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Copier or Multi-function Printer (MFP) — What's the Difference?

December 20th, 2017 | 7 min. read

By Gary Harouff

Is there a difference between a copier and

multi-function printer?

This a question that we get asked quite a lot, and as authorized resellers of copiers and multi-function printers (MFPs) that are used to selling office technology, we often forget to explain the difference or the similarity.

It’s our own industry’s fault that we haven’t done a really good job at explaining the history of why we refer to all our copiers as MFPs, or why the terms are interchangeable when we speak to our clients. This is also an industry where we love to talk using acronyms, and sometimes we just forget that one of the basic successful methods of communication is to make sure our customers understand what we are trying to communicate—or it’s lost in translation. Right?

I will try to shed some light on this topic and answer this question without a lot of industry jargon.


The History of the Copier

The history, or evolution, of the copier, is very similar to that of the digital camera. It started in the 1970s with an optical scanner using a bright light flashed onto the original document and then reflected a light-sensitive drum. The drum had an electrical charge making an exact negative image of the original, and then a piece of paper with another electronic charge passed over the drum to adhere the toner and produce the copier. This is why it was originally called a “photocopy.”

Over time, demand and competition required copier manufacturers to innovate and build new features into the copiers so that they could do more in the office. Soon, features like network printing, scanning, and faxing all became required operations of the device.

Up until the year 2000, copiers were analog devices that had optical mechanisms in them. When they evolved into a digital device with the ability to store multiple documents on a hard drive, it opened the world to the ability to make multiple copies of a multi-page document, separating, sorting, and many other new features. Then networking arrived, and that made it much easier to print to the device and to share or distribute digital copies/documents.

During a similar timeframe, the computer printer was evolving down the same path. Manufacturers of printers were looking for ways to make the digital laserjet printer more useful in the office.

So, if you really look at the difference between a copier and a multi-function printer, it was more of a convergence of two different office technologies that evolved into the products we have today.

How’s it similar to the digital camera? Just like the evolution of the copier, the consumer has pushed manufacturers to be more competitive and to drive innovation. Yesterday, or not long ago, we were capturing images with a digital camera. Everyone had one, but then came the transformation of the cell phone. Manufacturers of the cell phone were looking to provide more use and value for their devices. The hardware for digital optics was being miniaturized, and the same thing was happening to storage as well as the overall costs, so it made sense for these technologies to merge. One of the first major technologies added to the cell phone was a digital camera. Now it’s difficult to buy a smartphone or a cell phone without a digital camera built into it.


What is a Multifunction Printer?

An MFP is a multi-function printer/peripheral/product, all-in-one, or multi-function device (MFD) which incorporates multiple functions into one office machine. This device decreased the overall space that it took up on the floor and can be accessed by the entire office if needed.

Typical MFPs today can copy, scan, print, fax, and email documents. Additional add-on software can allow them to do even more to manage the document workflow and secure documents so that an organization can increase efficiency, control access, or meet industry compliance guidelines.

Then What’s an All-in-one Printer?

It’s really just an MFP that is a desktop or home version. Manufacturers built devices for consumers that could, scan, copy, print, and fax using inkjet technology to keep the price low but still give them a useful device for the home or home office.

These devices should not be used in office environments because they cannot keep up with even a small workload. They typically come bundled with software packages to organize photos, OCR (optical character recognition) software, and typically connect to a desktop PC using USB or a parallel interface.

Recently, the devices can also connect via Wi-Fi to your home network so others can use the device. They are typically much slower in printing, copying, and scanning, and since they are based on inkjet printing technology, it will cost you more to run this device at higher print volumes long term.

Businesses Don’t Want a Copier

Maybe this is better said as, “businesses don’t want just a copier; they want a lot more.” Just like the digital camera or all-in-one, the buying power and sheer demand by the business consumer has required the copier to do more.

Over the last few years, we have seen less development in hardware updates (new copier features) and more on the software side for copiers. Of course, machines are continually becoming smaller, cheaper, and faster, but we see more value-added features being developed that support specific vertical markets, like legal, healthcare, and enterprise corporations.

Some of these features include:

  • Scan directly to email or network folders - Before we had this ability, it took some time to scan a document, store it on a drive or portable USB drive, and walk it back to your desktop computer to then craft an email and send it. Today, you can do this right at a coper/MFP. As long as it has this feature and the device has been configured by your IT department and the dealer that installed it, you can do this by using the display panel and selecting where you want it to go. To a single staff member, a distribution group, or a predefined set of network folders.
  • Convert to Microsoft Word: OCR (optical character recognition) - This feature has diminished the industry of word processing and data entry. Copiers/MFPs can scan a document, recognize all of the type on a page, type all of the characters, and save it directly to a Microsoft® Word document. And it’s surprisingly accurate if it’s a good clean original.
  • Convert to PDF - This option is another time saver. As fast as your copier can scan a document, it can save it into an Adobe® Acrobat® PDF (portable document format) file for you to distribute to anyone for easy viewing and access.
  • File Encryption - The ability to scan and encrypt a file allows you complete control of who can view or use the file once your copier/MFP has converted it from paper to a digital format. This is a very valuable feature for legal and medical users so that they can protect their clients personal and financial information.
  • Access Control - This area can provide multiple efficiencies for business including limited access to machine use allowing only authorized users to access your device (eliminating use by visitors for devices in open areas), and reducing costs by predetermining which users can use color printing which can be expensive during higher volume runs.

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If you’re interested in learning more about what copiers or MFPs can do for you and your business, here’s some recent articles:

Boost Your Productivity and Save Money With These 9 Copier Apps

How to Use a Copy Machine: Basic and Advanced Features

5 Hidden Ways to Save Money and Make Better Decisions With Print Tracking

Buying a Laser Printer – The Problem Might Be You

AIS has been selling and supporting photocopiers, copiers, MFPs, and printers since it was just a single page copier. Remember, that’s all they could originally do. Our staff has the knowledge and experience to understand that our clients don’t want just a copier, but they want a whole lot more. It starts with listening to their needs, understanding their business, and identifying ways on how a copier or multi-function printer and all of its capabilities can be designed to work for your business. It all starts with a simple conversation. Contact our business so we can begin a discussion on how we can provide office technology that provides you peace of mind and win more business.

Gary Harouff

As President and founder of AIS, I am passionate about growing our business and serving our customers. I'm proud that we are considered one of the fastest-growing companies in America. We have been named by Office Dealer magazine the elite dealer of the year and most recently by ENX Magazine as an elite dealer for 2017. Our partnership with Kyocera is strong and we have been an elite dealer for them. We recently became an authorized dealer of Xerox in their Document Technology Partner Program. Before founding AIS, I was President of Toshiba Business Solutions. I enjoy staying active, both physically and professionally. Charitable endeavors include: The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Safe House, Christian Children’s Fund as well as other faith-based charities.