Should a small business get a multifunction printer or a separate scanner and printer?
October 1, 2010 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Should I purchase a multi-function printer (mfp) or a scanner and separate printer for our small office (10-20 people)?

I work at a small non-profit. We currently have a old copier, a printer, a fax and a scanner. The copier is broken, and the printer isn't supported by Windows7. My manager wants to get a multifunction, the director wants a separate scanner and printer because he wants to go as paperless as possible and he doesn't like multifunction devices. The director feels the mfp will encourage copying, and not digitizing documents. He also feels that if a part of multifunction devices fails then the whole thing doesn't work. We will occasionally need copying functionality, but he says that can be done by scanning and then printing.

I'm leaning toward the multifunction, since it's a printer and scanner combined. I'm trying to find articles that advise small businesses on what printing solutions work, so I can back up what I recommend. I'm finding lots of reviews or how to choose the best scanner, or printer, but I'm not finding anything advising businesses as to what solutions are proving the most successful.
posted by birchhook to Technology (11 answers total)
There are a lot of directions one could go on this, and both have good points. Low quality mfp's break a lot. Having the ability to copy will result in copying. Scanning and printing, however, takes a lot of time. Why make an employee spend 5-10 minutes to scan, then print a document when it could have been a 15 second copy.
A business-class multifunction printer might be the best solution here. A lot of the business class products can help to digitize documents and convert them to usable files, as opposed to just saving them a JPGs and being an even bigger pain (typical result of a scanner). The printing costs are generally cheaper per page with business-level machines.
Do not go to a store and just grab what looks ok; you or your bosses will buy up the cheapest solution that might work. When the store-bought printer fails, you will likely have to send it in to the manufacturer for repair, and then your office is really in trouble for the repair and shipping time.
Your bosses would do best to call an "office solutions" type company who handles specifically office equipment. They can bring in an all-around solution, and usually provide good on-site support for when it breaks.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:20 AM on October 1, 2010

Depends on what you mean by a multifunction printer.

Are you looking at the sort of thing that wouldn't look out of place in a home office or one of those big business class self-standing machines?
posted by mr_silver at 10:25 AM on October 1, 2010

How many pages do you print (or copy) per month? Do you need color? What is the budget?
posted by ChrisHartley at 10:36 AM on October 1, 2010

You will be surprised (I was)!

Paper is not going away, and in fact we will all end up printing more one way or the other.

At the end of the day, productivity is key, and major disruptions at work, e.g., taking away a xerox machine, may end up costing more.

P.S. I really like those big honking MFPs that are serviced by Xerox or HP. They just work and they are fast!
posted by jchaw at 10:42 AM on October 1, 2010

Look at other providers too.
My wife had a 'big, honking' Savin at her office.
It did the printing, scanning, copying, and faxing.
posted by Drasher at 10:53 AM on October 1, 2010

Definitely get a scanner with a good feeding mechanism. I have a Canon D480 which is pretty nice-- the feeder doesn't give top quality, but is perfectly serviceable for archiving documents as long as you don't mind a little crookedness or graininess, and it scans both sides of pages. I know I would use it a whole lot less if I had to constantly mind the thing, flipping pages.
posted by alexei at 11:04 AM on October 1, 2010

Response by poster: @mr_silver and @ChrisHartley The multifunction that we're looking at is a large business class HP machine. It would also come with a service agreement. We are sending out a survey right now to determine how much copying is done. We do need color on occasion I don't know the budget but it is significant.
posted by birchhook at 11:20 AM on October 1, 2010

Response by poster: @jchaw "At the end of the day productivity is key..." I will be using that as my conclusion for whatever recommendation I make. Thanks :)
posted by birchhook at 11:25 AM on October 1, 2010

In general, I lean towards your boss' opinion. Getting a multifunction machine, whether it's a copier/scanner or a TV/VCR is a great way to get two crappy things for the price of one decent thing.

(If you're going for one of The Big Machines, then this difference is much less marked. And if you're getting a service contract that would cover any repairs, that will definitely help.)

However, my experience with machines that scan and then print is that the resulting hard copy looks like garbage compared to something that's just been copied.

Am I correct in reading your question, that your office does not currently have a scanner? If that is the case, then I would be willing to bet CASH MONEY that if you got one, no one would use it. That sounds harsh, but it's an opinion borne from some 20 years of working in offices, and in IT.

Maybe you can spec out the price for leasing a copier and a separate scanner, with the option to drop the scanner after N months. What kind of boss do you have? When he sees how rarely the scanner is used, would he be willing to end the lease? Or would he stick to his guns, use it daily (and ostentatiously) himself if only to make a point, and send out badgering (though ultimately futile) emails insisting that everyone else use the scanner?

Frankly I think this will come down to a choice between maximizing your budget, and making your boss happy.
posted by ErikaB at 4:16 PM on October 1, 2010

The big network MFPs that most people lease rather than buy are generally great machines. They usually have good software included that makes the scanner much more pleasant to use than a plain network attached model that just dumps all the files in a network share.

As a bonus they work well as printers and copiers and often can collate, do duplex printing, and staple. Some will even do binding, but those get expensive. It's also handy being able to email a scanned document directly from the MFP itself.

The point being, that if it's within your budget, those are absolutely the best possible solution. Personally, I've used Xerox, Sharp, and Ricoh. They're all excellent, IMO.
posted by wierdo at 9:42 PM on October 1, 2010

The big problem with MFPs is that they are completely non-standard. Yes, it may work now. Next year? Crapshoot. There is essentially no incentive for a company to keep up with making sure they have current drivers for obsolete equipment. MFPs are often/usually obsolete in <>
Buying one is essentially saying "I am signing up for future compatibility issues." Or, more likely "I am willing to upgrade to a new machine every year or so."

Instead, get one good machine that does what you actually need. I doubt you need to scan much, so get a good Postscript printer or a high-end HP compatible. Personally, I recommend eBay for printers. Often you can get one with a new toner cartridge for less than a single toner cartridge would cost. Bizarre but true. Even more strange is that the "used" printer will print more pages than a new one, because new ones don't come with full toner cartridges.

For example, I bought a Dell 3110CN from eBay a couple years ago. It is a color laser, and came with full, new toner cartridges. It works with Windows, Mac and Linux. I spent $300, including shipping, which is less than replacing two of the color cartridges. No brainer, great printer, and is ten times faster than any MFP hunk-o-junk you will buy for less than a few grand.
posted by Invoke at 9:59 PM on October 1, 2010

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