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What is an MFP? Introduction to Multifunctionals 101

What is the functionality of a Printer? Well, it can print. But what about a Copier? Just Copy? Copy, Print, and Scan? And then what about MFPs? Or “All-in-One” printers, for that matter?

It’s partly the fault of manufactures and dealers like ourselves, who are used to being in such an acronym-laced industry and have over the years just assumed understanding from our clients without being entirely clear what we are discussing. But it isn’t like this is something you would have been taught in school, and terms like “copier” and “MFP” are thrown-around so interchangeable in everyday office parlance that they seem to be one and the same for most people, even worse is how commonly people incorrectly refer to these devices as a “printer”… *gasp*! 

But fear not. If you have five minutes to spare for a read, Reliable would be happy to give you an introductory lesson in document management terminology. Free of charge, of course:

A typical MFP is a combination of the functionalities of: Email, Printer, Scanner, Copier, Fax Machine

First Came Printing

You can think of the “MFP” as a product that was the culmination of a lot of interdependent technologies that have been invented over the past century at different times– similar to how a smart phone is the inventive combination of a smart-phone, computer, and touch screen display. Just like the landline was the first fundamental piece of the smartphone, the printer was the fundamental function of an MFP to be invented. Printing has a very long history that goes back centuries, and we aren’t here to talk about the Gutenberg Press. Regarding our discussion today, the first electrographic or “xerographic” printer was patented by Chester Carlson in 1942.  Initially not financially successful, this technique for dry printing is the foundation of all office-printing devices today. We won’t spend any more time on the printer today, be you can learn more about the history of xerography (yes, that Xerox) here.

Other Names for the Multifunctional Printer (MFP)

Types of MFPs Icon

    • Multi-Functional Device (MFD)
    • Multi-Functional Copier (MFC)
    • Multi-Functional Peripheral (MFP)
    • Multi-Functional Product (MFP)
    • All-In-One (Type of MFP)
    •  “Copier” (incorrect)
    • “Printer” (incorrect)

The Photocopier

Xerox 914 Original Add
Debuted in 1959, the Xerox 914 revolutionized the workplace. Weighing over 650-pounds, it had a page speed of 7-ppm (pages per. Min.), and because of its tendency to catch fire when heavily used, Xerox provided a “scorch eliminator kit” (a small fire extinguisher) with each device.

The first commercial-viable photocopier was the Xerox914. Invented by Xerox, using Chester Carlson’s patent for dry-printing technology. It was Large and crude by today’s standards, but the iconic Xerox 914 would revolutionize the workplace. It allowed a single-operator to place an original document on a sheet of glass, press a button, and receive a copy of said document on plain paper. Thus, the office copier was born. It’s important to remember that a photocopier and the printer are two distinct devices—a photocopier copies and a printer, prints. Simple Enough.

In today’s office vernacular, “copier” is used to refer to almost most any printing device that can copy, print, scan, etc. However, in its strictest since a photocopier is defined only by its ability to make xerographic copies. The multifunctionality of today’s MFPs, was still to come.

Scanning & Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

The ability to take the images of text from a physical document and convert them into view-able electronic information is known as Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. OCR technologies have changed greatly over the years, but the underlying goal has always been the same: the ability to convert information on a physical document into machine-encoded text (AKA computer languages). Without OCR technology, the digitization of the workplace and conversion of paper-documentation to digital files might never have occurred.

OCR software seeks to identify items it sees on a scanned text document or image by comparing the images to the software’s database of stored characters.
The 'flatbed' scanner was invented concurrently with OCR by Ray Kurzweil

The earliest scanners having to be trained to recognize images of each individual character of the alphabet and being capable of understanding only a few types of font for those characters. A scanner with an OCR technology capable of reading all fonts and even handwritten documents was pioneered (along with the flatbed scanner, iconic of the technology today) in the early 1970’s by Ray Kurzweil— Originally devised as a technology to power applications that would allow the blind to read or listen to physical books without braille. 

