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All-in-One Printer Buying Guide

By: Amy Livingston on June 20, 2018

What the best all-in-one printer has

  • Ease of use. From installation to selecting the different features and options, you need to be able to easily access your all-in-one printer's features and functions, and to solve any problems that might arise.
  • Fast performance. Slow print speed might be an acceptable trade-off in a home situation, but if you print a lot of documents, an all-in-one printer that takes its time can get tough to live with in a hurry.
  • Great print quality. Even for personal or internal business use, crisp, clear text is a must -- and the bar is raised if you want to create output for clients. Some all-in-one printers struggle with graphics and, especially, photos. If photos are a big part of what you expect your multifunction printer to produce, take that into consideration when making your choice. (See below for some guidance.)
  • Robust core features. Few all-in-one printers can manage all three functions as well as a top-notch stand-alone printer, copier, and scanner. However, the best multifunction printers do at least a very good job at all three tasks.
  • Useful extras. Features such as automatic two-sided printing (duplexing) and an automatic document feeder (ADF) can make using an all-in-one printer that much easier. The same goes for large-capacity trays or extra trays – included or available – for different paper stocks, such as photo paper or envelopes. Web features allow for direct printing from websites or receiving documents over email remotely or from mobile devices.
  • Reasonable cost per page. In many cases, the cost of an all-in-one printer pales next to the cost of keeping it in ink or toner over the course of its lifetime. To avoid being hammered by this expense, choose a printer with a low cost per page, especially if you do a lot of printing. For a single page of black-and-white text, the cost can be anywhere from under a penny to nearly ten cents.

Know before you go

What kind of printing do you intend to do? If you plan to print large volumes of black-and-white text, experts say a monochrome laser all-in-one printer is your best bet. If you want to print photos or color graphics, however, you'll get better results from an inkjet all-in-one printer. Color laser printers can deliver pro-quality graphics without the inkjet hassles, but they're not great for photos.

How much desk space do you have? All-in-one printers take up more desk real estate than regular printers (though the difference between the two is shrinking). However, they still use much less desk space than a separate printer, scanner, and fax machine would. If space is tight, make sure to consider factors like the clearance needed for automatic document feeders, paper trays, and output.

How will you be hooking up your all-in-one printer? Every multifunction printer in this report works with wired connections (with Ethernet or USB cables) and wirelessly (over your Wi-Fi network) and can print directly from your phone or tablet, as well as from your computer. Most can also print directly from cloud-based sites like Google Drive and Dropbox.

Do you need high-capacity paper trays? If you do a high volume of printing, you should get a printer with high-capacity input and output trays or drawers to save yourself from constantly reloading paper. Some manufacturers sell high-capacity paper trays as an option for certain multifunction printers.

Do you need duplex printing? This is a time-saving convenience that allows automatic printing on both sides of a sheet of paper. Duplexing, though essential in a busy office, might not be worth the additional expense to home users, who can do it manually by printing odd pages first, then flipping the stack over and printing even pages.

What type of copying and scanning features do you need? If you plan to copy multipage documents on a regular basis, an automatic document feeder is a must. If you'll need to scan frequently, one-button scanning is a useful feature. With this feature, you place an item on the scanner and push a button, and the scan is saved to your computer. Most all-in-one printers include scanners that are good enough for general-purpose use, but for ultra-high-quality photo scans, you may require a stand-alone scanner, which we cover in a separate report.

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