Avoid the All-in-One Printer, Scanner, Copier, and Fax Machine

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.


  1. Avatar Rob Shainess says:

    The choice of accounting/billing software has been the most difficult one for me. I really wish there was an affordable option that would take care of the front end law firm billing and the back end accounting. What I find is that the top SaaS providers (Clio, Rocket Matter) do some trust accounting and handle the billing really well, they don’t do general ledger accounting. Conversely, Quickbooks does general ledger accounting well, but the invoices it spits out look like my mechanic’s. The third option is what Sam does: combine Quickbooks with Freshbooks. That costs $29.95 per month, but doesn’t help with the Trust accounting, although Quickbooks can be rigged to handle it. But, if you are going to pay $29.95 per month for Freshbooks, then you might as well consider jumping up to Clio for $49 a month, and get all the extra bells and whistles. Is there no sane solution?

    • Avatar Gregory Luce says:

      I was impressed with TimeSolv when I sat through a demo and tried it out myself a bit ago. It relates solely to accounting and billing and grew out of a product from West that West later didn’t want to include in its premier solution for big firms. Interface is not as pretty as Clio and Rocketmatter but it gets the basic accounting and billing (and IOLTA) stuff done. Worth looking at for less than $20 per month for just the accounting/billing component, though it really would be nice if they would put their prices more up front on the web before trying it.

  2. Avatar Jeanette says:

    I do have to disagree with “If you have a good document scanner and printer, you probably won’t ever miss a copier.” As many legal assistants will know, and most attorneys will not know, the time difference between copying 300 pages of medical records and printing 300 pages of medical records is substantial, and the printing takes MUCH longer. If I have the documents in hard copy, I choose to copy them; if they are only available electronically and I have to send a hard copy, I will print one and copy the rest. If my attorney says 30 minutes before a hearing, “oh, yeah, BTW, I need this [huge] exhibit” and the documents for it are on the computer, … um, yeah, I’ll be running that to court after he’s already gone.

    Then again, maybe blazing new printers are up to speed.

    • I’m going to have to agree with you, Jeanette. We have relatively new printers, and printing 3 copies of a 125 page, double-sided exhibit list (which I did today), would have taken A LOT longer for me to do than copying did.

      As a side note, I sent 4 faxes today on an old school fax machine.

  3. Avatar Lawrence Brenner says:

    Hey Sam, are you planning are reviewing any other case/practice management software programs in the near future? I have found Lawyerist posts on Clio and Rocket Matter useful as well as comments on HoudiniEsq and TimeMatters but would love to hear about a few more case/practice management programs before I settle down on purchasing the software for my soon to be solo firm. A friend of mine told me I should go with Worldox and Tabs3. I have also heard of Advologix and netdocuments. Do you have any opinions on these programs?

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      Not all of those are actually practice management software (NetDocuments and Worldox are just for document management, for example). Tabs3 is the same kind of software as Time Matters, from the looks of the screenshots on the website, so I’m not very interested in reviewing it.

      I am curious about AdvologixPM, although I admit it makes me suspicious that I can’t find a screenshot anywhere on the website. What are they hiding?

      • Avatar Clayton says:


        It is very odd that they forgot to have a screen shot on there. I’ve put a video on what a lot of our cases (you can change it based on what type of case it is) look like with Advologix/NetDocuments here:


        • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

          I’m sure it is on purpose. They probably want you to sign up for a demo, instead, so they can start the sales process. But without screenshots, I am not motivated to even look at a demo.

          • Avatar Clayton says:

            That’s fine with me. I have no financial interest in the company (other than what I pay them of course). A video isn’t too hard to view though!

            Another interesting option is to just do your own thing (without a legal provider) with Salesforce.com/NetDocuments.com: http://roseninstitute.com/work-pajamas/

            It would also be interesting to see if anyone puts something together with Microsoft’s updated Dynamics CRM/Sharepoint/Office365.

        • Avatar Lawrence Brenner says:


          What is your opinion of how Advologix/NetDocuments compares to other document management programs that you have tried?

          • Avatar Clayton says:


            Like everything it depends on what you want to do. I wanted something that would generate documents. When I looked at the other SaaS providers, none of them offered this. They may now though. Salesforce.com is also very customizable, and they have a ton of apps/add-ons for it. See: https://appexchange.salesforce.com/

            The other main drawback was document management. With Netdocs, I can quickly access/edit/and save documents just like I would on my computer. There’s no need to download the doc and then re-upload it.

            RocketMatter and Clio are both adding features all the time though too.

  4. Avatar Andrea Hable says:

    Even though I loathe my all-in-one printer/scanner/copier and wish I had just bought a better quality printer, I do actually use the scan and copy functions occasionally. I do have a scansnap, but I deal regularly with fairly old documents that I just don’t feel comfortable running through my scansnap, nor would I want to remove the original staples or bindings from them, so having a flatbed scanner is a nice alternative (as hair-pulling-ly slow as it is). And I agree with the others that copying is much faster than printing, though it’s rare I have enough pages for this to be a problem. Actually, I am more likely to copy something that I’m having trouble scanning, then scan the copy (it sounds wasteful, but it doesn’t happen very often).

  5. Avatar Jack Newton says:

    Good post Sam, and great comments as well.

    One of the most important benefits of using an “all in one” system is that you can avoid entering data twice. With Clio, for example, if you enter an address for a contact once, you automatically get that address included in the matter, bills you generate, and so on.

    Using the “best of breed” individual tools may provide some advantages in terms of functionality, but in my mind that is more than offset by the need to integrate and duplicate data across multiple systems. This is at best a headache, and at worst a recipe for inconsistent, missing and corrupt data.

    @Rob – Clio doesn’t currently implement full-blown accounting, but we do have a full QuickBooks integration to let you pull your Clio bills etc. over to QB to keep your AR, etc. in QB synced up with Clio. Yes, this has all the data duplication headaches I mentioned above, so it’s not ideal, but it’s the best we can offer the time being.


  6. Avatar Rhonda Pagel says:

    I agree that an all in one is a good idea but I also think it is a good idea to supplement it. Plus, with a small investment, you can duplicate all of the functions so that you have a back up for each function if something crashes.
    Scanning on the all in one is not as convenient so if you want to scan many documents, getting a ScanSnap in addition is critical. But, occassionally I need to scan something with a flat bed scanner (which I can’t do on my Scan Snap).
    I use ringcentral for faxing. But, if for some reason my internet is down or I need to fax something before a looming deadline (I have found that the outgoing fax sometimes is slow), having a traditional fax is very helpful.
    I have a small compact printer that I occassionally need to take to court or a meeting. If my printer goes down, I can use this to print until my all in one is up and running.
    If my copier isn’t working, I can still scan and print with my scansnap and either my all in one printer or my compact printer.
    I used to work in an office with multiple attorneys and multiple printers so if one crashed we still had another one to use. I learned the hard way not to rely solely on my all in one. Things tend to crash at the least opportune moment and knowing that you have a work around solution greatly eases an otherwise stressful situation.

  7. The problem is you try to hard to advocate anti-establishment.

    I can say without a doubt that the two best purchases I have ever made is (1) Time Matters, which handles all of my calendaring, contacts, cases, and document automation; and (2) my Brother MFC-9970CDW, which combines color and B&W laser printing, as well as fax and network scanning (although I have a ScanSnap and I also use Google CloudPrint so I can print things on the go.).

    RocketMatter is way to expensive per month for its limited feature base and a fax service simply does not convey a sense of permanence and professionalism that most clients would expect of a lawyer they are considering hiring.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      I’m curious. How does a fax service convey anything when no client has any idea I am using one? From their end (let’s assume I actually use faxes), it appears the same as if I had a fax machine, whether they are sending or receiving.

      • Most fax services I know of use 800 numbers, out of area-code numbers, or indicate they come from the fax service instead of your office. It doesn’t take much for a potential client to tell you are cost cutting when you use your cell phone as your main number and a fax service instead of a dedicated line.

        Also, one other interesting value of the Brother MFC lines, you can fax directly from your computer to them and you can have received faxes sent from the MFC to an email as a TIF file (which Acrobat opens).

        • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

          That’s weird. All the fax services I compared when I was looking came with local numbers. And they allow sending and receiving from any computer for far less than an extra phone line.

          Of course, I canceled my fax service last month, because I haven’t sent or received a fax all year. Email works better, and everyone already has it. Even my small business clients don’t bother getting a fax line these days.

          • Avatar Scott Bassett says:

            I’ve had the same eFax number for two decades. It was a local number when I lived in Michigan , but now that my family law appellate practice is virtual and my residence is in Florida, the local number is SE Michigan still works fine (all of my clients/cases are in Michigan). And no one can tell that I am faxing from an eFax account.

            I can’t cancel my eFax account because my practice focuses only on individuals in family litigation, not on corporate clients or even small businesses. Many of my clients still think faxing is an acceptable technology and don’t own (or even understand) scanners. Most of my cases are referrals from solo and small firm family law attorneys. Sadly, as many as one-third of them don’t own scanners. They request to fax documents to me. I wish that were not true, but for lawyers representing individuals, a fax service is still necessary.

            I disagree that all-in-one machines are useless. My primary printer/scanner is a Brother MFC-7820N. I also have an older ScanSnap. I use the ScanSnap for high volume scans (it is faster), but I use the Brother for everyday scans of a few pages each (up to about 30 pages that will fit in the Brother’s ADF. It has been a reliable workhorse for me. When it dies, I will get another one (whatever the current model is). It is more crucial to my practice than the ScanSnap, even though I think the ScanSnap is a great dedicated scanner.

            Fortunately, with a virtual appellate practice in courts that accept efiling, I don’t need to do much printing. I wouldn’t want to print more than a hundred or so pages a day on the Brother. But it works great for the occasional letter, form, and envelope I need to print.

