Multi Function Printers & Copiers
When shopping for a printer, you're not going to find a one-size-fits-all model. Before you make a decision about what kind of printer you need, you'll have to do some serious thinking about where you'll use it and what you'll use it for. Are you buying a printer for the office or to print photos at home? Is quality of output more important to you than speed? Do you print a lot of color documents? How hard will you work your printer? Below, we give you a quick look at five different types of printers, all meant for different usage scenarios. Take a look through your choices, and then check out our in-depth, labs-based reviews of the latest printers in each of the categories. And for a more comprehensive look at the printer landscape, check out our 2011 Ultimate Printer Buying Guide.
If color is an absolute necessity to you, an inkjet printer might be the way to go. (We'll also talk about color laser printers in a minute.) Most come with the standard cyan-magenta-yellow-black color array, although some photo-centric printers, such as the Canon Pixma MG8220, offer more hues for better color representation. If you plan on printing lots of photos, an inkjet printer is the only way to go. You can print photos with some color lasers, but the quality you'll see with an inkjet will be much better. You can also further preen your options by determining what kind of photos you want to print. Most inkjets can handle printing snapshot and 8.5x11-inch images, but if you plan on going any bigger, you'll want a wide-format photo printer, such as the Epson Stylus Photo R3000. Because inkjet printers are more geared toward photo printing, they will often have features that make this easier, including memory card readers and PictBridge connectivity, which allows you to print directly from your digital camera.
Inkjet printers come in two main categories: multifunction and single function. If having a printer that scans, copies, and faxes appeals to you, you'll want to go with a multifunction inkjet. But if your main focus will be printing, a single-function unit will do the trick. Be aware, though, that the cost of multifunction inkjets has fallen so low, it's almost a shame not to opt for one just in case you might use the other functions. (Their quality of output can be just as good as single-function units as well.)
And speaking of cost, the other bonus with inkjet printers is their price. Since they are less expensive to manufacture than laser printers, you'll notice they are much cheaper. We've seen models sell for as little as $30. Be aware that those inexpensive units are meant for very light printing, though. If you intend on taxing your printer at all, you'll want to spend a little more for a quality model. These days, though, you don't have to spend more than $100 if you're just doing light home printing. Business models, however, can creep up to $200 or sometimes even $300.
If you're after a printer that can support a small team at the office, a laser printer is probably your best choice. Most are much faster at churning out documents than inkjet printers, have higher duty cycles (the number of pages they are able to print in a given time), and are known for excellent text-printing abilities. Since laser printers are made for fast printing, they will often have larger paper trays than inkjet printers. Instead of ink, laser printers use toner to print.
As with inkjet printers, you'll have a choice between multifunction models, and those that simply print. Once you've made that decision, you then have to decide whether you want a color or monochrome laser printer. As we said before, you won't want to use a color laser printer for printing photos, but they are excellent for printing color business graphics. If you'll be printing mostly text, however, a mono laser printer should be fine.
Laser printers can vary wildly in price. We've seen simple monochrome laser printers selling for less than $150. But more advanced color multifunction models can cost thousands of dollars.
See the top laser printers and get buying advice.
Multifunction, or all-in-one, printers are do-it-all machines that print, copy, scan, and sometimes fax, making them great small- or home-office companions. These printers save space by combining multiple devices into one unit. As we mentioned above, both inkjet and laser printers are available as AIOs, so check out the two previous sections to determine whether an inkjet or laser AIO may suit your needs. Since these models are geared toward office users, they will often have features that cater to that audience, such as an automatic duplexer for double-sided printing and an automatic document feeder for scanning multiple pages at a time. AIO's can vary greatly in features and performance. Simple inkjet AIOs can sell for well under $100, and advanced, business-centric multifunction lasers can go for thousands of dollars.
Photo printers come in several varieties. Some inkjet all-in-one printers cater to photo audiences by including memory card readers, PictBridge connectivity, advanced photo-editing tools, and color LCD screens for editing images on the printer. Dedicated photo printers, however, are made just for printing photos. They often have a wide array of ink colors that go beyond the standard cyan-magenta-yellow-black, and offer the ability to print on paper larger than 8.5x11 inches (which you'll be limited to on most AIO inkjet printers). In this category, you'll also find snapshot printers, which are simple, often portable gadgets that are used to print your snapshot-size photos. It's often pricey to print on snapshot printers, which use inkjet or dye-sublimation technology, but they offer the convenience of saving you a trip to the drugstore photo kiosk.
These printers can vary according to what kind of business they are catering to, but most business-ready printers have a few things in common. Most are multifunction units, allowing office workers to print, scan, copy, and sometimes fax from a single device. They will also have features that are integral to most businesses: an automatic duplexer for double-sided printing and an automatic document feeder for scanning multiple pages at a time. They can also feature more advanced security features and are networkable so that many users can hook up to a single model. They will have high duty cycles that will allow users to print many pages without unduly taxing them. And because they are built to handle high duty cycles, they will also have large paper-input and -output trays. They should also have a relatively low cost of consumables that aims to save businesses money over the long run. You can expect to pay $200 or more for a quality inkjet business printer; a laser model can cost upwards of $1,000. (However, lately we've seen a few color laser multifunction printers drop to surprisingly low prices.)