16 Multi-Function Inkjet Printers

This is the second article in a series of four buyer's guides that focus on consumer-oriented printers available for use with computers. This guide covers the most popular of the so-called multi-function copied, or MFC, inkjet printers, and continues our special emphasis on units suitable for home or SOHO use. Upcoming follow-on installments will cover color- and monochrome-laser printers. Our previous installment covered 11 Color Inkjet Printers.

MFC Printers Explored And Explained

The print engine in the MFC printers we examine in this Buyer's Guide is the same as the one we previously looked at - namely, a color inkjet that typically combines three sets of color jets (one for Cyan, another for Magenta and a third for Yellow, in accordance with the more printer-friendly CMY color model) along with a four set of jets for black. Adding a separate source for black output enables printers to create the color more effectively, economically and quickly than combining all three of the colors to "create" black on the fly. It also permits black cartridges to be replaced independently as well. This has the considerable advantage of saving on refills, because black remains the most commonly used form of inkjet format, primarily for reproducing text.

What makes an MFC printer different from an ordinary inkjet printer? The MFC designation, which points to support for scanning, copying and faxing in addition to straightforward printing, is the answer. Scanning is a necessary function to send a fax, so these units generally also make scanning available as a built-in function above and beyond supporting fax operations. Of course, scanning and printing together create a copy function, which provides useful home and home office functions. And finally, the addition of telephone and communications circuitry - like a modem - makes complete the extra functionality needed to support fax operations. Thus, it makes sense to view an MFC inkjet as an ordinary inkjet printer that also includes scanning and fax communication capabilities.

You would think this would add substantially to the cost of MFC inkjets as compared to their plain-vanilla counterparts. And indeed, you'll find many more expensive MFCs than expensive inkjet-only printers at the high end of this market niche. But you'll also find surprising value and functionality at the low end and in the middle of this market, at prices that don't differ too terribly from those for inkjet-only printers. This probably explains why so many buyers prefer MFCs to inkjet-only offerings. That simple observation also makes this installment of the printer Buyer's Guide potentially the most valuable and interesting of all four installments.

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