All-in-One Printers: Buying Tips

HP Photosmart PrinterNow here’s a form of electronic convergence that really works: Rather than investing in separate machines for your home office – namely, a printer, scanner, copier and fax* — one of the latest trends is buying a “multifunction” printer that handles all of these tasks.

Sometimes these inkjet or laser-based printers are aptly referred to as “all-in-one” products. Companies may also incorporate this added functionality into the product name, such as the HP PSC 2210 – the “PSC” stands for print, scan and copy. Similarly, Lexmark often uses the acronym “AIO,” for all-in-one, in their product lines.

Here we discuss the pros and cons of these multifunction machines to help you decide which is right for you.

Pros:

Multifunction printers save considerable space in the room they’re placed in. Consider the alternative: A separate printer, photocopier, scanner and fax machine can really take up a lot of room. In fact, because many of these multifunction products are getting smaller in size, some families are even placing them in other areas of the home, such as a kitchen nook, child’s room or basement.

Many all-in-ones offer wireless connectivity, too, letting multiple computer users under the same roof print to the device. Suffice it to say that this sure beats buying a printer for every PC in the home. Note: while printing is handled wirelessly, scanning a document into a digital file is only possible via a USB cord. Additional features to look for in a multifunction printer are memory card slots and a large LCD screen, which makes it easy to print photos without requiring the use of a PC.

A multifunction printer can save you money. Buying an inkjet or laser printer that can also copy, scan and fax will be much cheaper than purchasing each item separately. Costs for “consumables” – such as ink and paper – will also be cheaper to buy initially, as you’re only picking up the costs for one device rather than four separate ones. But keep the following in mind: Because one unit is handling everything, you’ll likely burn through cartridges quickly, as a single ink or laser toner cartridge powers all your printing, copying and faxing needs. Also note that the per-page cost of making copies with an inkjet cartridge is higher than with a stand-alone photocopier.

Multifunction printers are a lot easier to set up and maintain. This goes double when it comes to installing drivers and supporting software for each product. An all-in-one unit means less time and headache to get everything up and running as compared to having to setup separate products which come from different manufacturers. Software updates for all-in-one units are also simpler to monitor and install than those for separate machines.

Cons:

Multifunction machines are an example of smart convergence, but there are two obvious downsides to any machine that does multiple things. For example:

More often than not, a product that can perform multiple functions doesn’t do as good a job as a product that specializes in just one thing. In other words, you might be sacrificing quality for convenience when purchasing an all-in-one printer.

Lifelong shutterbugs will do better with dedicated single-function models. A serious photographer, for example, should probably invest in a professional-grade standalone photo printer over an all-in-one unit. Similarly, a company whose business requires special fax machine functionality may not find what they need in an all-in-one unit. 

Servicing can present headaches. Since multiple functions are tied to a single unit, if something goes wrong with one of its features (say, the scanner isn’t working properly), you may find yourself without access to faxing or printing services while the unit is off being repaired or replaced. Ouch!

* It would be remiss not to mention that not all multifunction printers can send and receive faxes. Be sure to look for this feature if it’s an important one for you.