A multifunction printer on a wooden table.
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Printers have come a long way from when all they could do was print. They can now often scan and fax documents, too. The question is whether you need the added functionality and whether it’s worth the cost.

What Is an All-in-One Printer?

If you’ve been on the hunt for a new printer recently, you’ve probably come across the term “all-in-one” (AIO) or multifunction printer. At first glance, the value proposition is clear: You are getting a printer that can do more than just print, but are these extra functions actually useful or even good?

The truth is that you get what you pay for. You’re not getting a top-of-the-line scanner built into an all-in-one printer. But that may not be a problem. For example, if you’re just scanning some of your documents for safekeeping, you don’t need a high-end scanner that can create a large resolution image.

There’s also the slight hiccup that, while you might have a specific function available as part of the AIO, it might not work fully without additional equipment. Faxing, for one, might need you to have a computer connected to the AIO for it to function correctly. Then again, once you start looking at higher-end models, they have in-built fax functionality without the need for an external PC.

As you can see, it’s not always straightforward.

What to Consider When Buying an AIO Printer

Functionality should always come first and foremost, especially if you are looking for these additional functions. Going a step deeper, you should also consider how you want to use your AIO and if there are specific features that might make your life easier. For example, do you take a lot of photos stored on an SD card? Look for a multifunction printer with an SD card slot so that you don’t have to use a PC as an intermediary.

Secondly, and somewhat obviously, it’s important to pick a printer that fits your needs since that’s the primary device you’re buying. Does it have a good resolution and color profile? Do you need to go for laser or inkjet? How many pages do you need to print, and how much will that cost? All of these should play a big part in how you make your choice.

Finally, you’ll want to look at connectivity and compatibility. Some AIO printers can only connect through one cable or to one computer at a time, and if you’re in a setting with several computers, that might be a problem. Similarly, if you would like to print off your phone directly, an AIO that can be run off an app is necessary.

Are AIO Printers Worth It?

The biggest issue with AIO printers is cost vs. quality.

As mentioned above, you’re ultimately getting a worse set of devices rolled into one for a lower price—unless you are willing to spend money to get a higher-end AIO. At the high end, you’re looking at spending another $200 to $300 or more on your printer. At that point, it might be better to just buy dedicated devices for each of the things you want to do rather than buying them as part of a package.

The balance is figuring out how much you are willing to spend and what quality and functions you are ready to settle with. If you can spend $150 and get an AIO that fits your needs and you’re okay with the quality, then you should absolutely go for it.

Aside from the cost vs. quality issue, the only other problem is that if one part of the AIO breaks, you will likely be depriving yourself of the other ones as it gets fixed. It’s sort of like putting all your eggs in one basket: If one egg breaks, you’ll have to stop and clean up the rest of them as well.

Profile Photo for Albert Bassili Albert Bassili
Albert Bassili is a freelance writer at How-to-Geek with eight years of experience in both commerce and tech writing. He's been a life-long lover of all sorts of tech and gadgets and has been building his own PCs for just under two decades now and he has more gadgets than he actually needs. He's written for a variety of sites from SFGate to GameGavel.
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