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How to Choose the Right Multifunction Printer and Copy Machine

Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins
Staff Writer
Business News Daily Staff
Updated May 04, 2022

This guide explains the key features of digital copiers and multifunction printers, and whether it's better to buy or lease for your business.

  • Multifunction printers and copiers allow you to print, copy, scan and fax.
  • When looking for a multifunction printer or copier, you need to decide if you want it to print in color, if you prefer ink or toner, and whether you want to buy or lease it.
  • Other factors you should consider include speed, paper capacity, graphics capabilities and memory capacity.
  • This guide is for business owners who are trying to determine what to look for when buying a multifunction printer or copy machine.

Today’s printers have come a long way from the original, bulky machines that had only one function — to provide printouts. Modern printers are more sophisticated than ever and combine the functionality of both a copy machine and printer into a multifunction printer (MFP). In addition to standard functions such as printing and copying, MFPs offer advanced features like remote printing and Wi-Fi connectivity.

With so many brands and models of MFPs offering a wide range of capabilities, it can be overwhelming to determine which printer is right for your business. Below, we’ve created a guide to break down MFPs and outline key features to get the most out of your investment.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right multifunctional printer or copier for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

 

What is a multifunction printer?

Multifunction printers combine the functions of printers and color copiers, and they can also fax and scan to locations such as email, USB drives and cloud-based services. More advanced models can be customized with finishing options, like stapling, hole punching and sorting. These MFPs are designed to meet business printing needs while cutting supply costs and increasing productivity. They can be purchased or leased, and many accessories are available for most models.

MFPs connect to your Wi-Fi network and provide a host of features to meet your advanced business-related printing and copying needs – all in one purchase. 

What are the different types of copiers and MFPs?

There are many factors to consider when choosing a copy machine or MFP, including the type of ink, whether you want the device to print in color and its size.

Monochrome vs. color

Monochrome printers typically cost less than color printers because they use only one cartridge: black. Color printers, by contrast, require four separate cartridges: black, cyan, yellow and magenta. Supply costs will be lower if you have to purchase only one cartridge at a time rather than four. However, you also need to weigh the cost savings with the impact on your branding and customers, as color images tend to be more eye-catching than monochrome images.

Inkjet vs. laser

An inkjet printer is the best and most economical option for businesses that don’t have a high volume of printing jobs or print only a few pages at a time. It’s also the best solution for companies that require colored printing and high-quality images, such as media companies, marketers and real estate firms. Businesses that don’t have a lot of space may also prefer an inkjet printer because it is smaller and more portable than a laser printer.

If you have large print jobs that are mostly black text with minimal graphics, however, you’ll get the most bang for your buck with a laser printer. A laser printer offers the convenience of high-volume printing at fast speeds — even low-end laser printers can print up to 20 pages per minute (ppm) — so no one wastes time waiting for documents to print. You also get decent output with crisp text and finer lines, but the image quality is less than stellar.

Although laser printers are generally more expensive than inkjet printers, they save you money in the long run because you won’t need to purchase and replace toner as often as you would ink cartridges. Laser printing costs about 6 to 8 cents per page (including color prints), compared with 10 to 20 cents per page for inkjet printers.

If you are willing to pay more upfront for efficiency, look into a laser copier instead of inkjet. These will cost you double or triple the amount of the machine and replacement cartridges, but they print at much higher rates, and the cartridges do not need to be replaced nearly as often. For large businesses that need a fast printer for multiple high-quantity jobs per day, a laser printer is the best option in terms of efficiency and convenience.

Ink vs. toner

Laser printers use a powdered toner, whereas inkjet printers use liquid ink. When you’re deciding between the two, consider how much toner or ink will cost you over the operational lifespan of the MFP you buy or lease. Find out how many pages you can expect to get out of each cartridge or batch, as well as how much replacements cost. You may also consider third-party ink refills, but make sure the ink is compatible; some printers work only with their brand’s proprietary ink.

The most cost-effective option for your business will depend on the frequency with which you plan to use the printer. A laser printer requires a higher initial cost because of its toner; however, you get a higher page yield and longer shelf life. Whereas an inkjet printer has a lower initial cost, but its ink can clog, it has a higher cost per page and it has a short shelf life. 

