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Multifunction Printer Buying Guide

posted on December 15, 2009 in Computers and Software, Printers & Scanners :: 3 comments

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printing photosIf you’re in the market for a new printer, you should strongly consider a multifunction printer (MFP), or all-in-one. For about the same price as a standard printer, MFPs also give you the ability to scan photos and documents, copy, and sometimes even fax.

Generally, MFPs come in three different genres – photo-oriented, office-duty, and general purpose. There are affordable MFPs in each category, ranging from $79 to $299. Here are some things to consider when choosing an MFP.

Is Photo Printing Important?

If you want to print best-quality photos at home, you’ll need an MFP that specializes in photo printing. These MFPs generally feature 5 or 6 ink colors, 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. Small LCD displays on some 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 a “p” in the name, HP’s are called “Photosmart”, and Epson’s are called “Artisan”. 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 a MFP. 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 compile it into an online photo book for grandparents. 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.

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 box specifications carefully to ensure that the unit has a dedicated fax modem inside and a number pad for dialing. Some MFPs tout fax as a feature, but actually achieve it by scanning documents into your PC for faxing via your PC’s modem, which is cumbersome. True standalone fax capability is more often found on mid-range and up office-oriented devices, as well as a few fully-loaded photo MFPs.

Our Picks: Photo Multifunction Printers

HP Photosmart C4680HP Photosmart C4680 (street: $70, retail: $100) This entry-level model with 4 inks, card slots supporting virtually every camera card type, 1.45-inch LCD screen, and 80-sheet input tray. It automatically senses the type of paper you’ve loaded (glossy, copier) and adjusts the printing accordingly.
Buy Now at

Canon Pixma MP560Canon Pixma MP560 (Street: $100, retail: $150) This popular mid-level model has 5 individual ink tanks, compatibility with most camera cards, duplex printing, built-in Wi-Fi and can print 4 x 6 inch prints in about 39 seconds.
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Epson Artisan 810Epson Artisan 810 (street: $299, retail: $199) This photo-premium model has 6 individual ink cartridges, card slots for all camera card types, a touch panel with a 3.5” photo display, Wi-Fi support, duplex printing, internal fax modem, a 30-sheet automatic document feeder for copies, can print onto CDs/DVDs, and can print a borderless 4” x 6” print in 10 seconds.
Buy Now at

Discussion loading

From Zack on February 10, 2010 :: 2:06 am

I had the hp all-in-one 1381 for a few years now and my experience with it is just so-so. Im only using it now as a scanner since the print function is pretty much useless. Guess ill try either epson or canon this time.


From Kristy Holch on March 24, 2010 :: 3:48 pm

Depending on what problems you are having, switching brands might not prevent the problem from recurring.  But it might make you feel better, so go for it!

All sorts of things can throw off an inkjet printer - typically the nozzles get clogged or knocked out of alignment, especially if the printer has been sitting idle for a few months. The manufacturers know this and work hard to keep the printers running well.  All brands have self-maintenance routines that you can run, such as calibration (to make sure everything is lined up) and cleaning the print heads.  Look through the menu options to find these, and try it if you haven’t already.  Don’t run these unless you need to - part of the process involves squirting ink out, yes, your precious ink that costs more than gold.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, next you can try replacing the inks, even if they aren’t empty.  This will often solve printing problems.  The downside is that it’s money down the drain if it doesn’t work. See if there is online support to help you troubleshoot before taking that step. 

If none of that works, and support can’t help you, by all means treat yourself to a new printer! The good news is that you haven’t wasted much.  Printers themselves are actually quite inexpensive compared to the inks.

Another brand to consider is Kodak, which also offers MFPs like this.

Lastly, consider whether you want to switch over to a laser printer. It will cost more to buy, but a laser printer doesn’t mind sitting idle and won’t experience any of the problems with clogged nozzles or calibration/registration.  Good luck!


I want to recommend the

From Maurice Visser on June 17, 2010 :: 10:26 am

I want to recommend the Epson NX415 multi function printer currently selling at the Epson store site at $49.95. This printer will happily use the T069 series generic ink cartridges, printing out excellent copies. The ink will run if spattered with water or raindrops but most people will prefer the savings offered by generics.


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