No longer the jack-of-all-trades and master of none, A4 multi-functional printers are now sleek machines that can save a lot of space on your desktop. Richard Sibley takes a look at a range of models on the market

Multifunctional printers

Computer printers used to do one thing: print images from a computer. Then, one by one, manufacturers began to add new features.

First came the ability to print from a memory card or directly from a camera. This, of course, required the addition of a separate LCD screen. As the printer now had a screen and some buttons, it was easy for printer manufacturers to then offer some basic image-editing functions, without the need for it even to be connected to a computer.

Then came scanning capabilities, which allowed printers to be used like photocopiers, or even attached to a phone line and used as a fax. It wasn’t long before more sophisticated flatbed scanners were included and, in the end, what we were left with was a large box that could perform just about any task that a photographer or home office would require.

The problem was that multi-functional printers were large and didn’t perform any of their tasks to a high enough standard for photographic use. Primarily they were aimed at home-office users, who didn’t require the best printing or scanning technology. As a result, early multi-functional printers had a poor reputation among photographers.

However, times have changed and nowadays most current multi-functional printers use exactly the same printing and scanning technology as regular photo printers and scanners. Plus, the latest multi-functional printers are stylish and more compact. It is also becoming harder to find standalone A4 printers, so unless you wish to do some particularly specialist scanning or printing, a multi-functional printer may be just what you are looking for. Best of all, buying a single device can save a significant amount of space on your computer desk.

What to look for in a multi-functional printer?

Unlike office or small-business users, the prime concern for photographers should be the quality of the printer and scanner.

A sheet feeder that holds 500 A4 sheets, a print speed of 30 pages per minute or the ability to send a fax may be great for business users, but they aren’t essential for photographers.

Instead, the two key features are the printing and scanning resolutions. These should be able to match those found in dedicated printers and scanners, and as such you should be looking for a print resolution of at least 4800x1400dpi and a scanning resolution of 4800x4800ppi. This should be enough to produce photographic-quality prints and scans.

However, just as when looking for a photo printer, the colour gamut should also be a major consideration. Generally, the greater the number of different ink cartridges a printer has, the larger its colour gamut will be.

With multi-functional printers, it is also the little things that matter. The ability to print wirelessly via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or print straight from a camera or memory card, is a real bonus, particularly when you want to print 300 travel images, for example. Of course, to do this a good-sized screen is important, as well as an easy-to-use in-printer menu system.

Image: Many multi-functional printers now have scanning and printing resolutions that are on a par with their dedicated equivalents

Multifunctional printers – round up

HP Photosmart B110a multi-functional printerHP Photosmart B110a

Price: Approx £100

Although good value for money, the B110a may not meet the demands of the enthusiast photographer

Specification

Print resolution 4800x1200dpi
Min droplet size  1.3pl
Ink system  4 inks – black, cyan, magenta, yellow
Interface  USB, Wi-Fi
Scan resolution  1200ppi
Film scanning  No
Fax  No
Copier  Yes
Media cards  Memory Stick Duo/Micro, SD
LCD screen  2.5in
Dimensions  450x420x200mm
Weight  6.02kg

Of the four multi-functional printers here, the HP Photosmart B110a is the best value. As you would expect for a printer and scanner costing £100, it isn’t the highest-specified device, although it does have a number of facilities that make it reasonable value for money.

The print resolution is low at only 4800x1200dpi, though the B110a did a reasonable job of printing details in our test images. An A4 colour image printed at best quality takes around three minutes, which is a reasonable speed. The main problem is the colours of the print. Our test chart shows that it is incapable of printing a range of hues between green and blue, resulting in a large cyan band on the colour gradient (see above). I also found that the blacks aren’t as dense as they could have been, which results in a slight lack of contrast in images. Using HP paper resulted in good neutral images, even when using the printer’s generic greyscale settings.

Frustratingly, the Photosmart B110a only has SD and Memory Stick Duo card slots, so CompactFlash users won’t be able print directly from the card. Images shown from the card are displayed on the small built-in LCD screen, which also shows the printer’s menu system.

Although the scanning resolution seems a little low at only 1200ppi, this will be more than enough for scanning photographic prints. Colour reproduction is generally good.

I found that of all of the scanners here, the default colour settings of the HP model produce the most neutral colours.

Overall, the Photosmart B110a is simple to use and affordable. However, while the print quality may be fine for those wanting to produce the occasional holiday snap, enthusiast photographers will be better spending more money elsewhere.

Kodak ESP6150 multi-functional printerKodak ESP6150

Price: Approx £179.99

Kodak’s ESP6150 struggles to print a range of yellow hues. This is visible as the yellow band in the spectrum

Specification

Print resolution 9600x2400dpi (optimised)
Min droplet size 2.7pl
Ink system 2 cartridges – black and colour
Interface USB, Wi-Fi, LAN
Scan resolution 1200ppi print
Film scanning No
Fax Yes
Copier Yes
Media cards No
LCD screen 2.4in – no image preview
Dimensions 445x236x427mm
Weight 8.5kg

Kodak’s ESP6150 is simple to use and set up, although it lacks the in-depth settings found on the Canon and Epson units. It also has the disadvantage that it does not accept memory cards, and as a
result there is no image preview available on the screen.

Although seemingly aimed more at the home-office user than photographers, it produces good basic prints. Blacks are a lot darker than on the HP printer, but aren’t as dense as those of the Canon and Epson models. The Kodak unit also struggles with a couple of areas in the colour spectrum, with a large band of yellow and blue being particularly noticeable. Greyscale images are neutral, although a little lacking in contrast.