For those who intend to print more often, MFPs using toner are recommended. In addition to not drying out, toner cartridges are bigger than ink cartridges and can hold more product. However, those who don’t print often may find that low-cost ink cartridges used in inkjet printers are sufficient for their printing needs.

Did you know?Did you know?: Laser printers use a heating mechanism to melt toner powder, which is fused to paper to create an image. That’s why paper is warm when it comes out of a laser printer.

Home vs. SMB offices

MFPs designed for home offices are typically desktop size to conserve space. Designs like these go for as low as $50, but if you’re going to use one of these smaller models for your small business, we recommend spending $300 to $700. Lower-priced desktop copiers are intended for casual individual use and will not meet the needs of most small businesses.

Office copiers are larger models that are often freestanding or designed to take up a large tabletop and are built to suit the needs of a multi-person office. Copiers like these can typically be networked and include a variety of printing, scanning and faxing capabilities. You can even use different paper types and sizes with the more advanced models. Office printers start at around $1,200, but high-end models can run $5,000 or more.

Production

If your business requires high-volume printing, professional-grade graphics and advanced finishing options, you may need a production printer. These offer high resolutions, ranging from 2400 x 1200 dots per inch (dpi) for color copies to 9600 x 600 dpi interpolated with 8-bit color depth for black-and-white prints. Production printers vary greatly in cost depending on specific features, but they typically start around $7,000 for entry-level models and go well above $25,000 for specialty models.

Maintenance and service agreements

The average digital copier service agreement encompasses toner, drums, and all parts, maintenance and repairs. These agreements are designed to prevent office admins and employees from worrying about toner levels and the long-term performance of the machines. Rollers, cleaning blades and other parts that break or wear out over time are typically covered. Unfortunately, “parts” has a unique definition for each dealer, so make sure to get a complete list of parts that are covered before you buy.

Buying vs. leasing

For businesses with high printing and copying demands and large workgroups, a laser printer (or digital copier) makes sense. These devices come in a range of models. High-end laser printers/copiers tend to be big in every way: They often take up significant floor space, support a range of paper sizes, and deal with high print volumes – and they often have a big price tag to match, sometimes even more than $10,000.

For an individual or a business, that can be a large amount of the budget to allocate. And the initial investment doesn’t include the ongoing costs of a laser printer, such as toner replacements and paper, or the inevitable maintenance and repairs.

The high price points and ongoing maintenance requirements lead many small businesses to consider leasing their laser printer. In the world of printing technology, leasing is commonly referred to as “managed print services,” which includes many products and services beyond the printer itself.

Leasing a printer: Introducing managed print services

You can lease a printer/copier in the conventional sense, but throughout the last decade, the idea of leasing has morphed into what industry experts refer to as managed print services. Managed print services goes beyond simply leasing to take a holistic view of your printer needs. Often, this means the leasing cost is bundled with costs for maintenance, paper and toner so that businesses get an all-in-one package for their lease.

Big data and the internet of things, or IoT, have taken managed print services even further. Data can track your print usage down to the department level. Depending on the manufacturer or supplier, managed print services might include supplies, preventive maintenance, on-site support, and billing and usage tracking. For organizations with limited IT bandwidth, a managed services lease offers a path to streamlined management (and it’s just less of a hassle).

Types of business equipment leases

There are two primary types of business equipment leases: operating leases and capital leases.

  • Operating leases: Most businesses choose operating leases, also called fair-market-value leases, because they offer lower monthly payments than capital leases. When a business gets an operating lease for a copier or printer, it’s essentially renting the equipment, so the asset never gets added to the lessee’s balance sheet. When the lease ends, the lessee has the option to buy the copier, but the buyout cost will be calculated by the lessor based on agreement terms, depreciation, wear and tear, new technology, and market demand. In general, operating leases make the most sense for businesses that don’t want the hassle of owning a copier or printer, preferring to continually lease recent models instead.
  • Capital leases: Sometimes called “$1 buyout leases,” capital leases are the less common choice for businesses. When a business gets a capital lease for a piece of equipment, it’s more like a loan on the money than a rental on the equipment, so the interest and principal being paid are going toward the cost of the copier, and the copier goes on the lessee’s balance sheet. The monthly rate for a capital lease is higher, because 100% of the cost of the equipment is being financed. However, a capital lease does offer an advantage for lessees who plan on eventually buying, because the buyout cost is stipulated in the contract at signing. In general, capital leases make the most sense for businesses that want to purchase and own a printer or copier without making the entire purchase upfront. 