Today’s OCR-technology is a cornerstone of an MFP’s functionality and growing its operating system and software. For example Xerox’s Versalink OSenabled devices are fully-capable of translating and communicating information in a variety of computer languages (PDLs). Many of today’s more advanced devices are even capable of scanning physical documents and translating them directly into Microsoft Office Suite and other common user-friendly editable file-types. Such as the Sharp Advanced-Series models.


Multi-Functional Printers, or MFPs, are at their heart based on the xerographic technology of photocopiers, but with the additional functionalities of printing, scanning, faxing, etc. Indeed, the multi-functionality of MFPs is growing daily and it is one of the main reasons they have become the dominate type of office machine for most of small businesses today. MFPs gives you extensive document-management capabilities while maintaining a relatively small footprint in the workplace— being about the size of a standard copier or in some cases even smaller.

The "Office" Multifunctional

The most popular segment of Multifunctionals are the mid-sized “Office” MFPs. Office MFPs are freestanding console units (there are both B&W and Color variants) and are designed to be the central office system of a workplace. They are usually capable of producing ledger-size prints, some even greater sizes. An example of one of these devices would be Sharp MX-3071 Advanced-Series Color Multifunctional. This class of device is usually highly customize-able with different staple, hole-punch, and booklet making finishing options. There are also numerous software upgrades available, such as Sharp OCR-expansion kits, which will make your device capable of scanning physicals documents directly into Microsoft office file formats. 

Sharp MX-3071 Advanced Series Office MFP shown with Inner Finisher (left) and Cabinet (right)

Fax capability is common, but not necessarily standard, on most models. While fax is not used as much today as in the past, some industries still highly prize the functionality. Such as in Healthcare, were it is still heavily relied upon as the medium of choice to transmit HIPAA-protected patient PPI securely. If you’re interested, review our vertical markets directory to find out what specific configurations of MFP are necessary or preferred in your industry.

The "All-in-One" Printer

The Xerox Versalink C605/XL is one of the newer "All-in-One" MFPs to have finishing capabilities.

“All-in-One” Printers and “All-in-One” Copiers are names that both refer to the same type of multifunctional desktop device. In short, “All-in-One” printers are desktop-sized MFPs. These devices are intended for home or small office use and focus on Copy/Print/Scan functionality. They have the capability to print exclusively on 8.5 x 11 “legal” paper and traditionally have not had additional finishing capabilities (some newer models, like the C605/XL, have recently introduced finishing to this class). The first “All-in-One” printers have were not network-capable and required a USB connection to use. However some newer All-in-Ones, such as the Xerox Versalink C405DNM (which also has standard fax capability) are capable of fully wireless functionality.

Looking Forward

Hopefully this blog has helped you get a better grasp of the history and terminology behind Multi-Functional Printers. The past half-decade of development has been characterized MFPs becoming an exponentially more capable of interacting with other devices in the digital workplace. Now boasting the processing power to host not only their touchscreen computer interfaces but entire software systems capable of hosting complex native and non-native applications. At the dawn of a new decade the MFP has added the capabilities of a PC to its functionality-repertoire. Increasingly, OCR technology is viewed by industry experts as a technology that will be at the center of the “Industry 4.0” Smart Office/Factory revolution. A revolution that has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Applied to the predicted “Smart Office” or “Smart Factory” of the near future,  we can expect a world where nearly every electronic device in an office or warehouse will communicate directly with one another in an IoT environment, having complete access to one another’s data when need. Perhaps even more exciting an idea to consider is the implications of OCR’s capabilities combined with recent price-practical innovations in additive manufacturing (3D-Printing) for such a parts and repair-heavy industry as our own. But those ideas are a bit beyond this article, and probably your friendly local copier salesman here as well 😊 !

If you want to learn more about your printer options and the benefits of working with Reliable Office Technologies, call our office at (301)-695-0464  to speak with one of our team members or visit our site at . We also look forward to hearing from you on any of our social networks!

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