The 10 Best MFC Printers
10. Canon TS5120 Wireless All-In-One
9. HP OfficeJet 5255 Wireless
8. Canon Pixma TS9120
7. HP Envy 5055
6. Epson Expression ET-2700
5. Brother MFCL2750DW Monochrome
4. HP LaserJet Pro M180NW
3. Epson WorkForce ET-4750
2. Canon Pixma TR8520 Home Office
1. Canon Color ImageClass MF733CDW
An Office At Home
When I was in elementary school there was one enormous, ominous copy machine in the administrative office of the building, just outside the principal's office. Now, I'm not admitting to have spent a lot of time waiting outside the principal's office or anything, but let's just say that I came to associate that machine with a certain sense of dread. It stood there, with its bleak, colorless LCD and its beige everything else, mocking me.
Thankfully, the technology that goes into those things has gotten a little smaller and a little more welcoming over the years. And, also, I got on really good terms with the vice principal, and she handled me kindly after that.
In those days, which for the purpose of confusing my biographers I will not specify, copiers were just copiers. They served no special function beyond duplication. They hadn't even integrated the fax machine.
What you should expect to find in a multi-function printer today is pretty varied, but the quality of the unit will be measured by the clarity and contrast of its prints and by the sharpness of its scanning.
Dots Per Inch, or DPI, will have a lot to do with the clarity of that print, but it's just as important to know that you're feeding your printer files of a high enough resolution to make use of the printer's powers. The old standard baseline for DPI was 300, and all of the printers in our lineup far exceed that.
When you get your unit home, check out the scanner function. It's safe enough to go ahead and hit scan, then watch as the scan head drags a fluorescent light slowly and repetitively across the scanning surface. Basically, that's just the light source. When I was a kid I thought that somehow the light itself did the scanning, and that the light was powerful enough to blind you. Sometimes, I think I wasn't that smart of a kid.
The light from your scan head reflects off of a series of mirrors and onto a basic CCD sensor like you might have found in early consumer digital cameras. The quality of that sensor and the cleanliness of the mirrors and your glass scanning surface can all affect the clarity of your scans. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a smudgy scan become clear after wiping the fingerprints off of the glass bed.
Which Tool's For You?
It's a given that the main reason you're looking into these printers is to print. I don't know what you want to print, but I know printing is going to be the primary function of whatever unit you eventually take home.
What does that mean about your other options? Some of these printers do everything but make you a cappuccino, though I have a feeling something like that exists.
If this is a purchase for home use, you're almost guaranteed to employ the scanning and copying functions, whether you're preserving old photographs or copying documents during tax season.
The real standout function that you may or may not use is the fax machine. I've got to be honest; I had a fax machine on my printer for years without using it much, and as soon as I got a printer without one, I needed to send a dozen faxes. I suppose that's some kind of karmic retribution for my lack of faith. DMVs, tax aides, and a handful of other people and organizations you might encounter only once a year still demand faxed information.
I guess they don't realize it's just as easy to fake a document via fax as it is via email, and that facsimile security across LAN lines is subject to just as much, if not more, security risk.
At this point, if you still have a phone line in your home–and I assume you still would in an office–, it's probably a good idea to have the fax capability. Even if you only use it once a year and never again after a few runs, that time saved scrambling your way to the nearest FedEx store will be worth every penny.
Copying And Printing Have Always Gone Hand In Hand
The development of printing the way we think of it today (and not so much the printing presses that revolutionized literature and news media) started in the 1930s with the original concept for what would become the Xerox machine.
It took a solid 30 years for that invention to catch on, though, and by that time computing powers were edging closer and closer to the smaller machines that would enter people's homes less than 20 years later.
We had a computer and printer in my house when I was four or five, and with it came a printer much like the one you see pictured. That was the old dot-matrix printer, which is still used widely today in retail and on the set of Halt and Catch Fire.
Meanwhile, the fax machine was being developed from its roots in radio and telegraph transmission for use along phone lines to transmit newspaper quality images between Cleveland and New York City.
It wasn't until around 2000 that companies started experimenting with combination machines that could copy and fax, or scan and copy, etc.
Although the fax element may be on its way out, some multi-function units are becoming network hubs for office communications, and time will tell what other innovations make their way into the bodies of these reliable machines.