions starts to limit the efficacy of the machine. There are plenty of mid-range MFPs that offer capable 24 ppm printers, relatively fast copying, and fine scanning. But there’s a good chance that if you have several people who would rely on all those functions those people will wind up having to wait for each other at the machine.
MFPs for Document Management
When people in the office need two or more of the functions on an MFP for more than light-duty work, you need to re-prioritize the functionality and either get stand-alone devices or upgrade right to the high end of the multifunction offerings.
With everyday printing, an office of three people or more quickly reaches the point where the volume of print jobs justifies a basic monochrome laser printer. Likewise, when the other document-management demands on an all-in-one reach a certain volume and regularity, you’ll benefit from a product that’s optimized to handle them. If people in your office carry out more than one of the processes with a given document — printing a document and then faxing it, scanning a form and emailing a copy — then one of the higher-end MFPs would serve you well. Copier-based MFPs are not only about saving space by combining the fax machine, copier, and printer into one, but also offer the benefit of integrating document-management functions to increase the efficiency of these common office processes.
When your business is big enough – both in terms of office space, people, and budget – an MFP can once again be a great help. On the high end of the multifunction spectrum, you get the kind of big floor-standing devices that handle a large volume of print, copy, and scan jobs and offer sophisticated ways to streamline your document management.
When you can afford a $300 or more per month for a lease (or $10,000 or more up front), and have the floor space for this kind of thing, a big copier-based document-management system becomes another efficient way to combine several office functions into one.