Buying an All-In-One Printer

Category: Printing

An all-in-one printer performs four classic office functions: printing, scanning, copying, and faxing. There are pros and cons to all-in-one printers, and some factors to look at when shopping for one. Here's what you should know before buying, and a few of my top picks for your home or office...

All-In-One Printers: Buying Tips

Let's start with the benefits of all-in one, or multifunction printers... You save a lot of space with an all-in-one printer, obviously. Not so obviously, you save electricity by having just one machine powered on all the time. There are fewer power and network cables to worry about. Supplies are used more efficiently because you don't need idle paper, ink, toner, etc., in four machines. Oh, and of course you don't have to BUY and service all four machines. It's like saving on the cost of baskets by putting all of your eggs in one.

But that leads me to a downside of multifunction printers, too. If a critical component such as the print head or power adapter fails on an all-in-one printer, all of your functions are gone until it's repaired. An all-in-one printer doesn't get as much rest as four separate machines, so it may tend to fail sooner, depending on your usage.
All-in-one printers

Another con to all-in-one printers is compromise of quality or functionality. A machine designed to do everything won't do each thing the best; it would cost an arm and a leg if it did. And it goes without saying that a multifunction machine that CAN do everything is going to be more complicated to use than a single-purpose tool. It reminds me of a combo TV/VCR/DVD player I bought once. I think you could even cook a Pop-Tart in that thing.

However, that doesn't mean you can't get an all-in-one printer with an intuitive interface and print quality that's good enough for all but the most exacting professional demands.

When shopping for an all-in-one printer, up-front cost is actually the least important factor. Over the long term, the cost of supplies and consumable parts makes the biggest difference in total cost of ownership. So pay close attention to the number of prints/copies/faxes you can make before buying more ink; the cost of ink in both color and black-and-white; the availability of refilled ink cartridges for a given model; and the replacement costs of drums, scanner lasers, print heads, etc.

But it's not so easy to find information on cost of supplies, cost per page, and overall cost of ownership for multifunction printers. You can scan the manufacturer's website, but if they provide this information at all, it often reflects a rosy best-case scenario. For a better idea of the total cost to own and operate an all-in-one printer, I recommend independent review sites that do standardized tests. A couple of good ones I've found are Computer Shopper's Multifunction Printer Reviews, Ratings, and Pricing and CNET's Printer Reviews.

I should mention that some "all-in-one" printers coming to market now don't have the ability to send a fax. Faxing is a fading feature, especially in "all-in-one" printers designed for home use. If you only need to send or receive a fax occasionally, use an online fax service. See my articles Send a Free Fax and Free Inbound Faxing to learn about faxing over the Internet.

Which All-In-One Printer Should I Buy?

There are several factors that come into play here. Are you most concerned about print speed for black and white text-only pages, print quality for pages with mixed text & color graphics, photo printing options, or cost per page? Do you need to scan pages that are larger than a standard 8.5x11 page? When it comes to copying, do you need an automatic document feeder, and hands-off automatic duplexing? And will a paper tray that only holds 100 sheets be sufficient, or do you need dual trays that can hold 500 or more?

Other factors to consider when buying a multifunction printer are connectivity and the ability to interface with mobile devices. I recommend a model that can print wirelessly, if you have more than one computer in the home or office. And if you have a tablet or smartphone, it's smart to choose one that comes with a mobile printing app. Some even allow you to scan documents directly to a mobile device.

Here are five high quality all-in-one printers that I can recommend for home and small office settings:

The Brother MFC-J825DW ($149) offers both wired and wireless connectivity, and has a document feeder and duplexer. Print quality is excellent, and you can expect a cost of about 4 cents/page (black) and 12 cents/page (color). Other notable features are the ability to print directly on CD/DVD discs; and the iPrint&Scan app which lets you print docs, photos, and PDFs from your iPhone or iPad, as well as Android and Windows-based tablets and smartphones.

