Last Updated on 8 August 2023
All-in-one printers are the best way to go if you’re looking for a printer but occasionally also need to be able to scan, copy and perhaps even fax. What’s made them increasingly popular is that they offer an affordable solution for printing documents and scanning documents and images, and in a home office or small office they can save you valuable desk space when there’s not much to spare.
But there’s no such thing as ‘the perfect all-in-one printer’ — each model has its own strengths and weaknesses. There’s a lot to choose from, but understanding your printing needs, and the features each printer offers, will help you to find the printer that’s perfect for you.
What is an All-In-One Printer?
An all-in-one printer combines the functions of a copier, scanner, and/or fax machine into one device. They can be an inkjet or laser printer and are also called multifunction printers (MFPs). They’re often a particularly good fit for a small office or home office.
A typical model will have at least two paper trays so that it can print on both sides of each sheet of paper. An all-in-one printer with scanner may also include an automatic document feeder, allowing documents to be scanned directly from your computer’s memory card reader without having to manually load them onto the tray first.
Some models come equipped with wireless connectivity options so you can easily print files over wi-fi networks. Others let you connect your smartphone via Bluetooth, so rather than rely on wi-fi you can send photos straight to print from the camera app.
Do you really need an All-In-One?
If you don’t need to scan, copy or fax — or already have standalone machines that do the job for you — it stands to reason that you really don’t need an all-in-one printer. But if you do need these capabilities (even if only occasionally), then this kind of printer might make sense for you.
Bear in mind, if you are getting an all-in-one because you need to scan the occasional document, you might be surprised by the scans you can get simply by using your smartphone. While the quality falls short of what you can get from a good scanner, clean it up in a photo-editing app and you’ll have something that should meet everyday requirements.
All-in-one printers don’t necessarily cost any more than standard laser printer or inkjet models, and most take up much the same space. However, while they can save you money, the trade-off is that they lack some of the features you can get with a dedicated scanner, copier, or fax machine. If you need more advanced scanning, copying, and printing capabilities, you’ll need a bigger AIO printer and the space for it.
Do you really need an All-In-One printer that faxes?
Faxes aren’t dead — you may still need to send or receive one, particularly when you are dealing with government departments, lawyers, doctors and pharmacists. But you don’t necessarily need a fax machine or an all-in-one printer with fax capability to do it.
You can send and receive faxes via a mobile app on your mobile device (phone or tablet) or using an online fax service like FAX.PLUS, eFax, JustCall, RingCentral and MyFax. Check plans and free trial offers to see if any make better sense for you.
When to get a standard printer and not an all in one printer
Most multifunction printers come with a flatbed scanner, which means you can easily copy pages from books, photos, and other objects, and not just documents.
But if you need to scan hundreds of pages quickly and at once, rather than one by one, you need a sheet-fed scanner with an automatic document feeder (an ADF).
While it is possible to find these features in an all-in-one printer, you’ll pay extra. Unless your scanning needs are infrequent or short-term, a dedicated document scanner with all the bells and whistles you need may prove a better investment.
If yours is a busy office, where everyone will be using the all-in-one to scan documents and copy them, as well as printing, then having a standalone scanner can help reduce logjams and ease staff frustration.
If you need to scan film, a multifunction printer is not the answer. You will need a standard printer (or photo printer) for all your printing along with a dedicated flatbed scanner with a transparency adapter, or a standalone film scanner.
An all-in-one printer with an integrated flatbed scanner will work perfectly well when scanning business documents. Paired with the right software, they can often also handle optical character recognition (OCR) when you need to convert images into editable files.
If, however, you want an all-in-one that can also output high-resolution scans from transparencies and negatives, you’re out of luck. Both Canon and Epson used to offer all-in-one printers (like the Canon Pixma MP990 and Epson Stylus Photo RX650) that also let you scan 35mm negatives and transparencies, but these models have been discontinued.
Scanning printed photos with an all-in-one printer is still an option, however. But look closely at the resolution — unless quality is not a concern, you want one with an optical resolution of 1200 dots per inch (dpi) or more.
All-In-One Inkjet Printer or Laser Printer?
The answer to this question is not as simple as it used to be.
The rule of thumb was that you should pick an inkjet for home use (because you also want to print photos and images), and a laser printer for office use (assuming you mostly want to print crisp, clear, text documents, and a lot of them).
But nowadays, with improvements in both inkjet and laser technologies, and reduced prices for mono and colour laser printers, the choice between the two is not so obvious. LED printers, and some inkjet printers, can deliver laser-class prints, while ink and laser tank printers (as well as compatible inks) have taken some of the sting out of ink and toner prices.
Our advice? Don’t fixate on the technology, but look instead at the features you want in a multifunction printer. Don’t forget to look closely at your likely running costs (not just the initial purchase price) for the models you are considering — cost per page can vary widely between makes and models.
How Do You Choose Which All-In-One Printer Is Right For You?
Answer these questions and you’ll be able to find the right all-in-one printer.
What your printer will cost you isn’t limited to the purchase price. And you don’t want to be surprised by the price to replace ink cartridges and toner, or how often you need refills.
Look at the cost per page estimates included in printer specifications, not just the sticker price, when making your choice.
