Things getting tight at the office? Then a multifunction printer is the right choice. The clever devices are also a practical relief in your own home. Not only is the common print function operated, but a multifunction printer combines up to four devices in one. This allows you to print, copy, scan and fax by operating one device.

Depending on your needs, all devices would have to be purchased separately. Thus, by purchasing a multifunction printer, you not only save space on your desk, but the purchase of these multi-talented devices for everyday office, home office and everyday use in your own home is also financially worthwhile.

What is a multifunction printer?

Multifunction printers are versatile devices whose portfolio goes far beyond just printing. The customer remains flexible in his choice of additional functions, because there are different variants:

  • Multifunction printer with printer, copier and scanner
  • Multifunction printer with printer, copier, scanner and fax
  • Multifunction printer with copier and fax

Before you buy, you should be clear about which functions you need. If you choose a machine with a copier, even though there is currently no need for this additional function, this means hardly any extra financial burden and you are on the safe side.

In the office, it can generally be an advantage to buy a multifunction printer with all available functions and thus be able to react calmly to any changes in the workflow and additional requirements without having to purchase additional equipment.

What are the differences between multifunction printers?

If you take a closer look at the range of multifunction printers, you will come across the terms 3-in-1 and 4-in-1 printer. The 3-in-1 multifunction printers are offered at lower prices. These are limited to the functions printing, scanning and faxing. A 4-in-1 printer also has a LAN or WLAN connection.

How does a multifunction printer work?

The various functions of the machine can either be activated via the printer menu or can be ordered directly from the computer in use. The prerequisite for this is, of course, that the printer is properly connected to the PC, notebook, etc.

Print jobs are transmitted from the output device to the multifunction printer and then executed. The corresponding compartment must be filled with sufficient printer paper to enable printing. If you want to print good quality photos in addition to text, you should be selective when buying and pay explicit attention to the manufacturer's specifications and customer opinions regarding the quality of the photo print. Ink-jet printers generally perform much better than laser printers.

If you want to scan, place the document to be processed on the surface of the scanner intended for this purpose. A cover must be opened for this purpose. High-quality devices from Brother or Canon include the ADF function. This makes it possible to perform multiple scans automatically without manual post-processing. So you can scan a whole stack of paper or photos without any further action.

The copy function is operated similarly as described for the scanner. Various multifunction printers also offer the possibility of automatic copying. These additional functions are rarely really relevant for devices for domestic use. But for the equipment of office workplaces it can be an advantage to get informed in advance about the existence of these comfort functions, as time and effort can be minimized.

The fax function has almost fallen into oblivion due to the triumphant advance of e-mail or SMS. A bulky fax machine rarely finds its way into the home office or study. In order for the multifunction printer to perform the fax function, the machine must be connected to a telephone with fax function. A connection to a PC that can send and receive faxes is also sufficient.

The advantages of multifunction printers

  • Savings on purchase price
  • small space requirement
  • Bundling several functions
  • Shortened working distances in the office
  • easy use
  • efficient work
  • Networking with WLAN saves laying cables
  • Saving of energy costs

The disadvantages of multifunction printers

  • Loss of quality possible with regard to the individual devices
  • heavy and bulky design of the combination units
  • Defects in the device often disable all functions
  • long installation times
  • complex installation by means of CD

Which multifunction printer is best for home use?

Purchasing a multifunction printer primarily saves money, because buying a printer, scanner, copier or fax machine would cost far more in individual purchases. You are also on the safe side when it comes to installation, because the multifunction device takes up far less space.

When it comes to functions, the devices differ, so you should weigh up which product features are really important to you. While copying and scanning are useful and sometimes necessary functions in the home, the fax function is probably not used very often.
Therefore, a multifunction printer without a fax machine can be an advantage for home use. Models with a fax function can sometimes be considerably more expensive.

When you buy a multifunction device, you get up to four devices in one, but this is also at the expense of the dimensions of the printer. Although less space is required than if four individual devices are to be placed, the multifunction devices are larger and more compact than a simple printer. So you need to plan for more space and you should know the dimensions of your new multifunction printer and measure in advance whether the device can be placed in the desired location.

Another aspect is the use of the device. In most cases, multifunction printers for home use are only used sporadically. Longer periods of standstill can be assumed. If you buy an inkjet printer, you risk clogging the nozzles and drying out the ink when not in use. This cannot happen with laser printers because of the toner used.
Those who work in a home office are also well advised to use a laser printer. The devices work quickly and reliably and cause follow-up costs that are within reasonable limits.