The Epson WorkForce 845 All-in-One Printer ($139) is noted for excellent print quality and print speeds (12.5 ppm black). It has an automatic document feeder, and can be connected via USB, ethernet or wifi. A free app enables wireless printing from mobile devices. One cool feature is the ability to email an attachment directly to the printer. This lets you (or others) print documents and photos from any location. Print cost is estimated at 3 cents/page (back) and 7 cents/page (color).

The Lexmark Prevail Pro705 ($199) offers wireless connectivity, a document feeder and duplexer. Reviewers say this is a great little office workhorse, with a low cost of ownership, but it does not excel at photo printing.

The Kodak ESP Office 2170 ($149) does wifi, but has no mobile printing app. It provides excellent print quality, but is not the speediest of the bunch. It has a document feeder, but does not do automatic duplexing. Print cost is reasonable, at 3 cents/page (back) and 9 cents/page (color), despite the 2-cartridge system (one black and one tri-color cyan/magenta/yellow). I prefer the 4-cartridge system used by most printers now, so that you only have to replace a cartridge when a certain color is empty.

If you're shopping for an all-in-one for your office, check out the HP Officejet Pro 8500A Wireless All-in-One ($299). HP says this workhorse will save you up to 50% on color printing, compared to laser printers, and will reduce energy use by 50%. The 8500A can copy and scan both standard and legal-size documents, prints photos, and cranks out up to 500 sheets without reloading. I've had a similar HP model, the OfficeJet Pro L7780, for four years and it's been a great tool. Shop around online, and you can find the 8500A for as low as $155!

Whatever your pattern of printing, scanning, copying, and faxing, there is an all-in-one printer designed to fit it. What's your favorite all-in-one printer? Post a comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Buying an All-In-One Printer"

(See all 29 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Joe Gates
07 Nov 2011

I have owned and HP C 7280 for about five years and I have been completely satisfied with the multifunction aspect of the printer. The only difficulty that I have had has been with the Wi-Fi connection when I want to scan a document into my computer. For some reason, which I have not gotten a satisfactory answer from HP, I am forced to make a USB connection from the printer to my computer in order for the software to work properly. Other than that, the Wi-Fi connection procedure was simply flawless and much easier than Brother Printer which I also own and uses way too many pages to make sure that the Wi-Fi connection is correct.

Posted by:

07 Nov 2011

Very nice article. What I need to know is if an inkjet type or a laser type. Pluses and minuses would be useful.

Posted by:

07 Nov 2011

About HP -I'm fed up. Have all in one wireless 600 series for only two yrs. Get message print head failed every time I turn it on. HP suggested we buy a new one. Buy a new HP every two yrs??? Laser black and white HP are indeed work horses, but color, even though photos are good quality, are a real disappointment.

Posted by:

07 Nov 2011

I have an Epson Workforce 610; it has been outstanding, both faxing, scanning and printing.
I love it!

Posted by:

07 Nov 2011

Recently, I began to receive a "Please wait while Windows configures scan" message each time I try to use the scan feature on my HP 2355 AIO. After the attempt to install fails, I get another message telling me that "The feature you are trying to use is on a network resource that is unavailable. Click OK to try again, or enter an alternate path to a folder containing the installation package "Scan.msi" in the box below." When I click the Cancel button an error 1706 box pops up.

I have searched my computer as well as the original installation disk for this file but am unable to locate it. I've found several suggestion on the internet as to how to fix this problem but sadly none has worked for me.

Strangely, after cancelling all of the messages including the error 1706, the scanning program opens and I'm able to use it.

Hopefully there is a fix for this that will work for me.

Obviously this is not an isolated problem since I've read about it in several different forums.

Posted by:

- Rokitman-
07 Nov 2011

I've owned a Lexmark X4270 all-in-one for several years and although I have no complaints about print quality or economy, I do have a pet peeve when it comes to Lexmark printers. It's the services that run in the background when you are NOT using your printer.

I am very vigilant about my system resources and can see NO reason why anything needs to run when it's associated function is not being used. Why software developers can't seem to design software that shuts itself off after use is beyond me. And Lexmark is notorious for that.

