All-in-One Printer Buying Guide
If you’re in the market for a new printer, you should strongly consider an all-in-one. For about the same price as a standard printer, all-in-ones also give you the ability to scan photos and documents, copy, and sometimes even fax.
Generally, all-in-ones come in three different genres – photo-oriented, office-duty, and general purpose. There are affordable all-in-ones in each category, ranging from $79 to $299. Here are some things to consider when choosing an all-in-one.
Is Photo Printing Important?
If you want to print best-quality photos at home, you’ll need an all-in-one that specializes in photo printing. These all-in-ones generally feature 5 or 6 ink colors as you move into mid-range pricing (over $100), as opposed to the standard 4, to render more realistic images. Most of them also come with card slots for inserting your camera media directly; no need to turn on your PC for printing. LCD displays on most printers allow you to preview and select the photos you wish to print. In practice, you may still find yourself going through the PC, but even then the included photo software will make the whole process easier.
Each printer maker has a photo “family” of printers – choose from among models in that line. For example, Canon’s photo models are designated with an “m” in the name and HP’s are called “Photosmart”. Remember that if you want your prints to last longest, buy inks and paper that match your printer brand, even though they cost a little more. They are tuned to work with your printer for maximum quality and print longevity.
Most people don’t think they will ever use the scanner function of an all-in-one. But, once you have one, you may find yourself taking advantage of it for numerous creative projects. Use it to scan the kids’ artwork at the end of the year and publish it using a photo book site. Include report cards, clippings, and ticket stubs. Scan in old photos for home-made birthday and anniversary cards.
A scanner will also allow you to replace the need for a fax machine. Rather than sending a fax, ask for the person’s email address, and scan and send the attachment—invaluable for the gazillions of documents we find ourselves sending to insurance companies, schools, accountants, etc.
Want to make your scanning even easier? Look for models with a built-in document feeder. They'll save you the annoyance of standing over your printer while scanning large documents one page at a time.
If you will be printing from multiple computers or you want to put your printer in a different location than you PC, going for a model with built-in Wi-Fi makes the most sense. Many wireless printers also offer the ability to print remotely by sending an email directly to the printer—helpful if you want to send pictures of the kids to the grandparents.
Do You Need Fax?
Faxing has almost become obsolete these days. But if you need it regularly (or just love listening to that cool beeping noise fax machines make when connecting), read the specifications carefully to ensure that the unit has a dedicated fax modem inside or built-in support for a virtual fax service, like eFax.
Editor's Choice: the Best All-in-one Printers
To determine "Our Picks," we combine research from a wide gamut of leading technical review sources, actual owner experiences from public review forums and our own evaluation, based on decades of reviewing experience, of the products and their features.
Our goal is to select products that we believe will provide you the best ownership experience, with solid underlying functionality, expected long-term reliability and intuitive operation. In other words, we would buy these for ourselves and recommend them to friends.
All prices are current as of September 6, 2012.
✔ Editor's Choice Entry Level:
Kodak ESP 3.2 All-in-One
For an entry-level all-in-one photo printer, the Kodak ESP 3.2 delivers the best value. It makes sharp, vibrant prints and crisp text documents at low cost and can serve as a wireless printer in your home or through Google Cloud Print and print by e-mail. You can scan photos at up to 1200 dpi. There is no fax capability or document feeder.
Price: $99.99 on staples.com
✔ Editor's Choice Mid-Range:
HP Photosmart 7510 e-All-in-One
The mid-range HP Photosmart 7510 e-All-in-One photo printer has all the features you’d need for a general-purpose home-based all-in-one, plus very good document and photo print quality. You can print wirelessly in your home or using Apple AirPrint, HP ePrint or email. There’s a 25-page document feeder for scanning, copying or faxing using eFax. The printer auto-duplexes to save on paper and there’s an extra paper tray for storing photo paper. You can scan photos at up to 600 dpi, which is half the resolution of the Kodak ESP 3.2, but still good for a 2x enlargement.
Price: $199.99 on hp.com
✔ Editor's Choice Photo Enthusiast:
Canon Pixma MG8220
Photo enthusiasts should consider paying a little extra for the Canon Pixma MG8220. It delivers lab-quality prints from its six-ink tanks—the Photosmart 7510 and Kodak ESP 3.2 are four color printers, which don’t have as many color gradations. Plus, the MG8220 can scan 35mm film and slides at up to 9600 dpi and automatically color correct and apply exposure compensation. Other features include wireless local printing and support of AirPrint and Google Cloud Print, printing on printable DVDs and Blu-ray discs, as well as auto-duplex printing. The only things missing are a fax and document feeder.
Price: $299.99 on amazon.com