One of the most significant developments in the history of office printers has been the introduction of small multifunction printers. Just like office copiers, these new machines could print, copy, scan and fax, for a fraction of the price and maybe even more importantly, a fraction of the size. Globally and more specifically in the UK, multifunction printers took the market by storm.
Office copiers are still in the picture however, and the fact that copier and multifunction printers basically have the same function is making it difficult to choose between the two formats.
What’s the difference between multifunction printers and copiers for small businesses in 2019?
How do multifunction printers compare with copiers, and in which cases should one of these two formats be preferred over the other one?
Distinguishing office copiers and multifunction printers: the lines are blurring
Because of a sort of convergent evolution of printers and copiers, it has become very difficult to distinguish multifunction printers and traditional office copiers. However, some differences still exist between these two types of machines.
What is multifunction printer
A multifunction printer or “MFP” is a tabletop printer which can do more than just print pages. Because it has a scanner, it can also scan, copy and duplicate documents, and sometimes even send and receive faxes too, which is why it is also called a multifunction device or MFD.
3-in-1 multifunction printers can scan, print and copy, while 4-in-1 multifunction printers can scan, print, copy and fax.
Multifunction printers can use either inkjet printing technology or laser printing technology.
They can be used either locally (USB connection), or shared on a network (Ethernet or Wifi connection).
MFPs with an internet connection can also send scanned images by e-mail.
Additional features found on some models include:
- An automatic document feeder or AFD to scan multiple sheets of paper automatically,
- Automatic double-sided printing,
- Automatic double-sided scanning
- Touchscreen display for controls, enabling autonomous operation,
- Optical character recognition or OCR, so that scanned images can be exploited for word processing,
- PDF converters,
- Scanning to the cloud or network folders,
- Printing from the cloud or network folders,
- File encryption.
Differences between multifunction printers and copiers
Differences between MFPs and printers in 2019 have become more and more scarce:
- Office copiers can typically be operated independently from computers, but the introduction of touchscreen displays giving full controls of all operations in a growing number of MFP printers has made this distinction less relevant,
- Although relatively few MFPs had an Ethernet connection and could be shared between workstations, the introduction of Wifi has made networking much more common among even cheap MFPs,
- Miniaturisation of components has made it possible for small, tabletop MFPs to support laser printing technology, even colour laser printing,
- Some of the best multifunction printers even accept A3-sized paper now and can still fit on a desk.
In fact, as printers became more similar with copiers by adding new functions, copiers got connected with workstations and PCs and on their side became more similar with printers too.
However, some fundamental distinctions still exist:
- Proper copiers are free-standing devices, much bigger than MFPs,
- They include multiple paper trays for different paper sizes,
- They can staple and bind printed sheets,
- They almost always use laser printing technology.
These simple differences have far-reaching consequences.
Choosing between copiers and multifunction printers: a question of saving space vs. saving costs
These differences justify the difficulty of choosing between MFPs and copiers. It appears that each format still has its advantages and disadvantages and is more suited to certain types of business needs.
The case for traditional copiers
Traditional copiers take advantage of their size to propose more productivity features and a better cost-per-page ratio.
Their advantages include:
- Much faster printing speeds, up to 100 pages per minute, compared with half that speed for the fastest desktop multifunction printers,
- Easier maintenance with easy access to parts, and easily found replacements,
- Much more advanced document management features,
- Better durability and reliability,
- Cheaper cost per page with cheaper ink and much bigger toners,
- The fact that copiers are so expensive means that it’s easy to find a provider proposing leasing or rental plans, with a full-service plan also usually available. Users then don’t need to worry about anything and the initial investment is kept to a minimum.
The case for multifunction printers
In the UK, MFPs are however becoming more and more popular because of the advantages brought by their small size.
These comparative advantages include:
- Smaller footprint, so that even they can fit in virtually any office,
- Cheaper acquisition costs, especially for colour models,
- Cheaper maintenance costs,
- The gap in performance keeps getting thinner and thinner.
At the end of the day, cost per page really is the deciding factor, so choosing between traditional copiers and multifunction printers really comes down to evaluating how many pages need to be processed over a given period of time. MFPs, for small businesses with low monthly copy needs, really seem to be an interesting alternative.
Choosing between multifunction printers and single function devices: is less really more?
Regardless of the choice between traditional copiers and multifunction printers, some users may wonder whether buying a multifunction device, large or small, is preferable to keeping separate single function devices. Quite remarkably, even in 2019, this debate is still relevant for some business users.
The case for multifunction devices
Comparative advantages of multifunction devices indeed make modern copiers and multifunction printers very tempting:
- Lower cost-per-page,
- Less maintenance,
- Cheaper components,
- Sometimes an MFP is simply the only practical way to share a device between several workstations, as network scanners (doing only scanning) are extremely rare,
- Space savings are considerable as compared with separate devices, especially with multifunction printers,
- Performance really isn’t that much lower anymore compared with dedicated devices for most needs.
The case for separate devices
However, keeping separate devices still make sense for some specific needs:
- Designers and publishing professionals may need the best performance possible in scanning and printing, which is only attainable with dedicated devices,
- This is especially the case for photo printing,
- The total cost of separate devices is not always lower; for instance, a fast laser printer and a basic scanner combined may cost less than a multifunction printer with decent quality in both functions,
- Multitasking is easier,
- Business doesn’t come to a halt when one machine breaks down.
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