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How to Choose the Right Multifunction Printer and Copy Machine

A Business News Daily Buyer's Guide

Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.
  • Multifunction printers and copiers allow you to print, copy, scan and fax.
  • When looking for a multifunction printer or copier, you need to decide, among other things, 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.

Copy machines and printers have long been standard components of most workplaces. While they used to simply provide print-outs and standard copies, today's machines are much more sophisticated. Today, you can combine the functionality of these two machines into one device, called a multifunction printer. In addition to basic functions such as printing and copying, multifunction printers offer more advanced features, like remote printing and Wi-Fi connectivity.

With so many brands and models of multifunction printers offering a wide range of capabilities, it might seem overwhelming to sort through all of the options. We've created this guide to break down the information you should know so you can select the right multifunction printer (MFP) for your business. We've outlined a variety of MFPs and the key features to look for. If you want to see the machines we recommend, check out our best picks page.

 

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.

 

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.

Multifunction printers connect to your Wi-Fi network and provide a host of features to meet your advanced printing and copying needs. Buying a machine that's compatible with your technology lets you address all of your business-related printing and copying needs with one purchase.

Key takeaway: A multifunction printer can print, scan and copy documents, as well as send and receive faxes.

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

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.

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 they are smaller and more portable than laser printers.

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.

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 life span of the MFP you buy or lease. Find out how many pages you can expect to get out of each cartridge or batch and 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.

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 multiperson 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 you $5,000 or more.

If your business requires high-volume printing, professional-grade graphics and advanced finishing options, you may need a production printer. Production printers 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.

You can choose to buy or lease an MFP, and both options have pros and cons related to issues such as tax incentives, maintenance, depreciation and costs. If you're not sure if leasing or buying is right for your business, check out our buy vs. lease guide.

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 have a complete list of parts that are covered before you buy.

Key takeaway: When choosing a multifunction printer or digital copier, consider several factors, such as the colors they print in, whether they use ink or toner, their size and whether they can be purchased or leased.

Before you choose a multifunction printer, 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 is one of the most crucial specs to look at when you choose an MFP. Print speed is often listed on spec sheets as "ppm." 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. We recommend a minimum of 25 to 30 ppm for microbusinesses and at least 45 to 50 ppm for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) with average printing needs.

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.

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.

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.

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 RAM, HDDs, SSDs 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.

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.

Key takeaway: Features to look for when choosing a printer or copier include its print speed, paper capacity, scanning abilities and wireless connectivity.

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 $350 and has a print rate of up to 22 ppm.

Canon. Canon's small desktop MFPs are popular for their attractive design, quality scanners and low entry price. Canon's business-worthy tabletop machines start at around $200, while office copiers run from around $750 to well over $5,000, depending on the configuration and features. Canon's production printers are popular with businesses that require high-end printing in-house, 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 $40 and print 7.5 to 10 ppm, depending on the model. Its SMB printers range from $120 to $1,000 and can print 20 to 50 ppm. For about $2,000 to $6,750, 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. Read our review on business.com.

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 105 ppm in monochrome print, while most midrange models offer 30 to 60 ppm. Konica Minolta's newest line, the Bizhub i-Series, is built to increase office productivity and accessibility with its wireless connectivity, voice control 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. 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 2.5GB of memory for faster, more efficient production. 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 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. 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. The company's MFPs have excellent color quality due to the Xerox Color Correction technology. Businesses will find Xerox MFPs easy to use and will appreciate the excellent customer service the company offers for all product inquiries.

Key takeaway: Multifunction printer and copier vendors to consider include Brother, Canon, Epson, HP, Ricoh and Xerox.

Andrew Martins

I am a former newspaper editor who has transitioned to strictly cover the business world for business.com and Business News Daily. I am a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner and prior to joining my current team, I was the editor of six weekly newspapers that covered multiple counties in the state.