Benefits of leasing

  • Little concern of obsolescence: Leasing equipment is an easy way to avoid obsolescence, which is a major concern for some companies and a nonissue for others. Businesses that require only basic printers and copiers are usually less affected by obsolescence than those that rely on highly specialized printers with specific high-tech features. 
  • Low upfront costs: Leasing not only allows businesses to obtain printers with low upfront costs, but it also helps preserve credit. Many small businesses have limited access to credit and want to avoid using it whenever possible; leasing equipment is one way to do that.
  • No hassle: When a company leases printers, there is no resale or disposal hassle. Leasing is also convenient because most equipment providers offer maintenance plans, which can be included in the lease itself or paid for separately. Companies with limited or no IT staff often choose leasing for maintenance purposes alone.

Drawbacks of leasing 

  • Higher overall cost: Equipment leasing wouldn’t be a business if it wasn’t profitable, and the reason it’s profitable is because the lessee pays interest. At the end of a lease term, most lessees will have paid more than the actual value of the copier. Even in rent-to-own scenarios, such as with capital leases, the lessee/eventual purchaser usually ends up paying more than market value for the printer. In addition to paying more than the actual cost of the printer, many businesses overpay for maintenance plans. When a maintenance plan is included in the equipment lease, not obtained separately, the lessee is paying interest on the copier and on the maintenance plan.
  • Contract: For small businesses, especially startups, being locked into a printer lease can be a negative. As businesses change and grow, their printing needs evolve. A printer the company leased when it had only 10 employees may not be adequate for a 75-person workplace. Similarly, some small business owners overestimate what they need in a printer or copier and end up stuck with a lease for something unnecessarily expensive.

Benefits of purchasing 

  • Lower overall cost: It is almost always less expensive in the long run to purchase a printer or copier than it is to lease one. Companies that want to minimize the amount they pay in interest for goods and services will usually opt for buying over leasing.
  • Ability to recoup investment: Even though a printer is a depreciating asset, a used printer can be sold if it’s no longer needed, whereas a leased printer cannot.
  • No contracts: When a company purchases a printer, it’s not locked into a contract with a third-party provider.
  • Flexible maintenance: A leased printer is the property of the lessor, which typically means the lessee is not contractually allowed to perform any type of maintenance. This puts the lessee at the mercy of the lessor when things break. When a company owns equipment outright, the manager or owner can immediately hire the tech of their choice to service company printers without hesitation or outside approval.

Drawbacks of purchasing 

  • Initial expense: The expense of purchasing a printer outright is too much for some small businesses to manage. Businesses that require highly specialized industrial printers and copiers often lease rather than buy because such machines can cost thousands of dollars and are expensive to repair out of pocket.
  • Replacement costs: When a purchased printer is outdated or no longer functioning properly, it’s up to the company that owns it to replace it. This type of unexpected cost associated with wear and tear (as well as obsolescence) is a major concern for some business owners.
  • Difficulty of maintaining consistent standards: Companies that have multiple branches sometimes choose to lease equipment because it’s easier to maintain the same standards across every location. When purchasing options aren’t centralized, different branches can end up with wildly different expenses and levels of technology.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway: Leasing equipment means you won’t have to worry about MFP maintenance and obsolescence, but it comes at a much higher cost. Determine what matters most to your company to decide if leasing or buying is better for your business.

Tax implications of leasing and buying

There are tax implications for both buying and leasing printers. Printers are depreciating assets, which can be claimed on taxes, but many equipment leases can also be claimed. Both leased and owned printers fall under the Section 179 deduction when companies file taxes, so it’s best to consult with your business’s accountant before making a final decision on whether to buy or lease.

