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Multifunction Printers: Flatbed vs. Sheet-Fed, Print Resolution, and Size

Paper Handling System: Flatbed vs. Sheet-Fed.

When making comparisons of multifunction printer features, the paper handling system is rarely thought of, but it makes a huge difference depending on the way you expect to use your printer.

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A flatbed printer lets you open the lid and lay flat whatever you want to copy or scan, be it a document, photo, book or magazine page, driver's license, or whatever. Sheet-fed multifunction printers automatically feed pages through the scan or copy function without the user's intervention. Also known as auto document feed, this design is way more convenient if you want to scan or copy several images or multiple pages. Flatbed printers are far more common in the budget category, and all but two of the models we researched feature this design. But, you can only run one scan or copy one document at a time

The Brother MFC-J430w and Canon Pixma MX410 are auto document feed printers. Although a great boon to productivity, it's hard to copy or scan bulky, plastic, or inflexible items with a sheet-fed design.

Print Resolution.

If you plan to use the multifunction printer's scanner for photos or other documents, pay close attention to the printer's resolution, measured in dots per inch, or dpi. This is usually displayed as a pair of numbers, such as 1200x2400. The first number is the most critical because it indicates the actual resolution of the scan; the higher the resolution, the sharper the scanned image will appear. Keep in mind that images scanned with a high resolution have more detail and produce larger files that take longer to prepare and print out.

You can usually choose among several resolutions for scanning a document or image. Lower resolutions, such as 600dpi, are fine for text or web images. Higher resolutions of 1200dpi or 2400dpi, are better for pictures where image quality is a must. Most scanners on cheap multifunction printers, like the HP PhotoSmart 5510 and Epson Stylus NX430, have a maximum optical resolution of 1200dpi to 2400dpi, which should be sufficient for most home tasks. If you work with a lot of graphics or photos and need higher resolution scans, you can opt for an all-in-one printer with a resolution of 2400x4800dpi; the Canon Pixma MG5320 is a good example.


All-in-one printers are usually bulkier than plain stand-alone printers thanks to the additional functionalities. However, even multifunction devices can come in small packages, so it shouldn't be difficult to find a convenient place to park it. Epson's Stylus NX430 is nicknamed the "Small-in-one" and weighs only 9 pounds; it measures 15x20x11 inches, so it doesn't need lots of space. Other all-in-one devices are generally about the same size as the Stylus NX430, perhaps a little larger, smaller, heavier, or lighter, but not dramatically so. The HP Deskjet 3050A is also svelte, with dimensions of 17x12x6 inches and weight of less than 8 pounds. The Brother MFC-J430 is another small machine, measuring only 15x16x7 inches, but weighing almost 20 pounds. The Canon Pixma MX410 also weighs a hefty 19 pounds.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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