Multi-Function Inkjets Go Beyond Printing
to Serve the SOHO User

By Judy Jefferson

Third in a Series

For most small office/ home office workers, multi-tasking is a way of life. Being able to perform several different tasks at once, be it juggling phones, computers, printers and other technology tools while balancing and meeting client needs is a mandate for success.

It makes sense then, that the ideal printer for SOHO and most small businesses should also be able to handle multiple tasks and functions without skipping a beat. This is why multi-function printers make a lot of sense for small offices that are jammed by different projects, but constrained by tight budgets and limited space.

The typical multi-function printer (MFP) must be able to perform at least two of the following functions: Printing, scanning, copying and faxing. More high-end systems might also wrap a binding capability into the fax function, and even feature high-resolution output, extended paper capacities, electronic sorting and stacking, and maybe even wireless and network-ready capabilities.

Inkjet MFPs function pretty similarly to standard single-function inkjet printers, in that they rely on multiple ink cartridges to produce characters and images on paper. Most can also print digital photographs at various resolutions, and can support photo-quality imaging and prints on photographic paper. Inkjet MFPs can also be very reasonably priced, with many very good systems in the $100-$300 range. Prices can be slightly higher than single-function printers, but this is okay since these devices can do a whole lot more than just produce output from a PC.

The problem with inkjet MFPs is the problem facing most inkjet printers: The potentially high cost of the consumables, ink and paper. Ink cartridges are the Number One concern, especially since you can burn through a lot of them, depending on your MFP’s printing, scanning and copying ability.

As a result, the consumables add substantially to the overall cost of an MFP over a lifetime of operation. However, since the cost of MFPs can be higher than single-function printers, people tend to hang onto them a bit longer and therefore spend more on ink across the average lifetime of the unit.

Taking Care with Cartridges

It stands to reason that one of the key things you should look at when selecting an inkjet MFP – in addition to general features and functions – is the average lifetime of each inkjet cartridge and the cost of those cartridges. Measuring this lifetime can be a bit tricky since it pretty much depends on what type of printing you do in the office. If it mostly consists of graphics and color images, then you can expect to churn through ink cartridges faster than a kid with a bowl of candy. If you primarily create black-and-white documents, then your churn-rate and consumables costs will be considerably lower.

Wireless and networking can also add to your consumables cost if your printer is linked to a network and services a number of computers and users within a small office.

Paper is the other 'hidden cost', since different applications call for different paper types and qualities. You wouldn’t, for example, print an important business letter on poor quality paper if you were concerned with making a good impression.

The costs associated with different paper types can be quite high also, and can even add to ink costs. Since different papers have different absorption and saturation qualities, they may require increased resolution and heavier ink spreads.

So, what points should you consider when selecting the right inkjet MFP? Obviously, functions and features matter, if you want your MFP to be all things to all people and tasks within an office. Output resolution is also an important consideration, especially if you are a realtor who cranks out a lot of color photographs and images along with your documents.

Scanner resolution on an MFP is also important when it comes to a printer’s faxing and printing, capabilities, although it is important to look beyond just basic dots/inch (DPI) and consider enhanced resolution features as well if you plan to scan a lot of high-resolution color images.

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