Business multifunction printers - what you need to know

9th Oct 2012 | 20:40

Business multifunction printers - what you need to know

Choosing the right multifunction device

Why take two or even four devices into your office when one can do the job just as well? The modern multifunction or all-in-one printer does exactly what it says on the tin, more than one job and usually a lot better and faster than older standalone models can manage.

For a small business - or larger company used in specific departments - choosing the right model is essential. The right multifunction printer can be an office powerhouse cranking out office documents and scanned forms by the tens without breaking into a sweat. Choosing the wrong model though can cause frustrating delays, poor quality and costly downtime.

Making the right choice depends on selecting models with a high-enough work rate for a business environment, low-enough running costs to meet budgets, the connectivity to seamlessly fit into your IT infrastructure and of course the right range of features to do the jobs you need. The key features to look for when making buying decisions are outlined below:

Connectivity

For home use printers connect via a USB port. It's simple and the device can even be shared over a network via the PC. The office choice is a network printer. These models provide the advantage of tying directly into your existing office network and being made available to everyone. Networking options will be either wired Ethernet or a wireless connection. Depending on your office infrastructure one, the other or both may be more suited.

PC-free use

It should also be pointed out that many multifunction printers provide PC-less features. So many will print, copy and fax without the need for a computer at all. This offers the advantage of lower overheads, reduced training and easier installation in the right circumstances.

Printing

The printer element is the main power behind a multifunction device. It's important to choose the right type to meet business needs, in terms of duty cycle, capacity, speed, quality, colour output and costs. ● Duty cycle is the upper number of prints a device is designed to handle per month. A basic no-frills consumer-grade printer will handle fewer than 2,000 per month. A low-end business printer will be around 10,000 prints per month and this figure moves upwards with price. The model you choose should have a duty cycle far higher than your expected monthly print demand.

  • Capacity is based on the cartridge or toner a device uses, it's important that these can last long enough to be economical and deliver enough pages to be useful.
  • Speed - It's no good getting a device just to have employees stood around waiting for jobs to finish. Speed is measure in Prints Per Minute, usually based on an industry standard coverage amount of five per cent per page.
  • Quality of documents - Almost all new devices should produce satisfactory office documents for day to day use. If presentations are required something higher-end may be required in terms of colour in conjunction with a more expensive paper stock.
  • Colour - You'll need to decide if you want black and white, basic document colour or photo-quality output. As each requires an increasing amount of money for a suitable office device.
  • Costs - build up from a combination of the amount of usage and price per print. Tied to this is the paper stock used and the type of cartridge or toner chosen.
  • Input/Output trays refer to the paper trays used to store blank and printed pages. If you're expecting a high turnover then ensuring a unit offers multiple 250 or better 500 page input trays is ideal. As one empties the unit will automatically switch to using the full one.

Scanner

Dedicated scanners are still available and for film, slide or restoration jobs could still be preferable. However even multifunction printers offer slide and negative film scans, alongside standard photo and document scanning. Basic all-in-one devices should provide colour 600 dpi resolution, which is the minimum required for office work. More important is the time required to complete an A4 scan.

ADF - Automatic Document Feeder

Very much connected to the scanner, an ADF is all about scanning bulk amounts of documents automatically. It enables you to drop 20, 40 or more sheets depending on the model and have them scanned or copied automatically in one go. If you expect to scan or copy even small amounts of documents then you should consider this as a feature.

Duplex printing

The ability of the printer to print on both sides of the paper automatically. On a basic level this can save paper but it can also automate creating cards and pamphlets by printing on different sections of the paper. Many printers have this as a feature that requires manual intervention, however this can be complicated, it can be confusing which way the paper needs to be fed in and often results in more paper being used rather than less, and so is best avoided.

Copier

Once you've combined a printer with a scanner, then a copier is the next logical step. All scanners do colour, so the copier element will also be a colour one if the printer can handle colour. The better and faster the printer the better and faster the copies will be. Often a separate copy speed of Copies Per Minute is quoted so you can assess the speed of the copier.

Fax

If your business still needs access to a fax machine then many all-in-one models offer these capabilities via a built-in fax. These use the printer to output any received faxes and the scanner to send. A model with an ADF and Fax will send multiple pages at once, however keep in mind to make this work the multi-function device will need to be located near a phone socket.

Displays and card readers

Often tied to PC-free use these enable staff to interact with the device more easily. Screen help select the number of copies, scan type or paper size. The memory card is useful for bringing documents to the printer without the need for a PC at all.

The last part of picking the right multi-function device for your business is to understand what your current printer and scanning usage is and to estimate a realistic future usage. If you underestimate what you will be using in six or twelve months time then you'll soon be on the hunt for a replacement unit. Likewise if you overestimate on current and future usage then you could end up wasting money on features that aren't used. Make sure when you audit your current use that no stone is unturned and that you talk to everyone who may use the device, that way you're more likely to get the right solution without breaking the bank.

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