Entrepreneurs multitask, so shouldn't your printer? If you have a small office, home office or workgroup that needs access to printing, scanning, faxing and copying from one compact device, then a multifunction printer is the way to go. In particular, laser MFPs will help you save on ongoing printing costs while delivering sharp output with a reasonable upfront investment.
Here's a basic question to ask before you go shopping: Color or monochrome? Color lasers are more affordable than ever and can add that extra bit of pizzazz to your documents, sales sheets and brochures. Monochrome printers still handle all your everyday printing chores quickly and inexpensively. Besides cost, other color vs. monochrome considerations include the amount of memory needed for large documents and graphics and whether you have special paper handling needs--say, automatic duplexing for two-sided printing. Maybe your network needs both printer types.
If that's the case, the $699 Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet CM1017 MFP comes with built-in networking and an easy-to-read, flip-up, 2.4-inch color display. You also get memory card slots for fast printing without downloading to a computer first--nice if you plan to print pictures from a digital camera. Compare that with the similarly priced Epson AcuLaser CX11NF, which turns out a respectable 25 ppm in monochrome and 5 ppm in color. If you need more speed, the $799 OKI C3530n hits 16 ppm in color.
The $899 color Dell 3115cn features a hefty 60,000-page monthly duty cycle and fast print speeds of 31 ppm in monochrome and 17 ppm in color. It can be hot-rodded with extras like a $199 automatic duplexing unit and up to a gigabyte of memory ($159). Those could be worthwhile upgrades for work-groups that expect their MFPs to be printing workhorses.
Jumping over the $1,000 barrier, there's the monochrome Samsung SCX-5530FN. It prints at a speedy 30 ppm and includes a direct-to-USB scanning feature that lets you load scans onto a Flash drive or other USB memory device.
If you don't need color and want to squeeze an MFP out of a tight budget, the $399 Canon ImageClass MF4690 is a good bet. Automatic duplexing, a flatbed scanner and built-in networking give it a lot of versatility. The combined toner and drum cartridge also simplifies the replacement process.
For budget color printing, look to the Lexmark X500n. At just $499, it handles printing, copying and scanning but not faxing. It still generates up to 8 ppm color and a very snappy 31 ppm monochrome. Also look into multifunction offerings from Sharp and Xerox. Both offer competitive models for small offices and workgroups.
Keep in mind that the true cost of a printer is in the consumables--mainly the toner cartridges and drums. It's a good idea to find out the cost of cartridge replacements before you buy a particular model so you don't get sticker shock the first time you run out of toner. If your printer will be constantly cranking out pages, look to the duty cycle on a particular model to determine its general robustness. With so many affordable laser MFPs, it's mostly a matter of picking one with the specs and speed to match your workgroup's needs.