What are the key features of copy machines and MFPs?

Before you choose an MFP, it’s a good idea to compare the key features of various models to find the right one for your small business. Here are some features to consider when shopping:

Print speed

Print speed is one of the most crucial specs to look at when you choose an MFP; it’s often listed on spec sheets as “ppm,” or pages per minute. Look for a printer that’s fast enough to keep your workflow running smoothly. If you don’t print in high volumes, a lower speed will be fine for your business. Twenty-five to 30 ppm is the recommended minimum for microbusinesses, and at least 45 to 50 ppm is recommended for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) with average printing needs.

Paper capacity

You’ll find the paper capacity (often listed as “tray” or “cassette”) of a printer, as well as the sizes of paper it can print on, on the printer’s spec sheet. We recommend SMBs find an A3 or A4 copier, which are the most common types. A3 machines can use paper up to 11.7 x 16.5 inches, and A4 machines can handle up to 8.3 x 11.7 inches. The best choice depends on the types and sizes of paper you use the most.

Scanning

Nearly all office printers have built-in scanners, but not every machine has an automatic document feeder or duplex scanning abilities. Document feeders are essential if you plan on scanning a large volume of documents. The duplex feature enables double-sided scanning. You may also want to check the optical resolution of the machine’s scanner if you intend to scan images. For basic document scanning, 600 pixels is good enough, but for graphics, you’ll want at least 4800 pixels.

Graphics

Production printers and office printers have very different graphics specs. On production printers, a resolution of 2400 x 2400 dpi is standard, and color management is essential. Office printers that are used primarily for text documents have much lower resolutions. If you’re not sure what level of graphics you need, reach out to a representative from the copier brand you’re considering, and discuss what you’ll be using the printer for; they should be able to recommend a model that suits your needs and budget.

Memory

Most MFPs and digital copiers have some type of internal memory that allows them to retain substantial numbers of documents and scans. An internal drive is similar to any other computer hard drive. Spec sheets may note the RAM, or standard memory storage, for each model. Depending on the size of the machine, the RAM can range from 256MB to 2GB, and the storage space can be 1GB to 1TB. We recommend a higher memory capacity if your business processes a high volume of images or printing jobs. The more memory it has, the faster the machine can process jobs.

Wireless printing

Unless you have unique business needs, your multifunction printer should have wireless printing capability. Pretty much all printer models can be connected wirelessly, giving employees the ability to print, scan or copy from any internet-connected device.

TipTip: Before buying a printer or copier, look at its print speed, paper capacity, scanning abilities, and wireless connectivity.

What are some reputable copier and multifunction printer companies?

It may take some time to find the MFP that best suits your business, but it’s important to evaluate your needs and learn about the features various brands and models offer before making a decision. It may help to narrow down the options to about three brands and then determine which can give you the best deal. Here are the major players in the MFP market that you might want to consider.

Brother 

Best known for its specialty fabric printers and industrial sewing machines, Brother also manufactures and sells multifunction laser copiers for home use, SMBs and large businesses. Small Brother MFPs start at around $130 and typically print 12 ppm, while the all-in-one Brother MFC-J6945DW INKvestment Tank, which we recommend for SMBs, retails for about $380 and has a print rate of up to 22 ppm.

Canon

Canon’s small desktop MFPs are popular for their attractive design, quality scanner and low entry price. Canon’s business-worthy tabletop machines start at about $200, while office copiers run from around $750 to more than $5,000, depending on the configuration and features. Canon’s production printers are popular with businesses that require high-end in-house printing, and the company is known for offering some of the best leases and servicing packages on the market.

Epson

Epson makes high-end photo printers and fabric printers, as well as business-ready multifunction copiers. Quality runs throughout the Epson line, from its compact series of home office machines to its commercial wide-format and graphics printers. Epson also makes specialized printers designed for signage, art reproductions, healthcare labels, dot matrix receipts and more. The company’s EcoTank printers are an excellent choice for microbusinesses to minimize ink costs. The cartridge-free printers include up to two years of ink in the box and sport vessels that can be refilled with inexpensive bottles of ink.