I disable every service associated with my Lexmark after using it, and even unplug the unit from the power source. Otherwise, it turns itself on then goes into standby mode every time I boot up. Why is this necessary?

Thank you Mr. Rankin for this article and for the opportunity to inform your readers of some of the pitfalls with certain printer manufacturers.

Posted by:

08 Nov 2011

I have an HP, I believe that it is an 8200 Deskjet and I couldn't be happer. It does all that it was advertised to do and is simple to use. I have used other printers but it seems none are as dependable as an HP.

Posted by:

08 Nov 2011

I narrowed it down to the Hp8600 or 8600A (able to do 81/2x11) or the Kodak Hero 9.1 I decided to go with the Hero 9.1 (any of the older models don't make the grade) for a couple of reasons, 1 you are able to lay 4 or 5 photo's on the scan bed scan them in and it will read each photo as a separate file, second you are able to print from anywhere, I can print from my phone in the house, or email a file to my print (you set it up with its own email address thru Kodak) or you can also print thru Google cloud. I went with the Kodak because of the photo and remote printing these were two big deals for me, other than that both machines seem pretty comparable. Ink is very close in price although the hp has the higher yield cartridges. But cost per page is very close. I love HP had a few in my days but for photos I trust Kodak

Posted by:

08 Nov 2011

Good article, I have an older HP Officejet 6110. It has been a great work horse. I refill my own cartridges and replace them after every third fill. It still works great after ten years and I bought it used.

Posted by:

08 Nov 2011

I have the HP 8500A Premium. For my home office. I do like it. But, it is set to always copy color and so far I have not been able find how to change that default. It's a real pain. So everytime I need to copy something I have to manually go through several steps to change that. Also, I had another HP before this one and I could set the copy default tray. Can't do that with this one. :(

Posted by:

08 Nov 2011

I owned 2 Kodak 5100 printers and gave up on them. They had permanent (but replaceable) printheads that constantly either clogged or became defective. Kodak was good about sending replacements, but it became a hassle to call to customer service, go through the protocols and wait for a replacement. I have had some experiences with epsom printers (with permanent printheads) also clogging at times--and a pain to unclog.
I am adamant that I just will not pay $30+ for an ink cartridge. It is fascinating to me to read about the ink wars, how much is made on ink cartridges, the battles by manufacturers to prevent ink refilling to protect their profits, and the resulting legal fights. Bob is right to advise to price cartridge replacements before buying any printer.
My current preference is to use printers that use cartridges with integral printheads, such that they can easily be replaced. I also look for printers that use cartridges that I can refill or buy refilled. Currently I have been using older HP all in ones (e.g. psc 750). They seem to be workhorses with acceptable performance and inexpensive available refilled cartridges.

Posted by:

08 Nov 2011

I have to say a very good word about Epson printers.
I am retired and on fixed income. I am not a tech nor a geek and will never be one. So, I have to depend on those manufacturers that provide a good product and don't try to poke my eyes out. Epson is the only entry level printer I know of that uses 4 cartriges, 1 each BCYM. I bought a refurbish at the epson on line store, saved a little $. First, I made sure that Ink Sell offered a generic for that model. Refills about $8.00, I bought black on sale, 2 for $12.00. There software is simple to use, you can choose what part you want to load and don't want to.
I had an HP once, there soft ware just loaded everything so every time I went to my computer, they tryed to sell me something, very agravating.
On a 2 cartriage sys, when the C runs out you have to throw away the remaining Y & M. On 1 printer, its very small. On the large scale, they are making a killing, again, very agravating.
If I want to print photos, I'll buy a higher end Epson just for photos.
At my age, I have come to highly value trust and confidence in people and manufacturers. Thats also why I appreciate Bob's site so much

Posted by:

08 Nov 2011

I've had an HP 6500 wireless for over a year, and I'm generally satisfied with it for home office needs, but curious if the HP 8500 has fixed one problem.

It doesn't stop printing when a cartridge runs out of ink. Some might consider this a feature, but I consider it a bug, because it begins warning me of low ink many pages before it actually runs out - and then it inevitably runs out in the middle of a large file, leaving the remaining pages streaked and unreadable. The only way to overcome this without wasting a lot of ink is to print large files 5 pages at a time after the warnings appear.