Of the three scanning units, the Kodak performs the worst. The neutral gradient gives away the fact that, by default, images are slightly warm. A more significant problem is that there is noticeable banding in the gradient between some colours – orange very quickly changes to yellow, and cyan to blue.

Like the HP scanner, the maximum scanning resolution is fairly low at 1200ppi, but again, in terms of resolving detail this should be more than enough for scanning prints.

The Kodak ESP6150 looks stylish and is simple to use, but like the HP model its printing and scanning quality do not quite meet the mark as far as serious photographers are concerned.
As it lacks the ability to print

directly from memory cards, those who are only interested in printing 6x4in snapshots should also give it a wide berth.

Epson PX820FWD multi-functional printerEpson PX820FWD

Price: Approx £299

With light cyan and magenta cartridges, the PX820FWD reproduces these hues very well

Specification

Print resolution 5760x1440dpi
Min droplet size 1.5pl
Ink system 6 inks – black, cyan, light cyan, magenta, light magenta, yellow
Interface USB, Wi-Fi, LAN
Scan resolution 4800x4800ppi print
Film scanning No
Fax Yes
Copier Yes
Media cards  USB flash, CompactFlash, Memory Stick Pro/Duo/Micro, SD/HC, xD, Mini SD/HC and Micro SD
LCD screen 3.5in
Dimensions 466x458x198mm
Weight 11.3kg

Epson’s PX820FWD is extremely well specified and comes full of features for both photographers and the home office. The technology behind the printing and scanning functions is based on that found in the firm’s dedicated scanners and printers, and as such should be ideal for photographers.
Using the PX820FWD is straightforward thanks to the large 8in touchscreen LCD panel, which has a 3.5in preview screen in the centre. This helps to make the Epson model look sleek and stylish, although it is the largest and heaviest of the four units on test here.

In terms of print resolution, the PX820FWD is second only to the Canon Pixma MG8150. In fact, the two printer units are reasonably matched.

The colour gradient is the best of the four printers reviewed, and it performs particularly well in the magenta and cyan areas. Here, the extra light magenta and light cyan ink cartridges clearly make a difference, with smoother gradations than on the other printer test charts.

Blacks are also deep, having a slight edge over the density of the blacks produced by the Canon printer. In turn, this results in higher contrast images than those produced by the HP and Kodak printers, and about the same as that produced by the Canon model.

The scanning resolution of the PX820FWD is extremely high, but as it cannot scan negatives it is unlikely that the maximum 4800ppi resolution will be used. Colours produced by the scanner are neutral, but in its default setup they are a little muted. This can be adjusted using the supplied, and third-party, software.

The PX820FWD produces the best prints of these four models, but it is a shame that Epson has not included any film-scanning capabilities in this model or any other in its range.

Canon Pixma MG8150 multi-functional printerCanon Pixma MG8150

Price: Approx £329

The Pixma MG8150 offers excellent colour reproduction when both scanning and printing

Specification

Print resolution 9600x2400dpi
Min droplet size 1pl
Ink system 6 inks – black (x2), grey, cyan, magenta, yellow
Interface USB, Wi-Fi, optional BU-30 Bluetooth Tooth unit
Scan resolution 4800x4800ppi print; 4800x9600ppi film
Film scanning Yes – 6x35mm and 4x35mm slide adapter included
Fax Yes
Copier Yes
Media cards USB flash, CompactFlash, Memory Stick Pro/Duo/Micro, SD/HC, xD, Mini SD/HC and Micro SD
LCD screen 3.5in
Dimensions 470x392x199mm
Weight 10.7kg

As the most expensive of these four units, the Canon Pixma MG8150 is also the most highly specified. Its sleek, glossy black shell houses the same technology found in Canon’s mid-range printers and scanners. Images can be reviewed and settings changed using a 3.5in LCD screen. Although the MG8150 looks like it is devoid of any buttons or controls, the top of the unit is touch sensitive and has buttons that light up when they are in use, which helps make it simple to navigate around the various options.

Despite the MG8150 having a slighter smaller droplet size than the Epson model, there is no discernible difference in the amount of detail it prints. However, the Canon printer doesn’t have quite as smooth a colour gradient, largely due to the extra cartridges in the PX820FWD. In practice, colour prints produced by the Canon printer are excellent and in most images there will not be any noticeable difference between the two models.

The MG8150 has a strong advantage when printing black & white images, as an extra grey cartridge means that such images are neutral with smooth gradients. The results are excellent.

The scanner is also very good. Again, on paper, there is little to choose between the Canon and Epson scanners, although in practice the former has the ability to scan film. Holders are included that will take strips of six 35mm film frames, or four 35mm mounted slides. Film scans are not as good as those from a dedicated film scanner, but they are suitable for making prints of up to around A4 in size. Sadly, the MG8150 will not support medium-format film scanning.

For its ability to scan film strips and slides, plus the great black & white images made possible by the grey cartridge, the MG8150 is probably the best multi-functional printer available for enthusiast photographers.

  • Ivor Slee

    Re the Epson Px 820 FWD
    The Apple Air-Print feature only works wellif you have awoken the printer first using the Epson app and making sure the correct paper size and quality has been installed if you try and print without the app then only the smallest print size is selected regardless of larger paper installed