The Insider: Free up desk space with a three-in-one printer

Not so long ago, you’d need to have bought three separate pieces of equipment if you wanted to scan something, print it out and then copy it. Today, you can pick up machines that do all three of these tasks, for under £50.

But choosing which all-in-one printer to go for is not necessarily straightforward. Different machines tend to be good at a particular task, and so it’s hard to find a printer that excels at copying, scanning and printing.

For this reason, it’s important to decide what your priorities are before you buy. If it’s just a matter of printing out the odd letter or photocopying an occasional application form you can probably get by with a relatively cheap piece of equipment – and it’s worth considering whether you really need an all-in-one printer at all. However, if you’re looking for a machine that can make good quality prints of your digital photos, and which can deliver them at a fast speed – you’ll need to be prepared to part with a bit more cash.

“All-in-one printers that can print, scan and copy are growing in popularity, but they often cost more than standalone inkjet printers so if you rarely scan or copy then you could end up paying more for extra functions that you don’t really need,” says Martyn Hocking, the editor of Which? Magazine. “Remember there’s also an ongoing cost in terms of the paper and ink that you use. Cheaper printers can have high running costs, so check the cost of ink cartridges before you buy. You can save money if you buy generic cartridges, but they don’t always provide the same printing quality as branded ones.”

When the consumer group Which? recently tested 14 all-in-one printers, it rated the Canon Pixma MX850 as the best on the market – which costs around £250. This produced excellent quality text and photos, as well as good quality photocopies. Its only weakness was the quality and speed of its scanning – and if this is a priority, it might be worth considering Which?’s other best buy – the Canon Pixma MX7600, which costs £350.

Although, you’ll generally get better quality the more you pay, there are a few good machines at low prices. The very cheapest all-in-one printer on the market, for example – the HP Deskjet F2180 – costs just £40, but still produces top quality text and photos. The downside is poor speed, and mediocre scanning and copying. It also consumes more ink than other printers tested by Which? – averaging 10p for an A4 page of black text.

For £20 more, you could pick up a Canon Pixma MP220, which still has pretty good text and |photo printing quality, and which costs just 6p a page for ink.

Steer clear of the Dell AIO 948, however, which costs £70, and has very poor text quality. It also costs a fortune to print your photos – an average of £2.54 a photo, compared to just 42p a photo on the Canon Pixma MX850.

Where to buy

There are some great bargains to be found at the moment. If you know which model you want, websites such as froogle.co.uk, whichcompare.co.uk and pricerunner.co.uk are great for comparing prices. For example, while the Canon Pixma MX850 has a recommended retail price of £250, froogle.co.uk reveals that you can pick one up for as little as £150 at lambda-tek.com. There’s currently also 10 per cent off on all multi-function printers at comet.co.uk. If you prefer shopping in person, it’s worth taking a trip down to PC World, where they are currently marking down sale items by a further 50 per cent.

Five questions to ask

How fast can it print a document?

Generally speaking, the faster the speed, the lower the quality. But printers such as those in the Canon Pixma range offer both quality and speed.

How much does it cost to print a document?

Some printers use ink much faster than others. Prices vary between around 2p and 10p per A4 page if you’re printing in black ink. If you’ll be doing a lot of printing, it will make financial sense to get an economical machine.

What’s the photo quality like?

If you’re planning on using your machine to print out your holiday photos, it’s important to get a model that will do a good job. Some printers will provide poor definition, or faded colours.

What’s the cost of printing a photo?

Some printers use a lot of ink to print out photos. The Dell AIO 948 will cost you more than £2.50 a photo, just for the ink. Whereas the Kodak ESP3 will set you back no more than 17p a snap.

Do you really need a scanner and copier?

If you only really need a printer, and won’t use the copier or scanner, you could save a lot of money. You can pick up good quality standalone printers for as little as £25.

The Insider is written in conjunction with the consumer group Which?. For more information on printers visit www.which.co.uk/printers\[Prestige\] or for information on staying safe online, buy the ‘Which? Complete Guide: Protect Your PC’ |at high street retailers for £5.99. To get three issues of Which? magazine |for £3, call 01992 822800 and quote INADVICE.

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