When desktop space is tight, which is probably the case in most offices, a multifunction device that combines a printer, a scanner, and a fax can be an excellent option. And if you're on a budget, a multifunction device can often cost less than buying a separate printer, scanner, and fax machine. Shopping for a multifunction device is much like shopping for separate office machines-you need to examine the printing, scanning, and fax capabilities of each system and verify that they meet your particular needs.
Most multifunction devices offer inkjet or laser printers. If you're going to print a lot of black and white pages, a laser printer is your best choice because its faster and will cost less to print each page. For these reasons, laser printers are often the printer of choice for workgroups that output a large volume of documents. Laser printers typically output 600 dots per inch (dpi), which creates crisp and attractive documents, and some can output at 1,200dpi or even 2,400dpi.
If you want to print in color, consider an inkjet-based multifunction device. Inkjet printers initially cost less than laser printers, however, it's more expensive to print each individual page-the price of ink cartridges really add up. Inkjet printers claim resolutions of 1,200dpi or 2,400dpi, but these documents are never as sharp as those from laser printers. A major downside, inkjet printers are far slower than laser printers.
You'll also want to consider the quality of multifunction device's scanner. Multifunction devices feature flat-bed scanners, which look like copy machines, or sheet-feeders that send a paper through a slot. Today, sheet-feeders are mostly obsolete on stand-alone scanners. Keep in mind that a sheet-feeder can handle an individual sheet of paper, but can't scan in images from books and magazines.
Color depth in a scanner refers to the number of bits that it can use to define a pixel, which determines the number of colors that may be used within a graphic file-the higher the depth the better the reproduction. High-end graphic work may require a 48-bit color depth, but most users can probably get by with 24-bit depth that defines some 16 million colors.
A scanner's optical resolution refers to the maximum number of dots per inch (dpi) that a scanner can capture-the more dots it can capture, the more accurate the reproduction. On low end scanners, optical resolution generally ranges between 600x600dpi to 1,200x2,400dpi, which should be fine for most office use. Graphic professionals will probably need a scanner that supports higher optical resolutions, say in the 1,200x2,400dpi range. By the way, many scanners quote interpolated resolutions that are mostly meaningless specs. Always compare a scanner's optical resolution.
Fax capabilities vary, but most multifunctions offer the basics. Finally, don't forget to check out a system's warranty and the company's technical support. A toll-free number and 24/7 telephone support can be a lifesaver.