More and more households are buying printers that do more than print. All-in-ones, as they are known, can print, scan, copy and, often, fax. And many cost no more than a plain printer and take up little more space.
According to Consumer Reports, all-in-ones are actually getting cheaper and more versatile, with manufacturers giving them more features. Examples include networking, which makes it possible to use the unit from any computer in either a wired or wireless home network; an LCD photo viewer; and a memory-card reader.
As a group, the inkjet all-in-one printers tested by Consumer Reports cost less that those CR evaluated two years ago. Six of the 28 tested cost $100 or less. And the $140 Canon Pixma C5180 was deemed a CR Best Buy.
While budget inkjet printers have become spartan, inkjets that print on sheets as large as 13 by 19 inches have become less expensive. For example, Canon offers the Pixma Pro9000 for $500, Epson the Stylus Photo R1900 for $550 and HP the Photosmart Pro B8850 for $550 - all models CR hasn't yet evaluated.
In CR's tests, inkjet all-in-ones and plain inkjets performed similarly, cost about the same to use and printed at similar speeds. A few inkjet all-in-ones and plain inkjets printed a color 4-inch-by-6-inch image in less than two minutes, and a few relatively frugal ones printed one for less than 40 cents. Among the laser printers tested, there was only one clear-cut performance difference: The plain lasers were noticeably faster at printing text than the all-in-one lasers.
CR's quick picks
For simply printing, a plain printer is obviously the best choice. But for scanning, copying or faxing, it makes sense to get an all-in-one. If speed is a priority, consider the high-rated Canon Pixma MP610, $170, which was among the fastest all-in-ones tested. The best all-in-one for printing photos was the HP Photosmart C7280, $250; and the two printers that were tops for a home network were the HP Photosmart C8180, $350; and the HP Photosmart D7460, $140.
CR experts also recommend that shoppers consider these questions:
¢ Will it be used only for printing snapshots? If so, consider a snapshot printer. Most print directly from memory cards or the camera.
¢ Will black-and-white do? If so, get a laser printer. For text, they have the lowest cost per copy (which reflects long-term printing costs) and the fastest speed. But unlike inkjets, they don't print in color.
¢ What other features are important? Some printers include an extra paper tray for 4x6 prints. Others print directly from Bluetooth devices, such as cell phones. If faxing is important, CR recommends getting an all-in-one with that capability.
¢ What will ink and paper cost? Over a printer's life, ink costs can exceed the printer's purchase price. Be sure to check CR's Ratings for text and photo costs per page, which reflect the price of brand-name ink and paper.
¢ Avoid blank pages. Before printing Web pages, preview them to avoid generating lots of blank pages. Some printer manufacturers, such as HP, offer software that helps cut paper use.
¢ Conserve ink or toner. Many printers have more than one quality setting. Figure out which is best. For printing photos, use the best quality setting, but for other types of printing, consider using a lower, or "draft," mode, which should use less ink.
¢ Seek efficiency. When choosing a printer CR hasn't rated, look for an Energy Star label. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently toughened qualifications for the label. To be awarded one, a printer must consume very little power when not printing. For details, go to www.energystar.gov.
¢ Recycle cartridges. Programs to recycle used ink and toner cartridges reduce waste and can save money. Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples make it easy by accepting used cartridges at local stores and giving a $3 credit for Dell, HP and Lexmark cartridges.