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Before You Decide Which All-in-One You Want



All-in-one devices (also called multifunctions or MFPs) are not necessarily created equal. There are a number of different features that you might find in an all-in-one that can affect both its usefulness and its price. Here is a rundown of some of the basic functions you'll find in an all-in-one, including some options that could be handy.

Printing

Printing is, of course, the main reason you're buying an all-in-one. Unless you are getting a laser all-in-one, you will be able to print both in black ink and in color. If you're buying an all-in-one for business/text printing purposes, you could make do with two ink cartridges: a black ink cartridge and a color ink cartridge. If, however, you are buying a higher-level device, or one that is marketed as a photo printer, it may have four or six cartridges.

Scanning

Most all-in-ones will have scanners that have at least a 600dpi resolution; if it's a photo printer, the resolution may be higher. If you're going to be scanning documents on legal-sized paper, check -- many will only accept letter-sized paper. And don't worry if you've got a black-only laser printer -- just make sure the scanner handles color (it shoould). If you're going to do a lot of scanning, get a scanner with an Automatic Document Feeder (ADF). Slides? Make sure you can get an adaptor.

Copying

One of the more important things to look for when getting an all-in-one that copies is not electronic -- it's the cover. Make sure that the scanner cover is either removeable, or that it lifts high enough to accommodate books and other thick items, or you'll be limited to single sheets of paper. It's also handy if you can copy directly from the printer rather than through your computer -- look for a Copy button (both Color and Black), and a way to determine the number of copies.

Fax

Many all-in-ones will claim to include faxing in their reportoire, but will require you to do most of the work through your computer. If you're going to do more than the occasional fax, and especially if you want to be able to send and/or receive faxes when your computer is off, make sure the device has a separate fax line/modem. That also means you'll should be able to set it to send faxes automatically at night, when it doesn't matter if the lines are tied up.

Option: Automatic Paper Feeder

An Automatic Paper Feeder is a very cool item. It means that if you have to copy or scan in more than one or two sheets, you don't have to stand over the device and feed them in manually. But an ADF will add to the cost of the machine. Some all-in-ones come with them; others have them as options. In either case, make sure that the ADF can handle as many pages as you'll need -- 50 sheets is a good minimum.

Option: Extra Paper Trays

If you're going to use your all-in-one as a serious business machine, you won't want to be constantly adding more paper. There are a number of all-in-ones out there that have optional paper trays -- they usually fit under the machine -- that can add up to 500 pages to your total capacity. If you do opt for an extra tray, check out your device driver to see if it can be set to recognize different types of paper, so that you can have, say, good paper in one tray, and draft in the other.

Option: Photo Printing

An increasing number of all-in-ones double as photo printers -- printers with higher resolutions and better inks so that you can use them to print photos and other images. If this is something you're looking for, then use the same criteria you'd use for a photo printer -- high-resolution capabilities, four to six ink cartridges, and (if you want to print directly from your camera) a direct connection to your camera and a display to view the images.

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