Even if you have a printer and a scanner, you probably still look for a copy machine when you need to duplicate a few pages. If you often need to make copies, you should consider a multifunction printer (MFP). It costs more than a scanner and a printer, but a combination device gives you copying abilities and saves desk space. We reviewed four MFPs — two color ink-jet printers and two black-and-white laser printers — that have a copy function, which lets you scan and print a page without a computer. And all four models are real options for small offices.
Clear as Black and White
Dedicated copiers can bleach out gray backgrounds and darken light text. The MFPs we reviewed kept more detail than an average copy machine but produced fainter text. Only the HP LaserJet 3330mfp came close to producing the dark text of a true photocopy, but its copy had a muddy background. The Lexmark X5150 All-in-One Print Center had the best balance of dark text and image detail.
In printer mode, laser printers produce sharper text than ink-jets. The LaserJet and the Brother MFC-8420 put out clean text even at small point sizes, but the LaserJet’s best-quality output was slightly better than the Brother’s. The LaserJet’s default setting is highest quality, which explains that device’s slower times on the 20-page test. But if you select the printer menu’s 600-dpi option, the LaserJet’s print time is in line with the Brother’s.
In our PDF test, the Brother had by far the fastest times. But it also produced the lowest-quality output, even at the 1,200-dpi setting. The images were blotchy and had noticeable banding.
Color ink-jet MFPs cost much less than their laser counterparts, and they can print photos and make color copies. The Lexmark produced the best black-and-white copy, but its color copy showed strange color shifts, with whites that looked lavender, reds that looked orange, and browns that looked red.
Today’s color ink-jets are far better than those of a few years ago at printing photo-quality images. We printed photos on each color ink-jet, at best quality and on glossy paper. The HP PSC 2175’s prints were lighter and had more detail, but they were slightly dull. The Lexmark’s were darker, but the colors were punchier. In the darkest areas of the Lexmark image, however, the ink pooled and created a shiny pattern.
The PSC 2175 is clearly aimed at digital-camera owners. It includes slots for reading memory media, and it will print a proof sheet of all the images on a memory card. (You can then pick images to print by filling in spaces on the proof sheet.) It also lets you replace the black cartridge with another color cartridge, for six-color printing.
Scanning for Content
None of the MFPs’ built-in scanners offered perfect color or fine detail, but any of the scans we got would be acceptable with some tinkering in Adobe Photoshop. The LaserJet produced the best scan, although it was slightly dark. The Brother was a close second, though its scan was even darker. The scan from the PSC 2175 was too blue. Without any correction, the Lexmark’s scan was flat, dark, and dull. What’s more, the Lexmark’s scanning bed is angled, so pages kept slipping off.
Each MFP could scan a full page at its 1,200-dpi setting except the LaserJet, which created an angled, black-and-white scan. (The company says that the device probably ran out of RAM.) When we picked a page area of a few square inches, which is a more realistic test, the LaserJet completed the scan.
The automatic-scan buttons on the keypads of the Lexmark and the PSC 2175 work with a Mac. Both MFPs launch their software when you press the Scan button, and they then move the image into an e-mail application. The Brother, on the other hand, reports via the LED that it is looking for a PC and then resets itself. The LaserJet’s Scan button is for when the device is connected to a network using HP’s Jetdirect 310x print server; it didn’t work with our Mac.