Buying a new printer for your small or mid-sized business might seem like a relatively straight-forward task until you realize the vast number of options associated with the decision: Should you opt for a standalone printer or one of those all-in-one machines? Inkjet or laser? Color or monochrome? Do you need collating, two-sided printing, or large input trays? What about wireless?

You get the point.

Many small and mid-sized businesses today are opting for laser printers for large volume jobs, as opposed to an inkjet they might have at home for the occasional photo printing. At the same time, the multifunction printers can also handle scanning, copying, and faxing. Here are some of the pros and cons of a laser-based all-in-one printer.

Pros of all-in-one printers

Buying a multifunction laser printer can save your company space, money, and aggravation.

"Many small businesses simply don't have the room for three or four dedicated machines for printing, scanning, copying, and faxing -- nor do they likely have the funds to purchase three or four separate devices," says Keith Kmetz, vice president of hard copy solutions at IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based technology research and advisory firm. An all-in-one printer "consolidates all these important office features into one box, so you can better manage all your document management activity in one place."

Having just written a report on all-in-one printers, Kmetz says he found space-saving issues "come up a lot in small business and home-based offices" and any measures to cut costs are important considerations for small businesses, especially in an ailing economy. "You could spend many thousands of dollars for a dedicated printer, flatbed scanner, copier, and fax machine," he says, "compared to only a couple hundred dollars for a reliable multifunction machine.

Having one machine that does it all also makes it easier for maintenance, such as downloading just one driver update (opposed to up to four of them) and purchasing "consumables" such as ink or toner, paper, and other supplies. One machine also consumes less power than three or four printers.

"Any time you can integrate multiple functions in one device you're taking advantage of less space, lower costs, and fewer hassles when it comes to drivers and support," confirms Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at New York-based Jupiter Research, which was acquired in 2008 by Forrester Research.

Cons of all-in-one printers

As with any converged device, a clear downside is if something goes wrong with your product you'll likely be without everything while it's being repaired or replaced. In other words, if the scanner in your all-in-one device fails to work and you send it out to be fixed, you're now without a printer, copier, and fax machine, too. Such is the problem when "putting all your eggs in one digital basket," as Gartenberg puts it.

"Indeed you'll lose all functionality while your multifunction printer is being serviced," explains Kmetz. But if you have more than 100 or 150 employees, he says, chances are you have more than one all-in-one printer, "so it won't be too catastrophic." On that note, it's recommended to have a networked multifunction unit (wired or wireless) for offices with many PCs.

When it comes to quality, Kmetz, who says he's been following the multifunction printer market for the past 15 years, says there isn't a clear difference between standalone products and multifunction ones anymore. "Multifunction printers used to be a generation or two behind its single device counterpart when it came to quality but this is not the case anymore," Kmetz says.

Gartenberg agrees. All-in-one printers, he says, "have come a long way -- the quality has caught up to the convenience for the most part -- so it boils down to your comfort level with the pros and cons, the cost per copy and what you plan on using it for."