Call it a minimalist movement. Rather than investing in separate office equipment such as a printer, scanner, copier and fax machine, one of the latest trends is buying a "multi-function" printer that handles all of these tasks.

Sometimes these inkjet or laser-based printers are aptly referred to as "all-in-one" products. Companies may also incorporate this added functionality into the product name, such as the HP PSC 1410 -- the "PSC" stands for print, scan and copy. Similarly, Lexmark often uses the acronym AIO, for all-in-one, in their product lines.

"A multi-function printer is a hub of efficiency that saves time, space and money -- three crucial elements to a successful business," explains Justin Joseph, spokesperson for Canon's printers. "Imagine the increased productivity when workers aren't racing from a copy center, to a printer, back to a scanner, only to find a separate fax machine to send it off." The following is a closer look at the pros, and a few cons, associated with buying a multi-function printer for your business.


Multi-function printers save considerable space in the office it's placed in, whether it's a SOHO (small office, home office) setup or a larger office with, say, 10 or more employees. Consider the alternative: a separate printer, photocopier, scanner and fax machine can really take up a lot of room.

Another clear benefit is the cost. Buying an inkjet or laser printer that can also copy, scan and fax will be much cheaper than purchasing each item separately. Costs for "consumables" -- such as ink and paper -- will also be cheaper to buy initially, as you're only picking up the costs for one device rather than four separate ones. But bear this in mind -- because it's one unit handling everything, you'll likely burn through cartridges quickly, as it's a single ink or laser toner cartridge for all your printing, copying and faxing needs. Also note that the per-page cost of making copies with an inkjet cartridge is higher than with a stand-alone photocopier.

Finally, a multi-function printer is also a lot easier to set up and maintain, especially when it comes to installing drivers and other software for each product. An all-in-one unit means less time and headache to get everything up and running compared to separate products (and from different manufacturers). Software updates for that unit are also easier to monitor and install than handling updates for separate machines.


"Convergence" has been a buzzword in the technology industry for some time now. But there are two clear downsides to the trend:

More often than not, a product that can perform multiple functions doesn't do as good a job as a product that specializes in just one thing. In other words, you might be sacrificing quality for convenience when purchasing an all-in-one printer. A photographer, for example, should probably invest in a professional-grade stand-alone photo printer over an all-in-one unit. Similarly, a company whose business requires special fax machine functionality may not find what they need in an all-in-one unit.

Another problem with a multi-function printer lies in the servicing. If something goes wrong with one of its functions (say, the scanner isn't working properly), you may be without everything while the unit is off being repaired or replaced.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention that not all multi-function printers can send and receive faxes. So be sure to note this if purchasing a unit for your business.

Understanding the pros and cons of multi-function printers will help you decide if one of these convergence solutions is ideal for you and your business.