Multifunction Device / Multifunction Printer Buying Guide

Our tips on how to buy the best printer - for printing photos, scanning, faxing or copying. We help you choose the right multifunction device or all in one printer

For the most part laser multifunction devices offer a print resolution of 600x600dpi. If you're after better quality results from a laser multifunction, be sure to note if the device has half-toning capability. This allows it to produce higher quality documents than printers that have the same hardware print resolution. More advanced printers also provide line density settings, which can help produce more accurate text.

Laser multifunctions are generally designed to work with text documents, so their optical scan resolutions are often lower than inkjet multifunctions'. Expect an average resolution of 600x600dpi, with some higher-end laser multifunction devices managing 600x2400dpi. Most low-end inkjet multifunction devices have an optical scan resolution of 1200x600dpi, but some of the more expensive models can scan at 9600x4800dpi (a resolution generally used for scanning film negatives or 35mm slides).

Media Handling

The amount of paper a multifunction printer can handle in both input and output trays is worth considering, even if you're buying one for home. Some of the more expensive inkjet multifunction printers offer several paper input methods, such a paper cassette. Some also offer separate input trays specifically for 4x6in media (for printing photos).

For businesses, media handling is vital to ensuring that you have enough paper to get through a large document and that you don't have to continually refill supplies. Most low-end laser multifunction printers, and even some of the more expensive devices, can only fit 250 sheets at a time in the input tray. Many small to medium businesses will require in excess of 500-1000 sheets at a time. Even if you don't need the extra paper capacity immediately, make sure to consider whether the vendor offers increased media handling through optional trays.

Also be aware of the supported paper types on various multifunction devices. Most inkjet multifunction devices will support standard A4 paper though may not print well on transparencies. Similarly, photo paper may not work so well in high-end inkjet multifunction devices which use pigment-based inks.

Since laser multifunction devices are designed for text and graphics printing, they tend to handle glossy paper poorly; again, this differs from model to model. Be sure to check the specifications for a list of supported paper types.

Connectivity

You will find that many multifunction devices offer more than one form of connectivity. Beyond the basic USB 2.0 port, see if the multifunction offers an Ethernet connection and integrated Wi-Fi so you can share it across a network.

Also be sure to check that the memory card reader (if it has one) on the multifunction device is compatible with the card format you use for your camera or mobile phone. Many inkjet multifunction printers will have one type of memory card slot. High-end models will often ship with a built-in memory card reader that supports CompactFlash, SD, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, MMC and xD Picture Card formats. Laser multifunctions don't tend to offer slots for removable media, but some mid- to high-end models do offer direct printing from USB flash drives.

Some devices provide additional connectivity through optional accessories such as Bluetooth adapters, which allow you to do things such as print from mobile phones.

Check the location of the ports on the multifunction device to make sure they suit your needs: if you're squeezing the multifunction device into a tight spot, having the power connection on the side of the device won't help. Some vendors also offer some form of cable management by hiding connections under the scanner cover.

Security

There is no real security issue when dealing with a multifunction device connected to a PC through USB 2.0. However networked printers can jeopardise the security of personal documents and files, particularly in larger offices.

Higher-end laser multifunction devices offer various security features to combat this, including document encryption, password-protected printing, and scan boxes for individual users. Some also offer 802.1X authentication and Web-based security features to ensure that no-one can tamper with settings.

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