How to buy a printer

What you print, and how much of it you print, should guide your buying decision. We explain how to choose a printer that's appropriate for your needs.

Multifunction Printer, or Separate Printer and Scanner?

An MFP combines print, copy, scan, and sometimes fax capabilities into one device. While there's very little an MFP can do that a separate printer and scanner couldn't do, an MFP saves space and offers more-coordinated functionality. This combination is especially attractive for personal use, for small or home-based businesses, and even for busy satellite or executive offices. Early models tended to look clunky, but currently available choices can be as sleek or as burly as you wish. A standard inkjet model should be adequate for home, student, and small-office use; a laser unit (either monochrome or color) or a high-end inkjet model will address an office's need for speed and flawless text quality. Laser models, especially the color ones, still tend to cost a great deal more.

Office-oriented MFPs have an automatic document feeder (ADF) for scanning multiple pages as a single task, and they often have a built-in fax machine and ethernet or Wi-Fi networking. Photo-oriented models sometimes let you scan slides and negatives, and they usually have built-in media slots for reading from digital camera memory cards. It's usually a good idea to give yourself room to grow if you can: Spend the extra bucks for a model with a larger paper tray, or splurge on a unit with an ADF so you aren't stuck feeding multiple pages onto a flatbed scanner.

PC World does not test an MFP's fax features. Such functions add to the price, and many documents are now acceptable as e-mailed PDFs. If you don't need to fax, don't pay for these features.

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