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

Size

Size can be a major reason to pick one multifunction device over another. MFDs come in many different shapes, so a unit's dimensions aren't always an accurate way of determining whether your chosen multifunction will fit in the desired space. Instead, have a look at the unit in real life and check whether, for example, an output tray needs to be extended before you print.

Inkjet multifunctions are often not very big. Laser multifunctions are generally quite sizeable, and extras like an automatic document feeder can cause them to be even taller. As a result, you may not be able to place the multifunction in your desired location.

Another important consideration is the location of the multifunction's paper trays. Cheaper inkjet multifunction devices tend to have a foldable paper tray at the rear that holds paper vertically, often doubling the height of the unit. The best way to save space is to buy a unit which offers front-facing paper cassettes, as these don't add to the size of the device while in operation.

Noise

A number of things can contribute to the noise of a multifunction printer, including paper feeders, rollers, eject mechanisms, and the build quality of the machine itself. In some poorer quality multifunction devices, the printer can shake while in operation.

The way the ink is fed also contributes to noise. Most multifunction devices have ink cartridges directly attached to the printhead, but others feed ink from the cartridges to the printhead via capillary tubes. This makes the printhead much lighter, minimising vibration. It is best to test the device before buying, in order to determine whether the noise levels are acceptable.

Ease of use

Ease of use is an important consideration, especially if the device is to be used by a number of people with varying technical skills. Vendors take different approaches to multifunction control schemes. Devices can have shortcut buttons, scroll wheels and even touch panels. How easy a multifunction is to use relies largely on how well the control scheme is implemented by the vendor. Be sure to buy a multifunction that offers quick access to core functions like printing, scanning, copying and faxing. Read independent reviews and try the control scheme out yourself. Be wary of control panels with too many shortcut buttons as this can easily become confusing.

It's a good idea to make sure that there are rising hinges on the scanner lid, or that it is removable, so that you can copy and scan thick books. Also, if you plan to copy from books make sure that the control buttons are located in such a way that they do not accidentally get pressed if half a book is hanging down over them.

Multifunction devices with integrated memory card readers on the front of the unit make it easier to directly print photos. PictBridge-capable USB ports offer similar functionality as they allow you to directly connect your camera, mobile phone or sometimes even USB flash drives to the printer. However, some multifunctions feature USB ports which are depressed into the unit, making it hard to insert oversized USB sticks.

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