December 30, 2009, 12:26 PM — The next time you need a printer (which may be today or tomorrow if you want to buy in time to expense the printer under your 2009 taxes), consider getting a multi-function printer. Why? For the cost of a decent printer, you also get a scanner, a copier, a fax, and you save space.
An MFP (Multi-Function Printer) includes a printer (ink jet or laser jet models), a copier, a scanner, and usually a fax machine. Personally, I'm not big on faxes, and most people I know using faxes (a bunch) prefer a dedicated fax machine. For these reasons, I never consider the fax part of an MFP as being an important consideration. That said, I do know companies who use their MFP as a backup-fax system, or a low-volume primary fax machine.
Companies that do a lot of copying already have a copier or three and may not care that an MFP makes copies just about as fast as a “regular” copier. I have recommended to companies in the past they buy an ink jet MFP and use that, sparingly, as a color copier when needed. This option makes it possible to make color copies when necessary without paying color copy prices for every copy you make.
If your only copier is an ink jet MFP, you will pay more for copies than you realize. If you're curious about how that works, ask a copier salesperson for a per-penny breakdown on costs of copying on their units and an MFP. They will shower you with papers, all carefully copied, about the numbers. But discount those prices considerably, because casual copying on an MFP doesn't require the levels of service and support, and attendant costs, that copier salespeople love to drone on and on about.
Very small companies and those of you in home offices rarely make copies, so the copier part may not be important. The scanner part, however, may be worth the investment by itself. You can't go paperless, or even cut down on paper, without a scanner. Take it from someone who has a flatbed scanner with a SCSI interface sitting in the garage, scanners used to cost a fortune. To get one effectively free with an MFP is a great deal. All models come with at least some software that will scan pages to a PDF file, which can be searched by your computer. The first step to going paperless is turning papers you must keep into files, and an MFP scanner will help you do so.
Finally, you can really save space with an MFP compared to buying a printer, a copier, and a flat bed scanner. Even though an MFP will almost certainly be shared by a group of users, rather than being a personal printer, office real estate can be tight. To copy and scan, you must be able to get to the top of the unit and open the lid, meaning you can't hide it under a cabinet and let the output pages fall into a basket. If you can barely find room for an MFP, where would you put a printer, copier, and scanner? And your backup fax machine? That's how you save space.
MFPs come as laser jets in black and white and color, and ink jets.