5 Affordable Small Business Multifunction Printers

by Ted Needleman

You don't have to spend a lot of money—or sacrifice quality—to get the small business multifunction printer you need. We discuss what features to consider and look at five great MFPs on the market.

A multifunction printer (MFP)—also known as an All-in-One (AIO)—makes sense for a lot of small businesses. Along with the printer, an MFP includes a scanner to digitize documents like store receipts, bills, and correspondence; a copier (though many inkjet MFPs copy documents slowly) and, depending on the model, fax capability.

You have a number of factors to consider when making your choice, all of which will influence the price. We look at the major features to help you winnow the field, and take a look at five worthy small business MFPs.

How to Buy a Small Business MFP

Small Business Printer Use

One of the most important considerations is how you plan to use your small business printer. Will you use the MFP sporadically? What kind of print and copy jobs do you expect to produce—and how frequently? An MFP that handles the occasional invoice, letter, report, and copy doesn't have to be the most expensive model in the line. In fact, it doesn't necessarily have to be a model targeted at the business market. Many "consumer" models do a fine job printing 100 pages, or fewer, a week.

The specification you want to examine is the manufacturer's Recommended Monthly Print Volume. If your anticipated printing use will come close to the specification's upper limit, you're better off with a heavier duty (and more expensive) model.

 Small business multifunction printers: Epson ET-4550 EcoTank

The Epson EcoTank ET-4450 multifunction printer includes two years' worth of ink—in the box and in its price.

Ink and Toner Cost

Small business owners frequently overlook ink or toner costs—until they need to replace it. Many MFP vendors price the printer very attractively, and then hit you with a huge bill when it's time to change a cartridge. When researching your purchase, look beyond the purchase price of the MFP and calculate what printing will cost on a per-page basis over time.

Inkjet or Laser Printer

Today's inkjet MFPs produce output that's just as good, or even better, than most laser printers. And they do it at a cost-per-page that's frequently 50 percent less than laser printing, and in many cases, just as fast.

Laser has the advantage when it comes to producing images on plain paper. Inkjet printers and MFPs use a liquid ink, and standard copy/print paper is porous enough so that some of the ink gets sucked down into the paper and spreads out, slightly blurring the image. This is called wicking, and it's why photos printed on an inkjet look so much better when printed on special photo paper that's immune to wicking.

A laser printer/MFP uses powdered toner suspended in a plastic binder that literally melts onto the surface of the paper. It adheres to the paper, but it doesn't wick the way ink does. The result: sharper images on standard inexpensive paper.

If you frequently produce reports or marketing materials that contain photos, you may want to seriously consider a laser-based MFP. If your images tend to be charts and graphs, most inkjet-based devices will deliver quality that's more than acceptable. But if you need all-out speed, laser and LED-based MFPs are often considerably faster than inkjets; they produce an entire page at a time rather than bit-by-bit as the paper moves past an inkjet's printhead.

Automatic Duplexing

We consider automatic duplexing—where the MFP prints one side of the page and then turns the paper over and continues printing on the second side of the page—a must-have feature in a business setting. Auto duplexing not only saves paper, it also gives your output a more professional look. An Automatic Document Feeder (ADF) that duplexes is a nice plus, since at least some of the documents you scan, copy, and fax will be two-sided.

Color or Monochrome

The majority of inkjet MFPs are color devices; finding monochrome inkjet MFPs these days is rare. Laser-based MFPs are a different story. Monochrome units are widely available, and they're considerably less expensive to buy. And, with only a black toner cartridge rather than four different toner colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black), they also cost less to operate.

Is Fax Dead?

Finally, consider whether you need a three-function or a four-function MFP. A four-function MFP adds the capability to send and receive faxes. While faxing has dropped in popularly as emailing documents has gained, plenty of companies that insist that you fax them a document rather than scanning and emailing it. Four-function models don't cost much more than those without fax capability. We suggest that you select a four-function MFP unless you are absolutely certain you will never need the capability.

Check out page two for our take on five small business multifunction printers.

Time to Buy a Small Business Multifunction Printer

We've discussed the multifunction printer features a small business needs to consider before buying. Here, in no particular order, are five affordable MFPs that make great fit for SMBs. Note on pricing: we list the MSRP. You'll likely find significantly lower street prices as you shop around.