HP 

HP’s affordable multifunctional copiers are popular because they come in a variety of configurations and sport one of the best touchscreen interfaces of any printer brand on the market. HP’s all-in-one home printers start at around $80 and print 5.5 to 8 ppm, depending on the model. Its SMB printers range from $160 to $1,000 and can print 18 to 55 ppm. For several thousand dollars, HP also offers enterprise printers that can produce 30 to 75 pages per minute. HP’s all-in-one printers can print, copy, scan and fax documents. HP also owns Samsung’s copier division, which, in recent years, has become known for beautifully designed machines with fast scanning and printing capabilities. HP machines are best suited for standard SMB needs, not for high-volume or production printing. 

Konica Minolta 

Konica Minolta offers a full range of copiers, including multifunction office systems and large production printers, which are known for their ability to handle high print volumes. The company’s high-end professional models can output up to 136 ppm in monochrome print, while most midrange models offer 28 to 65 ppm. Konica Minolta’s newest line, the Bizhub i-Series, is built to increase office productivity and accessibility with its wireless connectivity, voice control, standard 8GB of memory and security features. The i-Series uses Konica Minolta’s Simitri HD polymerized toner to guarantee high-quality printing and reduce the printers’ impact on the environment.

Kyocera 

Like some other copier companies on this list, Kyocera offers comprehensive document workflow solutions, with specialty services for education, government, healthcare, legal, manufacturing and enterprise organizations. Kyocera’s business-focused multifunction copy machines are known for their durability and ability to handle a high volume of work, with ppm ranges between 25 and 35. The machines are designed to be accessible and easy to use. With features like touchscreen control panels, mobile accessibility and embossed marks (buttons you can recognize by touch), these printers are built with users in mind.

Lexmark

Lexmark makes multifunction copiers and offers industry-specific managed services, as well as unique features, such as Pantone color matching, which is ideal for brand consistency. Lexmark’s enterprise and SMB printers are its star products. It has machines for teams of all sizes, with features to meet their needs. Small work-group printers have a dual-core processor and 2GB of memory for faster, more efficient production. Most Lexmark machines come standard with Wi-Fi connectivity, security features and an excellent touchscreen interface, which makes them popular with users of every ilk.

Ricoh 

Ricoh is the largest copier manufacturer in the world. It makes and sells its own copiers and printers under the Ricoh name, and it owns and operates several other well-known copier companies, including Savin, Hitachi, Lanier and InfoPrint Solutions Co. (formerly the IBM Printing Systems Division), but the quality varies greatly by the brand name. Ricoh’s own branded office printers are known for their quality, versatility, capacity, speed, graphics, and comprehensive document workflow solutions and managed print services. Ricoh is a better match for established SMBs than microbusinesses or home offices.

Sharp

Although Sharp is best known for televisions and monitors, it is also in the printing business. The company primarily sells office and production printers rather than home office or personal-use machines. Most Sharp copiers increase workflow efficiency through a 10.1-inch touchscreen panel that allows a user to edit documents and rearrange files with the drag of a finger. Sharp copiers’ reliability, user-friendly interfaces and functionality right out of the box make them a good choice for small business owners who may not have an in-house IT team.

Xerox

Xerox’s multifunction printers are reliable and offer features to meet the needs of SMBs. These machines have easy-to-use interfaces, mobile accessibility and environmentally friendly features, such as energy-saving modes. Depending on your printing needs, the prices can run from about $300 to over $15,000 for models that have tremendous output. The company’s MFPs have excellent color quality due to Xerox Color Correction technology. Businesses will find Xerox MFPs easy to use and appreciate the company’s excellent customer service.

Sean Peek, Joanna Furlong and Mona Bushnell contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Image Credit:

simpson33 / Getty Images

Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins
Business News Daily Staff
Andrew Martins has written more than 300 articles for business.com and Business News Daily focused on the tools and services that small businesses and entrepreneurs need to succeed. Andrew writes about office hardware such as digital copiers, multifunctional printers and wide format printers, as well as critical technology services like live chat and online fax. Andrew has a long history in publishing, having been named a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner.