Lawyers often choose all-in-one solutions when buying hardware and software, probably because it feels cost-effective to get a bunch of things bundled into one package. But when it comes to scanners, printers, and copiers, it is better to buy dedicated machines. You can be more productive with a ScanSnap and a good laser printer than you can be with a typical all-in-one machine.

First, you probably do not need a scanner, printer, copier, and fax machine. You probably just need a scanner and printer.

Copying is just scanning and printing without bothering to save the document in between. That is fine if you do not have digital files. But you should be scanning everything anyway. It will save time in the long run if you just scan documents and save them to your computer. Then you can print as many copies as you need, whenever you need to.

Fax machines, however, are not worth having any longer. Use an electronic fax service like HelloFax and you’ll never miss having a fax machine (or the cost of paper, supplies, and an extra phone line).

Those unnecessary functions are just bloatware. They add more things to the hardware that can break, and they add stuff you don’t need to to the software you use to operate the combo unit. What you’re left with is an okay printer and a not-very-good scanner.

If you are serious about going paperless — and it is hard to imagine why you wouldn’t be — you need a serious, dedicated document scanner. And while it’s all well and good to shop around, in the end there’s only one you should buy: the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500. Once you use it, you’ll understand why your brilliant plan to save money with a printer/scanner/copier/fax machine is so misguided. It just isn’t very good at scanning, which is what you will be doing with it most of the time.

As for the printer, nearly any good laser printer will do — until you are trying to print out four copies of all your exhibits the night before a deposition or trial. Then you will wish you spent the money on a good laser printer. Any good workgroup printer will do; just don’t rely on a cheap laser printer unless you’ll never need to print large batches of documents quickly.

If you really want a copier, just get a copier. All-in-one machines aren’t really copiers, after all. They just scan and print without saving. Most document scanners have a “copy” mode that works the same way in tandem with your printer. Or just go to a FedEx Office store the very few times you will need one. (In fact, I cannot remember needing to make copies for any reason since I went paperless.)

The only real advantage to an all-in-one machine is the price. A good scanner and a good printer will probably add up to $800–1,000. You can get a laser all-in-one for under $200, and a decent one is still under $400. The problem is that even a good multi-function is still just an okay printer and a substandard document scanner. If you spend a bit more to get the right tools for the job, you will save a ton of time and aggravation in the long run.

Stay away from all-in-ones.

Originally published on 04-20-2011. Last updated on 08-19-15.

Featured image: “Man fixing photocopier” from Shutterstock.