“a consumer reports for the cheap” — the new york times

Cheap Multifunction Printers Buying Guide

Our research identified several cheap multifunction printers that meet users' expectations for value and performance. At the thrifty end of the market, printer heavyweights Brother, Canon, HP, and Epson hold dominant positions.

Related Guides:
Laser Printers and Paper Shredders
We particularly favor the Canon Pixma MG6320 (starting at $70) and the Epson WF-2540 (starting at $75), which includes a fax machine. The Canon Pixma MG5420 (starting at $79) and the Brother MFC-J450DW (starting at $80) are two other good budget options. The HP Deskjet 2540 (starting at $50) may be affordable, but it's missing some key features.

Even the best cheap multifunction printers are not perfect in every dimension. At budget prices you have to accept some weaknesses in performance or a lack of certain features. Lower-priced all-in-one printers are generally slower than pricier models, especially when printing photos, and color document printing may not reach professional-quality levels. Higher-end multifunction printers generally boast more built-in memory and much larger paper capacity. Bearing brand names such as Ricoh, Xerox, and Samsung, these upscale machines are designed for business use and deliver far more in the way of features and performance than a family, student, or home-office user would need.

When shopping for a cheap all-in-one printer, assess your needs before making your selection. Some machines excel at printing text while others handle photos especially well. Any multifunction printer should be able to print to an array of common paper sizes, such as letter and legal, but many machines also print more unusual options such as A4, B5, and A6. Most users won't need a built-in fax or automatic document feeder, but you can find an all-in-one with those options at a competitive price.

What We Looked for in the Specs

Wireless Connectivity.

It used to be rare to find a wireless multifunction printer for less than $100. Now all the models we researched boast wireless capabilities. If your household has more than one computer, wireless enables everyone to use the printer at once from anywhere in the home. Connecting to a home network was a real hassle in the past, but nowadays reviewers say it's pretty easy to connect a wireless all-in-one to a Wi-Fi network. You can also connect most multifunction printers to a PC by plugging in a USB cord. Ethernet connections are less common in all-in-ones. The only models we picked that have Ethernet ports are the Canon Pixma MG6320 and MG5420.

Review continues below

Separate Color Ink Cartridges.

Frugal shoppers will no doubt be concerned about the cost of printer ink. How much you spend on ink depends in large part on the type of printing and copying you do, but the ink system also affects cost. Some all-in-one printers, the HP Deskjet 2540 among them, have only two ink cartridges: one for black and one for color. If you run out of one color within that color cartridge, you have to replace the whole thing, even if there's still plenty of the other colors left. All-in-ones with more color cartridges are more cost-effective than those with only one color cartridge. Most of our picks use a combination of one black cartridge and three color cartridges. The Canon Pixma printers have additional cartridges intended for high-quality black-and-white photos.

Another way to save on ink costs is to buy "high-yield" cartridges. These have about twice as much ink as regular cartridges but cost only a little more. For example, a standard black ink cartridge for the Brother MFC-J450DW costs $15 from a source such as Office Depot and has a maximum yield of 300 pages. A high-yield ink cartridge for the same printer has a maximum yield of 600 pages but costs only $25, a savings of $5 over two standard cartridges. All of our picks have high-yield ink cartridges available.

Automatic Paper Handling.

A printer with automatic duplexing can print on both sides of a page to help save on paper costs. With the exception of the Epson WF-2540, the models we recommend support automatic double-sided printing. Other automatic paper-handling features may make a difference to some consumers, particularly business users dealing with higher volume. Most cheap multifunction printers have a flatbed scanner where you open the lid and lay flat a single page you want to copy or scan, be it a document, photo, book or magazine page, driver's license, or what have you. But some all-in-ones have automatic document feeders that churn through multiple pages without the user's intervention. So-called ADFs aren't particularly common in budget models, but two that include this convenience are the Epson WF-2540 and Brother MFC-J450DW. The HP Deskjet 2540 has no such features.

Mobile/Web Printing.

A wireless printer should provide a number of options for remote printing. All the models we recommend are compatible with Google Cloud Print, as well as Apple's AirPrint, which lets users print directly from an Apple device without installing any printer software. Many all-in-one manufacturers have additional apps available for printing documents from a smartphone or tablet. Examples are the Epson Connect app and Brother's iPrint & Scan. The Canon Pixma MG6320 and MG5420 and the Brother MFC-J450DW also print from cloud storage services such as Evernote.

Display.

Many budget multifunction printers now feature an LCD menu screen, not just buttons and flashing lights. Some even have a touchscreen that works like a tablet. The HP Deskjet 2540, by contrast, has a tiny LCD that displays only icons and numbers, such as the number of copies you wish to make or number of pages you wish to print. At the other end of the spectrum, the HP Photosmart 7520 (starting at $125) boasts a 4.33-inch touchscreen with access to web apps.

What We Ignored in the Specs

Memory Card Support.

An all-in-one with a memory card reader lets users insert a camera card into the machine and print photos without the help of a computer. It's a convenient feature that shows up on most of our top picks, but we don't consider it essential. Consumers who do a lot of photo printing can look to the Canon Pixma MG6320 or MG5420 or the Epson Expression Home XP-410 (starting at $70) to print directly from a memory card.

Scan/Print Resolution.

A high resolution (measured in dpi, or dots per inch) shouldn't be a deciding factor in the purchase of an all-in-one printer. Experts say the dot size, shape, and placement also play a role in how sharp a printout looks, as do the type of ink and paper you use. Additionally, companies perform tests based on their own standards, so you don't know if you are comparing apples to apples when looking at printer resolution from two different manufacturers.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

Back to top »

Sign up for our
Free Newsletter
Cheapism.com on Facebook
 
 
From our blog
Where to Go for Professional Baby Photos on a Budget

Several national chains offer budget pricing on baby photos, and some independent photographers offer package deals.

4 Office Software Suites You Can Use for Free

Free alternatives to MS Office include open source suites and web-based tools. The cost, though, is some limitations on functionality.

Why Microfiber Cleaning Cloths Are Worth the Price

Microfiber cleaning cloths may seem pricey but can be re-used scores of times, so save you money long-term on cleaning products.

All Our Blog Posts

Subscribe