How to decide whether a dedicated scanner or MFP is best for your needs

Wondering whether it makes more sense to get a multifunction printer (MFP), or a standalone scanner plus a single-function printer? The answer depends entirely on what you need to scan. The general rule is that unless you're scanning something that requires a standalone scanner, an MFP will do. Depending on what's on your scan to-do list, however, you might need both a scanner and an MFP, or even two scanners – one for photos and one for documents, since no scanner handles both really well.

Whatever you ultimately decide, there are good options available. For document scanning, the Canon imageFormula range has impressed us in the past – for example, devices such as the imageFormula DR-C130. For a portable model, take a look at the imageFormula P-208. As for photo scanners, the Epson Perfection Photo scanner range is well worth a look, and with MFPs, there’s a large range to choose from across all manufacturers. Take a look at our roundup of the best printers of 2013, which covers MFPs, for some top notch suggestions.

If you need to scan multi-page documents on a regular basis, particularly two-sided documents, documents with more than a few pages, or both, a document scanner is your best choice. It's easy to find MFPs with automatic document feeders (ADFs), but very few desktop MFPs can scan both sides of a page at the same time, or scan as quickly as a document scanner.

If you need to scan transparencies (negatives or slides), your best bet is a film scanner or a flatbed photo scanner with a transparency adaptor. A few MFPs offer transparency adaptors too, but you should only consider them if you're looking for what amounts to a photo lab, with both the printer and scanner optimised for photos.

If you're primarily interested in scanning photographic prints or line art with fine detail (like a stamp), almost any MFP or standalone flatbed scanner can do a reasonable job. However, the scanners in MFPs aimed at office use are really designed for document scanning, so if you need a printer aimed at office use and you want high quality photo or line art scans, you'll need a standalone photo scanner. Most inkjet MFPs aimed at home use have scanners suitable for prints and line art. Make sure they offer at least 1,200 pixel-per-inch resolution.

Finally, if you need to scan a substantial number of book pages, you should consider a standalone book scanner, which is designed to hold books with the pages lying flat for better scans. Moderately priced book scanners are rare and tend to have long life cycles.

If none of these items are on your list of things to scan, an MFP should be all you need.

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