This guide explains key features of digital copiers and multifunction printers.

  • 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. 

 

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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.

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.

What are different types of copiers and multifunction printers?

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 vs. color MFPs

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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

Production

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.

Buying vs. leasing

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.

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 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.

What are key features of copy machines and multifunction printers?

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

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.

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 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.

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.

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