Finding the best all-in-one printers
All-in-one printers (AIOs) -- also called multifunction printers (MFPs) -- are inkjet or laser printers that, in addition to printing, can scan, copy and, in many cases, send and receive faxes. The latest all-in-one printers print wirelessly from your computer, smartphone, or tablet. Many can connect directly to the web, so they can print web pages, emailed documents or documents stored in the cloud. Prices of all-in-one printers have fallen in recent years, with many excellent models selling for $200 or less. As a result, all-in-ones now account for the majority of printers sold for home use.
However, while all-in-one printers might appear to be do-everything devices, reviews show that they are not necessarily equally adept at printing, scanning, copying and faxing. Often, a multifunction printer that excels in one aspect falls short in others. Still, if you only occasionally need to fax, copy or scan, an all-in-one printer can save you from having to buy two or three separate devices. On the other hand, if you don't think you really need to scan or fax, you can save a bit of money by going with a standard inkjet printer or laser printer. You can also save desk space, since all-in-ones generally take up more room than a standard printer (although not nearly as much as a separate printer, scanner and copier). ConsumerSearch covers inkjet printers and laser printers in their own reports.
All-in-one printers come in two types:
Inkjet all-in-one printers print by spraying ink onto the page. While cheap at the outset -- we found a very good budget inkjet MFP for $95 -- you'll pay dearly for replacement ink cartridges. In one major test, inkjet all-in-one printers cost between $260 and $700 to buy and run for two years. Ink cartridges also tend to dry up or run out suddenly (and often). Worse, if you don't print regularly, the ink nozzles can clog and ruin the printer. Still, if you plan to print photos, you'll need an inkjet. Even an inexpensive inkjet all-in-one can print decent-looking color snapshots on glossy photo paper, unlike the vast majority of laser printers.
Laser all-in-one printers perform better in almost every way -- as long as you don't plan to print photos. They're less hassle, and cheaper in the long run. Laser printers work by bonding powdered ink (toner) to the page; toner doesn't dry up or clog like ink, and the cartridges don't run out as quickly. These days, a good black-and-white (monochrome) laser MFP doesn't cost much more than an inkjet: We found a great budget model for $130. Mono laser all-in-one printers cost the same -- or even less -- to own over two years than most inkjets, too ($260 to $580, including the purchase price of the AIO). Plus, you're rewarded with sharp text and faster printing than an inkjet. Mono laser all-in-ones can usually scan in color, even though they only copy and print in black and white.
Color laser all-in-one printers cost the most: $350 for our Best Reviewed pick. They cost the most to run, too ($560 to $890 including the printer's purchase price over two years), and they still don't print photos as well as an inkjet. Their strong point? Color graphics and text. If you need to print professional-looking color documents for your home or business (brochures, charts, etc.), a good color laser all-in-one printer will print them crisply, quickly, and with few ink aggravations.
How we picked the best multifunction printers
To find the best all-in-one printers, we evaluate all aspects -- ease of use, features, cost to own and, of course, how well they perform. We study professional tests at computer-specific publications such as PCMag.com, ComputerShopper.com, TomsGuide.com and CNET. PCMag.com conducts an annual Readers' Choice survey, as well, to find out which printer brands break down the least. We also look at ConsumerReports.org, which conducts thorough, unbiased tests for 81 printers, but provides less discussion than the others. Owner reviews at retail websites (Staples.com, BHPhotoVideo.com, Amazon.com and BestBuy.com) provide the last piece of the puzzle; they unearth real-life problems that don't show up in short-term tests.
Inkjet all-in-one printers for your home or office
Most inkjet all-in-one printers are just too slow and ink-wasting for serious office use -- but not the Epson WorkForce Pro WF-4630 (Est. $200). "We just couldn't find anything to complain about," says ComputerShopper.com, where the WF-4630 earns a rare, perfect 5-star rating. PCMag.com concurs, calling it "A workhorse," and awarding it a 4-star "Excellent" rating.
First of all, it's fast -- nearly as fast as a laser printer. It shoots out 10.2 pages per minute (ppm) in tests at both ComputerShopper.com and PCMag.com (which combine performance when producing text-only pages, graphics, PDFs, PowerPoint documents and spreadsheets). Our Best Reviewed laser printer manages 9.2 ppm -- not a big difference.
Secondly, it's cheap to run -- actually rivaling a black-and-white laser printer in that important consideration. Text pages cost 1.9 cents in a leading test, and a 4-by-6-inch photo costs 55 cents. Over two years, expect to spend about $360 to buy and run the printer, according to the test.