If you’re working to a strict budget, you can estimate any printer’s cost of ownership to see which will be the better buy in the long run. You need to know how much you expect to print and copy (and possibly how many incoming faxes you expect). Multiply by the printer’s cost per page (the cost of the ink or toner you will use), and your stationery costs.
If you’re looking for something that is more affordable but still gives good value and performance, consider an ink tank printer rather than one that uses individual cartridges. Or look for all-in-ones that also accept third-party compatible or remanufactured inks and toners.
Read more: How to Save on Ink and Toner
With all their extra capabilities, all-in-one printers are generally larger and heavier than standard printers. Make sure you know what size and weight yours will be, so you can be sure you have the space for it. Allow room for paper trays, document feeders and raising the lid to use the flatbed scanner.
If you rarely print in colour, most monochrome laser printers offer better value for money than those designed primarily for colour output. If you plump for an inkjet printer, most are colour, but you can find some (like the monochrome Epson EcoTank ET-M1100) that print black and white only.
If the answer is yes, you’ll want an inkjet all-in-one. But if you are dead-set serious about your photographs you probably want more than that — for better quality, what you want is a photo printer. [See How to Pick a Photo Printer].
Don’t get confused between optical resolution and interpolated resolution — they’re very different.
For high-quality output and sharper images, your printer’s optical resolution is key. This is the measure of detail that the scanner sees in an image. Interpolated resolution is the perceived resolution of an image, after being enhanced by software.
For text documents, 300 dpi or 600 dpi is good enough for all your printing. For photos, assuming you want to make enlargements, look for 1200 dpi or better.
If you expect to be churning out a lot of documents at once, perhaps because the all-in-one is being used in an office environment where everyone needs copies all the time, then you’ll want a printer with fast print speeds. Look for one with a print speed of at least 20 pages per minute. If the print speed is just 10 pages per minute, you’ll be testing everyone’s patience.
If you are only occasionally printing, and all your documents are text rather than graphics or photos, then you can get by with a slower print speed.
If all you want is a printer that prints from your computer, and nothing else, then any all-in-one printer will fit the bill. Most printers come with a USB connection, and some include an Ethernet port, along with wireless connectivity.
With Wi-Fi Direct, you can connect your computer or mobile device directly to the printer (no need for a wi-fi or LAN network), while Near-Field Communication (NFC) means you can start printing from your phone or tablet simply by tapping the printer with your mobile device.
If you are printing documents from a Mac, iPhone or iPad, look for AirPrint support. Many models also allow you to print directly from digital cameras or memory cards — if that is important to you, look for a printer with PictBridge support.
There are some A3 all-in-one printers but, naturally enough, they’ll take up more room than an A4 printer. If you don’t need to print any larger than A4, or only need to occasionally, then you can save on size and weight, as well as cost.
Look at the monthly duty cycle for the printers you are interested in. Duty Cycle is the maximum number of pages a printer is designed to print each month, while recommended monthly usage is the number of pages a printer should print each month for optimal performance.
If you will be printing all day, every day, then you need to make sure your usage will not exceed the monthly duty cycle.
Printing all day will put a lot of wear and tear on your all-in-one printer — they’re just not designed for that kind of workload. You’ll need one with a better build quality if you plan to do this.
However, if your all-in-one only gets occasional use and spends most of its time sitting idle on a shelf or desk waiting to be called into action, then it’s the recommended monthly page volume you need to pay attention to. You want to average as close as possible to the recommended volume.
The answer is yes if you regularly scan, copy, fax or email multi-page documents. You can’t beat the convenience of an automatic document feeder — loading each page manually for scanning or copying is unnecessarily time-consuming when you have to do it over and over again.
If you’re a heavy printer, it stands to reason you probably don’t want to have to refill the paper tray every 15 minutes. Look for a multifunction printer with large paper trays, and the paper capacity to meet your average daily usage.
If you need to print on different sizes and types of paper look for a model that includes additional paper trays or the option to swap paper trays when you need to.
Do you think you will be regularly scanning a lot of double-sided documents? If so, duplex scanning is more convenient and will save you time.
A multifunction printer with duplex scanning will automatically scan both sides simultaneously without your having to manually reinsert the document the other way up.
If you want to print double-sided documents all or most of the time then yes, you need auto-duplex printing.
An all-in-one printer with an auto-duplexer will print on both sides of the page automatically, saving you paper while shaving time off your job.
Look for printers with low ink or toner usage to help cut down on waste — and avoid those models that claim as few as 450 pages per cartridge or toner cartridge.
Some multifunction printers are designed for use with recycled materials, like paper that has been recycled from old newspapers or magazines. It’s a great way to help the environment while saving money on printing costs too.
Check the warranty period and service options available. The warranty period is a good indicator for printer reliability (the longer the better).
Some manufacturers offer extended warranties, which cover parts and labour costs after providing replacement parts. This may help protect against unexpected repair costs.
All-in-ones are convenient and especially suited to a small office or home office, but they aren’t always right for everyone.
Sometimes your best choice is to get a regular laser printer or inkjet printer when you can live without a fax machine, or if you have more demanding requirements for copying and scanning.
To make the best choice, compare features (what you are giving up for what you are getting) between multifunction printers and standard printers. And don’t forget to compare the ongoing costs of ink cartridges and printer toner when choosing between brands and models.