Epson EcoTank ET-4450 ($499 MSRP)

Epson has changed the game with its line of EcoTank printers and MFPs. Instead of offering inexpensive print devices and charging a small fortune for supplies, Epson rolls the cost of two years' worth of ink into the purchase price. EcoTank printers use refillable ink tanks rather than single-use cartridges, and they come with enough ink to print 11,000 monochrome pages or about 8,500 color pages (roughly equivalent to 50 typical ink cartridges).

The ET-4550 (read our full review here) looks like a typical small MFP, but with a bump-out that projects about four inches on the right side of the device—this addition contains the four refillable ink tanks, which you access via a hinged top cover. Each individual tank is also covered by a rubber stopper. Epson warns users about keeping the printer level when moving it (once you've filled it), and even provides a large plastic bag to put the MFP in if it has to be moved.

Filling the tanks is pretty easy; snap off the tip of each ink bottle, unscrew the pouring spout, remove the foil seal, and then replace the cap. Uncap the specific color ink tank and carefully pour the ink into the tank. Take care to put the right color of ink into each tank. Although each tank is labeled, nothing physically prevents you from pouring the wrong color.

Other than the ink system, the ET-4550 is a pretty standard four-function MFP. The ET-4550 offers USB, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi connectivity, and a small 2.2-inch non-touchscreen display. It uses Epson's PrecisionCore printhead technology, which provides very sharp output. The ET-4550 is built for endurance but only modest speed—11ppm in monochrome and 5.5ppm in color.

Replacement ink bottles costs $20 for black ink, and $13 color. Once you spent the up-front money and had several years' worth of printing and copying, you get to keep on printing at one of the lowest per-page costs in the industry.

Brother MFC-J5520DW ($199 MSRP)

The other MFPs in this roundup have one thing in common. The largest paper they can print is 8.5 x 14 inches (legal size). However, the Brother MFC-J5520DW prints pages as large as 11 x 17 inches (tabloid size); though scan, copy, and fax functions are limited to legal size. The paper drawer expands or collapses to accommodate the different paper sizes. The front paper drawer holds 250 sheets, and a rear 80-sheet feed accommodates additional paper or specialty papers.

Small business multifunction printer: Brother MFC-J5520dw

Brother's MFC-J5520DW prints pages up to 11 x 17 inches.

The large paper capacity compliments the MFC-J5520DW's high-capacity ink tanks. The extra-high capacity black ink tank ($40) yields roughly 2,400 pages. A three-pack of high-capacity color cartridges costs $64 and each cartridge yields about 1,200 pages.

A large 3.7-inch color touchscreen makes using the MFC-J5520DW easy. The printer offers automatic duplexing, though the 30 sheet ADF does not. Connectivity options include USB, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi Direct, and you can print from most mobile devices. One eccentricity the MFC-J5520DW shares with other Brother MFPs we've tested is an awkward cable routing. Rather than having the jacks at the rear or side of the MFP, you actually have to raise the entire scan unit, which is hinged at the rear, and route the cables inside the unit.

An MFP that can print on ledger size paper is useful for printing large spreadsheets or printing small booklets. If you think it might be useful at some time, that capability and the large capacity ink cartridges make the Brother MFC-J5520DW worth a look.

Hewlett Packard Officejet Pro X576dw ($399 MSRP)

If your daily routine includes large print or copy jobs, then the HP Officejet Pro X576dw might be the right choice. This hefty printer (20.3 x 20.3 x 15.7 inches) weighs in at 53 pounds, so put it on a sturdy desk or table. HP claims it prints up to 70 pages per minute; with a 500-sheet input tray, an 80-sheet multipurpose tray, and a second (optional) 500 sheet tray, you can load the printer with two reams of paper.

The OJ Pro X576dw gets its outstanding print speed from a technology HP calls "PageWide." Rather than having a small printhead move back and forth across the page laying down ink, the OJ Pro X series printers and MFPs have an array of fixed printheads that span the 8.5 inch paper path. The paper moves across the array, which lays down ink droplets much faster than if the printhead moved across the page.

 Small business multifunction printer: HP Officejet Pro x576dw

HP clocks the Color LaserJet Pro M277dw print speed at 70 pages per minute.