  8. Avatar Dave S says:

    I try to use email as much as possible. However, doing a lot of personal injury, I have many clients who have a fax machine at home but either don’t have a scanner or don’t know how to scan and prefer to fax documents to us. Also, many third-parties or vendors, such as medical providers from whom we are requesting records, won’t accept email correspondence. Many insurance adjusters won’t accept email. So, needless to say, faxing is still an everyday necessity for me. I greatly appreciate the info about the fax services, thanks.

  9. Avatar Adron Beene says:

    Copier. For litigation I use a 25 page per minute sheet feed with a collater. I buy used with no service plan. I have had three copiers since 1994. I use about two boxes of paper a month. For big productions and trial exhibits I send them out.

    Fax. I use a scanner and efax. The most common reason I send or receive faxes is when an opposing attorney cannot deal with emails and pdfs. Yes there are a number of them still in silicon valley. Otherwise everything is scanned and emailed. The best part of efax is the document comes in as a pdf so it can be saved and forwarded. The faxes also come in on my desktop, ipad and iphone so I can read them anywhere.

  10. Avatar Craig Hensel says:

    I disagree slightly on the printer discussion. I use a ScanSnap and for a long time had a no-frills laser printer. Recently, I upgraded to an Epson WP-4540 (HP has a nearly equivalent direct competitor) and have loved the change.

    First, you do miss a copier. Using the “Scan to Printer” on the ScanSnap is fine and all, but it’s just easier to be able to pop things into the printer tray and hit a single button. Second, the Epson (and its HP counterpart) print at less-than-laser prices per page, and they print fast. Third, the Epson (not the HP) comes with THREE paper trays. Paper, letterhead, envelopes. Boom. You get that for less than the price of a standard color laser printer.

    While you can do things without the all-in-one printer, I have found it more convenient to have both the ScanSnap AND the all-in-one.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      Wait, you are printing legal documents with an inkjet? I would never do that. I don’t think inkjets are acceptable for professional documents.

      As for copying, yes, it’s sometimes easier to just copy something off. But if you have documents that aren’t scanned, you are doing paperless wrong. Every document should be scanned, which means anything you need to copy is either (1) scanned already, or (2) needs to get scanned, anyway, so you might as well do it now, then print off copies.

      • Avatar Craig Hensel says:

        There is absolutely nothing wrong with printing legal documents on an inkjet. A good inkjet gives similar to nearly identical output when compared against a laser printer, with ink that dries instantly. Its speed is nearly identical to laser, and the cost per page is actually less expensive. It may have been a while since you gave a decent inkjet a shot, or you may have used a cheap one when you formed your opinion. In any case, Typography for Lawyers (which I would consider the authority here) is fine with them, and so am I.

        As for copying, there are things that don’t get scanned immediately. My biggest single example is fee applications for court appointed work. I fill them out in fillable .pdf, then print, sign, copy, and file. Given the nature of the document and the fact that I immediately get a stamped copy back, there is no need to scan one pre-stamp, nor am I allowed to turn in three with original signatures. The ability to copy them saves me a little bit of time, every time.

        Further, I scan in black & white mode something like 95% of the time. A greyscale copy is often higher fidelity than a B&W scan, so it ends up looking somewhat nicer than scan/print.

          • Avatar Craig Hensel says:

            If it took 5 seconds to pick out the difference between inkjet and laser in your review, I have my doubts that the inkjet printer was properly cleaned and aligned.

            Also, I’m not too worried about style. Even if there is a minuscule difference in print quality between laser and my inkjet, I more than make up with it in good stylistic choices in the document. There’s no argument that a straight Courier pleading with styling from the days of actual typewriters, printed on a laser printer, comes anywhere near the visual appeal of a document written in a good font with proper typographical attention which was printed on an inkjet.

            Having used a well-reviewed Brother laser for the majority of my practice and having switched to my Epson inkjet recently, I’d take the Epson any day of the week.

            • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

              “Less than 3 seconds” is the quote, by which I meant “it was painfully obvious.” And I aligned it using the factory utility before printing that page. It was also a brand-new printer and cartridge.

              Inkjets just don’t look as good. Maybe they are acceptable to some, but when laser printers are so cheap, why settle for an inkjet?

              • Avatar Craig Hensel says:

                I’ve put laser and inkjet pages side by side recently and the only difference was that the inkjet printed a touch darker. There were no ragged font edges, smudges, or distortions of any sort. This strikes me as a situation akin to Penn and Teller’s bottled water experiment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfPAjUvvnIc)

                Even if there is a slight difference, you would get an inkjet because they are a LOT cheaper for an equivalent amount of functionality, and because they are less expensive per page printed.

  11. Avatar Craig Hensel says:

    I should have mentioned on those fee agreements – they are filed in triplicate.

  12. Avatar AJ Richman says:

    Do you recommend laser printers over HP Officejet 8600? If so, why?

  13. We use Kyocera CS 3500i in our office and is excellent!

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