Multifunction printer with WLAN

If you pay attention to the WLAN function when buying the multifunction devices, this will save you a lot of time and effort. You can avoid cable clutter during installation. No cables are necessary. Printer and PC cooperate via the WLAN interface. The computer's network sends the print job to the multifunction printer via WLAN.

The printout is made as usual. The printer does not necessarily have to be installed close to the computer. This is particularly advantageous if the dimensions of the multifunction device exceed the available space at your desk and you would otherwise not have to purchase it.

What should you look out for when buying a multifunction printer?

The advantages of the clever combination devices have convinced you? If you take a closer look at multifunction printers, you'll find a wide range of products. Therefore it is not easy to make a conscious purchase decision and ultimately enjoy the new device. The following factors will help you compare different models and select the right multifunction device for your needs more easily and accurately.

  • Functions
  • Technology
  • Print speed
  • Print quality
  • Usability

The functions

Anyone who decides on a multifunction printer does not only attach importance to excellent printing results. The additional functions of his Officejet printer are usually also important to him. However, the speed and quality of the printouts is usually the priority. Most devices convince in text printing. However, deficits are noticeable in photo printing.

Most of the multifunction printers on offer combine printer, scanner and copier. Those who want the fax function should make sure that this option is also available. In return, some models of Epson or Pixma do without a scan function and offer printing, copying and faxing in one device.

The technology

With regard to the printing technology, we encounter familiar terms. Inkjet and laser printers are sold as multifunction printers. So the technology remains unchanged, only an added value of functions is added. This means that the multifunction printer is actually not a separate type of printer.
A general decision has to be made first: Should an inkjet printer or a laser printer be purchased? To simplify the answer, let's take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of each type of device.

The advantages of inkjet printers

  • low maintenance costs
  • economical to buy
  • moderate power consumption
  • good quality for photo printing
  • simple service
  • low noise level during printing
  • no fine dust pollution
  • modern devices guarantee document authenticity

The disadvantages of inkjet printers

  • The printer cartridges may dry out if not used for a long time.
  • If prints are touched before drying, they may smudge.
  • Many colors are not lightfast and the prints will fade over time.
  • The printers work slower and are not suitable for mass printing.

The advantages of laser printers

  • excellent print quality
  • high printing speed
  • well suited for continuous operation
  • good print fastness
  • Printouts do not smudge
  • Low maintenance costs

The disadvantages of laser printers

  • The devices must warm up before the first print.
  • The printing process that has started cannot be interrupted.
  • The printers are more expensive to buy.
  • There is a pollution by fine dust.
  • The print quality of photos and pictures is reduced.

The printing speed

The printing speed is a criterion that is particularly important in offices. If the machine works too slowly, entire work processes can be stopped. For occasional use at home, it may be less relevant, but in any case it is annoying if you have to wait unnecessarily long for the desired printout.

So before you buy, take a look at the print speed specifications. The printing speed of text pages and photos can vary greatly. A good multifunction printer should be able to print 20 to 30 pages of text per minute. However, with many models, you will have to be satisfied with 12 to 15 documents in the same amount of time.

The print quality

It is difficult to judge the quality of the printout in advance. The dpi value in the product description can serve as an aid. The term "dpi" stands for "dots per inch". The density of dots allows you to draw conclusions about the level of detail in pictures and graphics.

The print resolution for inkjet printers should be around 4,800 dpi. Whether the print result ultimately convinces you also depends on the ink cartridges used. If you buy original cartridges, you may pay a little more for them, but you can expect excellent colour depth and high luminosity.

This is also the case with laser printers. Therefore use original toner if possible. The dpi value can be lower with multifunction printers than laser printers. Values around 2,000 dpi are a good basis here.

The user-friendliness

A multifunction printer may initially seem suspect to customers who are less technically inclined. After all, there are several devices in one housing and it must be possible to operate them quickly and purposefully if necessary. Concerns in this regard are generally unfounded, because multifunction devices are easy to handle.

On the one hand, this is ensured by the clear menu navigation on the device itself, on the other hand you even have the possibility to do without cumbersome cables in multifunction printers with WLAN and to issue the print or copy commands directly from the computer, netbook or smartphone.