The MFP's 4.3-inch touchscreen makes it easy to choose copy, scan, or fax. Automatic duplexing for both the printer and the 50-sheet ADF (automatic document feeder) lets you load-and-go—just remember to come back and empty the 300 page output bin. The MFP's recommended monthly print maximum is 4,500 pages—more than half a case of paper. Large ink cartridges yield up to 9,200 monochrome pages ($120) or 2,500 color pages ($55).

Connecting the Officejet Pro X576dw offers all the connect options you would expect in a business MFP including USB, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi.

Canon Maxify MB5320 ($399 MSRP)

Canon probably isn't the first name that pops into your head when you think about business MFPs—it's much better known for photo printers. But the company also has a decades-long reputation in the enterprise MFP market for its high-end ImageRunner Advanced office MFPs. So when Canon introduced its Maxify models recently, it really wasn't a total surprise.

The MB5320 is a slick, black stunted cube weighing slightly less than 29 pounds, measuring 18.3 x 18.1 inches, and standing just shy of 14 inches high. That's a smaller footprint than many MFPs with the same capabilities, and it's a handsome addition it your office décor.

A 3-inch touchscreen provides access to all functions including scanning, copying, and faxing. You also access the MB5320's Cloud capabilities (such as printing from the Cloud or scanning into it) from this control panel, though the MFP needs an Internet connection for those functions.

Small business multifunction printer: Canon Maxify MB5320

Canon's Maxify MB5320 compact MFP would look great in any office.

An interesting addition to the touchscreen display is the Records of Use screen. This details the number of pages printed, faxed, scanned, or copied. Some of the other MFPs detailed here also provide this information, though you have to delve deep into the menus to find it, and most require you to print the details in a report rather than display them onscreen.

As befits a business MFP, the Maxify 5320 is fast. Canon rates it at 22ppm in monochrome and 15ppm in color. Standard and high-capacity ink cartridges are available, with the black high-capacity cartridge rated at 2,500 pages ($35) and the color high-yield cartridges estimated to yield between 1,300 and 1,750 pages, depending on the color. The high-yield color cartridges cost about $28.

The Maxify 5320 includes two paper drawers—each with a 250 sheet capacity. Printing provides automatic duplexing, as does the fold-out ADF with a 30-sheet capacity. The ADF is unusual in that it offers one-pass duplexing—both sides of the page are scanned as the page moves through the ADF.

As with the other MFPs detailed here, the Maxify 5320 offers easy connectivity options including USB, Ethernet, as well as Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct.

Hewlett Packard Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw ($329 MSRP)

The M277dw is the only laser-based MFP in our short list. It offers fast printing (19ppm in color or monochrome), small footprint (16.5 x16.4 x 12.7 inches), but weighs in at a hefty 40 pounds. A four-function model, it provides fax capability in addition to the print, scan, and copy functions expected from an MFP. The ADF handles a large number of pages (50), but does not auto duplex—if you're scanning double-sided documents, you'll have to scan both sides manually. Print does offer auto-duplexing; you specify printing on both sides of a page by simply checking a box in the print driver. HP specifies a recommended monthly print cycle of up to 2,500 pages.

Small business multifunction printer: HP Color LaserJet Pro M277dw

HP's Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw is the lone laser printer in our mini-roundup.

As expected from a business MFP, the M227dw provides various connectivity options including Ethernet, USB ports, Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi Direct (Wi-Fi Direct lets you print directly from a Wi-Fi enabled device or PC even if the MFP is not connected to a network). It also supports NFC (near field communications) for printing from compatible smartphones and tablets.

Other features include an easy-to-use 3-inch touchscreen and a single-sheet feeder at the front of the MFP for using letterhead or paper stock up to 57 pounds. Black toner cartridges cost about $67 and yield approximately 1,500 pages; color cartridges cost about $80 each and yield around 1,400 pages.

The laser printer produces excellent print quality, although if you plan to print photographs, you'd be better off with an inkjet MFP. For reports, fliers, and handouts, the M227dw's print quality will be hard to beat without spending considerably more money.

Our one big complaint is the M227dw's input paper drawer capacity—only 150 sheets. That's pretty skimpy for an MFP designed for business use. There's no optional second drawer either, which may be a deal breaker if your business involves high volume printing or copying.

em>Ted Needleman published his first review in 1978. Since then, he has written several thousand hardware and software reviews, columns, articles on using technology, and two books. He has no intention of stopping any time soon.

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This article was originally published on Monday Sep 14th 2015
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