For me, the ideal fix would be to stop printing when the cartridge runs out and send a message to the screen, allowing me to decide whether to continue printing or not.

Posted by:

10 Nov 2011

I understand you viewpoint about the HP 6500 continuing to print when a cartridge runs out of ink. To me, more aggravating is a printer with individual ink cartridges that stops printing when ANY color runs out. I seem to recall this with an epsom and a Kodak. If a color went out, nothing worked--you could not even print in black and white. The printer would not work at all until you replaced an empty cartridge of a color that maybe you are not even using. Most aggravating---especially when you consider that the printer automatically entered into cleaning mode periodically, wasting ink as it cleaned the inkjet nozzles.

Posted by:

11 Nov 2011

Dear Bob
Thanks for this, you make some good points.
~If it interests anyone, as a home office guy I try not to do a lot of printing, though there is the occasional large doc. I have generally been happy with HP all-in ones (PSCs), on the grounds that they are reliable and good quality.Printer cartridge refills from 3rd parties are nowadays pretty good in my neck of the woods (v.rural France)
However: for several years I have been happily using the Photosmart C4580 - reasonably fast, wifi,quiet, never breaks down. I had to get my ex a new printer, and the C4580 is no more, "replaced" by the Photsmart B110. Same reasonable price but: it only comes in an obtrusive shiny black, it is slow, setting up wifi is an impenetrable nightmare which eventually fails every time, it jumps about noisily on the desk when it prints and it is incredibly slow. It also has touch-sensitive buttons which take 3 times as long as the ordinary ones you just press because you have to fight your way through their tortuous logic. So - don't just buy what someone tries to sell you, try it out and make sure it works for you. (My ex has just about forgiven me, since I managed to transfer her Outlook to the new machine I bought her. Maybe I can persuade her to switch to Thunderbird now ...)

Posted by:

12 Nov 2011

For myself, I prefer Canon multi-function printers. I don't need a fax because for the few times I need to fax something, I use a free e-fax service, which works perfectly. I have had several HP printers over the years and while they work great and their ink is a better value, I find the break down too much and too early. Mine have usually broken down after about a year of use and I don't print excessively. Now I buy Canon b/c they are always top-rated, quality is excellent. Yes, the ink is more costly and it runs out quicker, but for me, it's still cheaper over the long run when my Canon lasts for years & years and I don't have to buy a new printer every year b/c another brand kept breaking down.

Posted by:

24 Nov 2011

I've owned a couple of HP multi-function machines and 3 Epsons - HP is the dominant provider, but I'll take the Epson for (in order of importance to me) 1) ease of use - it's really intuitive 2)quality and versatility & 3) price - I'm amazed at what you get for your buck! -- currently using a Workforce 840 and a Workforce 1100

Posted by:

25 Nov 2011

Why would anyone need to use an on-line fax service? If they are using Windows op. sys. it has had a fax console written into it since 98-SE.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Maybe you don't have a fax modem? Or a phone line available?

Posted by:

27 Nov 2011

I've had a Brother MFC8820D laser printer/scanner for a decade or more and the only thing that broke was a hinge when I tried to shut the lid on an overthick book. Replacement toner cartridges cost me $70 for an estimated 7,000 pages. It is still going strong but is B&W only.

I would never willingly go back to an inkjet printer but would like to change out my MFC8820D for a color machine if I could find something as compact, good looking and reliable. I have a home office and don't do much printing now but would prefer something that will last me another decade.

Posted by:

18 Apr 2012

I had an HP psc 2210 for many years but was not satisfiedd with the way it scanned printed copy. I recently bought an HP Officejet 6310 and when I first scanned something, I was amazed at the fact that it scanned everything just the way it was on the paper I had scanned. The old one would put symbols, and numbers and all kinds of junk on the page which made it unreadable. I had to go back and redo a lot of my copy. I would stick with HP All-In-One Printers over any other brand.

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