Color photos and graphics look fine for casual snapshots and internal business use, testers say. Text looks outstanding -- "the best I've ever seen from an inkjet in its default mode," says M. David Stone at PCMag.
Scans and copies look great in tests. There's a letter-size flatbed scanner, and the WF-4630 can print and copy on paper up to legal size. The main paper tray holds a generous 250 sheets, with an 80-sheet rear tray. A built-in duplexer and 35-sheet automatic document feeder allow two-sided printing and scanning. Epson says the printer can churn out up to 30,000 pages in a month, but recommends a maximum 2,000 pages per month normally.
Wi-Fi, Ethernet and USB hookups allow you to print either wired or wirelessly, from your computer or directly from your smartphone or tablet (iOS, Android, Windows or Kindle Fire). You can also print from and scan to the cloud (Box, Dropbox, Evernote and Google Drive) or a USB drive. A color touch screen makes the WF-4630 easy to use.
Owners love the WF-4630 at Staples.com and BestBuy.com -- but not so much at Amazon.com, where owners are more likely to post reviews or updates after they've owned the product for a while. There, one out of five reviewers give it the worst possible 1-star rating. Many say the printer failed within one year (there's a one-year warranty), so reliability may be an issue. On the other side of the coin, it earns a score of 4.6 stars at BestBuy.com, where 94 percent of the nearly 500 users that rate it offer this AIO a recommendation.
If you're on a tighter budget, you may want to consider the cheaper HP Officejet 5740 (Est. $110). It packs a lot of the Epson's features for half the price -- but it's a lot slower, not as heavy-duty, and its pricey ink winds up costing more in the long run.
Still, the HP Officejet 5740 "can be an excellent fit" for a home office, PCMag.com says. Its printouts, copies, and scans look nearly as good as the Epson's in tests. It handles the same paper sizes and ticks a lot of the same boxes -- touch screen, duplexer, automatic document feeder, wireless printing (including directly from your phone or tablet), cloud printing and one-year warranty.
Now for the drawbacks. It's three times slower than the Epson in PCMag's tests (3.2 ppm of mixed office documents). You'll spend more on ink over time, according to one leading test (7.7 cents per text page, or $430 to buy and run the printer for two years). And the HP can't handle the Epson's hefty workload, thanks to smaller paper trays -- a 125-sheet main tray, 15-sheet 4-by-6-inch photo tray and 25-sheet automatic document feeder -- and a monthly duty cycle that's only a fraction of the Epson's (300 to 400 pages normally, and 1,000 pages max).
Like the Epson, the HP Officejet 5740 is a customer favorite at Staples.com and BestBuy.com. But at Amazon.com, about one in six owners blast it with a 1-star rating. Pricey ink, malfunctions and trouble with the scanner are common complaints.
Photo-centric all-in-one printer
Photo prints from most MFPs typically look OK, but not as good as drugstore prints. The Epson Expression Premium XP-830 (Est. $130) breaks that rule -- and it's a relative bargain as well.
"A great little light-duty photo printer that can do whatever else you need it to," ComputerShopper.com calls it. PCMag.com agrees: "All of the test prints were at least the quality you'd expect from drugstore prints, and several were considerably better."
Unlike other photo-centric MFPs (such as the Canon Pixma MG series), the Epson XP-830 manages to print nice-looking photos without wasting a ton of ink on "maintenance" cycles. Cost-to-own over two years is about $420 (including purchase) in a leading test -- less than average for an all-in-one inkjet.
Photo-friendly features include borderless printing, the ability to print on CDs/DVDs, a PictBridge port, memory card reader, 20-sheet photo tray (up to 5-by-7-inch), single-sheet manual feed and a generous 4.3-inch color touch screen. You won't find these goodies on most all-in-one printers.
Copy, scan, fax and ordinary printing work smoothly, although text and graphics don't look quite best-in-class. Mediocre speed (5.2 ppm of mixed office documents in tests) and meager paper capacity (100-sheet main tray, 20-sheet photo tray and 30-sheet automatic document feeder) relegate this printer to light-duty only.
Most owners are happy with the Epson XP-830. It's a popular pick at Staples.com and at BestBuy.com, where it earns 4.5 out of 5 following nearly 400 reviews. The exception -- again -- is Amazon.com, where its rating drops to 3.9 stars with nearly 300 reviews posted. Common complaints include ink guzzling and paper-handling hassles.