Staples | Frequently Asked Questions About Multifunction Machines

Frequently Asked Questions About Multifunction Machines

Multifunction machines (also called "all–in–ones") save money — and space — by combining several important office machines into one device. A 3–in–1 multifunction machine is a printer, copier, and scanner; a 4–in–1 is all of these plus a fax machine; and a 5–in–1 is all of these plus a computer fax.

Laser multifunction machines

Q: When should I choose a laser multifunction machine?

A: You should choose a laser multifunction machine if you plan to print only black–and–white documents, or if you need to print large volumes of black–and–white.

Laser multifunction machines (based on toner replacement costs) produce black–and–white text at a cost of between two and four cents per page. On the other hand, a toner cartridge in an inkjet multifunction prints black–and–white text at a cost of five to seven cents per page. Over the long run, then, businesses or households printing a lot of black–and–white documents will save money on toner by opting for a laser multifunction.

Inkjet multifunction machines

Q: When should I choose an inkjet multifunction machine?

A: If, in addition to producing a modest volume (10 to 25 pages per day) of black–and–white documents, you anticipate needing to print color reports, presentations, or digital images, then you should opt for an inkjet instead of a laser multifunction machine. If you plan to print large volumes of black–and–white text and the occasional color document or image, then you may want to purchase a laser multifunction machine and a stand–alone inkjet printer. Any business or individual printing large volumes of color prints may want to invest in a stand–alone color laser printer. (Read about how a color laser printer can be a wise investment.)

One more word about inkjet multifunctions: If you want to print sharp, photo–quality digital images from your multifunction machine, opt for an inkjet model that prints at a color resolution of 4800 x 1200 dpi. For optimal, professional–grade photo printing, however, you may want to consider a top–of–the line photo printer. (Read more about photo printers.)

Stand-alone machines

Q: When should I get a stand–alone copier, fax machine, printer, or scanner instead of a multifunction machine?

A: If you print more than 50 pages or copy, fax, or scan more than 30 pages per day, you should consider opting for a stand–alone machine for each function. (Click here to use the "Help Me Decide" multifunction tool.)

Comparisons to stand-alone machines

Q: Is the printer on a multifunction machine as good as a stand–alone printer?

A: Depending on the model, the printer on a multifunction can be as good as or better than a stand–alone machine. The same is true of a multifunction machine's copier, fax machine, and scanner. Ultimately, you need to compare the core features. See comparison tables for multifunction and stand–alone machines.


Q: What happens if one of the functions breaks down? If the printer malfunctions, for instance, can I still use the copier, scanner, or fax?

A: The copier, fax machine, and printer all use the same printing engine, so a problem with the printing engine will simultaneously affect all three. Similarly, the fax machine and the scanner use the same optical reading technology. As a result, a particular problem with the optical technology hardware will prevent you from using both the fax machine and the scanner.

If there is an equipment problem that does not affect these specific, shared technologies, then you'll still be able to use one function even when another is malfunctioning.

Flatbed vs. sheetfed

Q: What's the difference between a flatbed and sheet–fed multifunction machine?

A: A flatbed multifunction machine allows for the copying and scanning of bound documents, such as books and presentations. A sheet–fed scanner can only scan and copy individual (loose) pieces of paper.

PC faxing

Q: What is PC faxing?

A: PC faxing is a feature of 5–in–1 multifunction machines. PC faxing enables you to send a file (with or without a cover letter) directly from your computer to a recipient's fax machine. This saves on ink and paper.


Q: How should I maintain and service my multifunction machine?

A: The first cleaning step to take is preventative: you should regularly dust your machine (on the outside only!), either by using a dry cloth or canned air. The second step is to clean the feeding rollers, since they're used by the printer, copier, and fax. Keeping the feeding rollers clean will reduce the frequency of paper jams. Follow these steps to clean lint and gunk from feeding rollers:

  1. Unplug your machine.

  2. Since the design of machines vary, consult your owner's manual to find out how to access the rollers. They're easy to find on most printers, copiers, fax machines, and multifunctions and look like a long black or gray roller with small wheels interspersed along them. (Important: Rollers on business copiers are less accessible and should not be cleaned or serviced by anyone other than a professional technician.)

  3. Clean the rollers with a cotton swab very lightly moistened with alcohol. You can turn the rollers manually to get to and clean all sides.

Paper selection

Q: What kind of paper should I use in my multifunction machine?

A: For best results when printing, copying, faxing, or scanning, use paper that meets the following specifications:

Machine Recommended paper weight Recommended brightness
Inkjet multifunction 20–24 lbs. 90–94
Laser multifunction 24 lbs. 92–96

Read more about paper selection.

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