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What We Looked for in Multifunction Printer Reviews

In researching our picks, we favored multifunction printer reviews from sources such as CNET, PC Mag, and PC World, who put the machines through a variety of tests. These reviewers are experts at determining the quality of the output from an all-in-one.

Also, because they're familiar with so many models, they know what kind of performance and features you should expect from a budget model.

Although all-in-one printers can copy, scan, and sometimes fax, it's clear from multifunction printer reviews by both users and experts that print quality is far and away the most important attribute. Reviewers rarely comment on the copying ability of these machines, and assessments of scanning and faxing abilities are also scarce. All-in-one reviews mostly focus on two aspects of printing: speed and quality. Our top picks excel at printing text in short order and, for the most part, produce lively, vivid photos. Where they stumble a bit, according to all-in-one printer reviews, is in the color graphics department. Colors may look a little dull, especially if you don't use the brand of paper that corresponds to your all-in-one machine.

High-Quality Text and Photo Printing.

Multifunction printers can do many things, but most users rely on them more for printing text documents and photos than for any other purpose. That being the case, print quality is the defining characteristic of a good budget all-in-one printer. A device that meets the mark produces crisp text that's easy to read, regardless of font size, as well as photos that are bright, crisp, and display accurate color.

Multifunction printers, in general, perform quite well when it comes to printing dark, sharp text. The expert reviews we consulted had little to complain about in this regard, and some reviewers were quite impressed with the text output from the inexpensive printers we recommend. A PC Mag expert tested the Canon Pixma MG5420 (starting at $79) and found that the text is so sharp it's easily readable even when using small fonts.

Photos and graphics printed by the models on our list generally look pretty good as well, with accurate, bright colors. However, you'll get the best results if the brand of paper you use matches the brand of multifunction printer you have, experts say. Printer manufacturers design their inks and papers to maximize quality when you use them together. A Digital Trends reviewer found that color graphics printed with the Epson Expression Home XP-410 (starting at $70) show accurate colors and look fantastic when printed on Epson paper, but on another brand, the colors appear dark and muddy.

High-Quality Copies and Scans.

As with printing, the copy and scanning quality seems pretty consistent across the best budget all-in-ones, although experts focus less attention on the performance of these two functions. The quality of copies and scans, as well as the speed at which they're produced, should be on par with the print output. Text should be sharp and dark, and colors should be accurate and lively. The Canon Pixma MG5420, for example, earns high marks from an expert reviewer at Computer Shopper for its ability to reproduce accurate color and sharp text when copying or scanning. Even pricier printers have their shortcomings, however. A PC World reviewer says the Brother MFC-J870DW (starting at $100) makes very sharp black-and-white scans, but color scans can show some shadows.

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One metric that printer manufacturers like to fudge is the number of pages per minute, or ppm, a printer can spit out. Specs usually display the ppm for printing text at the lowest quality setting (draft quality), using only black ink. It's not uncommon to find cheap all-in-one printers that claim print speeds of 24 ppm or more. But if you prefer higher quality settings or need to print in color, the speed quickly plunges to about 10 to 12 ppm for text and 3 to 4 ppm for graphics, or perhaps even slower. In a test by PC World, it took the Epson WF-2540 (starting at $75) about two minutes to print a photo using the "best" quality setting, which is pretty slow. However, dropping the print quality down one setting sped up printing considerably without sacrificing much in the way of quality.

Multifunction printer reviews by experts reveal that most of our picks maintain a respectable pace. For example, the Canon Pixma MG6320 (starting at $70) shoots out monochrome pages at 8.4 ppm, according to PC World, which is faster than average under that site's testing parameters.

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