Which features should be standard on a multifunction printer?
Every multifunction printer naturally has a print function. Almost all multifunction devices have an integrated flatbed scanner. This enables scanning as well as copying. The fax function is generally not considered to be standard, especially since the demand for this has fallen sharply in recent years.

Those who insist on the fax function can certainly find it in devices around 100 euros and therewith do not necessarily have to dig deep into their pockets. For additional functions, you usually have to pay about twice as much. Models of Brother or Canon can then, for example, also print paper in the format DIN-A3. This is generally not standard.

Technically, not only the support of USB should be standard by now. A good multifunction printer today also has a network connection. It should be possible to connect USB sticks to the device via a separate slot. If you print photos frequently, a card slot is a useful option. This can make printing easier.

Direct printing from mobile devices is possible if Bluetooth is a standard feature of multifunction devices. For multi-function printers, the standard may not be sufficient in terms of paper feed. Simple paper trays only hold about 50 sheets in one pass.

A USB printer cable should also be included as standard to operate the USB 2.0 interface. Cheap devices often lack this standard. Therefore, make sure before you buy so that there are no delays in starting up the printer afterwards and you have to buy the printer cable separately and thus have additional expenses.

Which extras are useful with multifunction printers?

We have already mentioned some useful features that unfortunately are not standard on all devices.

If you can and want to spend a little more on your multifunction printer, you will be pleased to hear about some additional features:

  • WLAN modules
  • double-sided printing
  • Card reader
  • USB slots
  • NFC functions
  • additional capacities for paper feeding
  • higher memory capacity for multiple printers

Some additional functions also pay off with printers for home use:

  • Bluetooth = Photos can be sent directly from the smartphone to the printer.
  • Card reader = memory cards from the camera can be inserted directly into the printer without having to go through the computer.
  • LAN socket = If the multifunction printer is set up close to a router, the wired connection can be helpful, especially if larger amounts of data are to be transferred.
  • Display = For printing without a PC, it is advantageous if the files can be viewed in a clear display before printing.

What do multifunction printers cost?

Everyone can afford a multifunction printer. Considering that the purchase of printer, scanner, copier and fax machine quickly adds up to several hundred euros, these flexible all-rounders are almost a bargain.
The cheapest multifunctional printers cost less than 50 euros. Of course, one has to cut back on quality and performance. For the occasional printing of simple text pages or copying of documents, these devices may well be sufficient.

Those who make certain demands on their new multifunctional device, want to print out photos, have to process large data sets or even scan and fax, will have to dig deeper into their pockets. For 150 to 200 euros it should be possible to find well-equipped devices with many additional functions for professional use.

But the acquisition costs are not the only factor. Whether a multifunction printer really proves to be profitable and economical only becomes clear when the ink runs out. Unfortunately, it is the case that many manufacturers do not earn money with the devices themselves but with the cartridges that have to be bought expensively.

Before buying, you should find out how many pages can be printed with cartridges or toner. Then you can roughly estimate how economical the purchase really is in the end.

Therefore, even a supposedly high printer price should not deter you. If the ink is inexpensive to buy later, the purchase costs are quickly amortised. Cartridges are usually more expensive than toner and have to be purchased more often. When buying a laser printer, it should be remembered that after a while the drum that holds the toner also needs to be replaced.

But often the cartridges are also offered together with a new drum. When buying printer cartridges, there is the option of using compatible cartridges from third-party suppliers. These are usually considerably cheaper without having to accept a loss in print quality.

However, self-filling cartridges is less recommended. It is quite laborious and is not done carefully enough and the printer is damaged by the ink, the manufacturers are not liable.

What are the alternatives to multifunction printers?

Thinking about alternatives is a good idea if the compact devices cannot be accommodated in your home or if you do not need all the available functions. The possible alternative is: You buy a conventional printer that does not have any additional functions.

The only question that arises is whether an inkjet or laser printer will best meet your personal requirements. We have already pointed out the respective advantages and disadvantages.

If a copy function is also required, you can purchase an additional copier. If you would also like to scan, you will need a copier and a scanner as individual devices. However, this is not really economical and does not help you to save money. If you buy several single devices, you usually have to dig deeper into your pocket than if you buy a multifunctional device at a good price-performance ratio.

If you primarily want to print out photos, you will have a hard time finding a multifunctional device that actually delivers the necessary quality. In this case, the purchase of a special photo printer can be recommended.