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Choosing a Digital Copier for Your Business

Choosing a Digital Copier for Your Business Credit: Zygotehaasnobrain/Shutterstock

If you're looking for a new copier for your business, you'll want to make sure you consider whether a digital copier is right for you.

Though analog copiers are still available on the used market, the bulk of copier sales now belong to digital models. Often multifunctional in scope, digital copiers are all-in-one office suites, capable of scanning, copying, printing (via network connectivity), faxing, downloading and emailing.

This all-encompassing design provides a high degree of cost savings over analog models and even older digital copiers, making the ownership or lease of an in-house model far more cost-effective than outsourced copying. In fact, recent studies conducted by a major copier manufacturer estimate a total savings of more than $9,200 when comparing ownership to outsourcing. Broken down per print, this is further represented by a cost of about $0.40 per page in-house versus more than $1.60 for color copies when the same job is outsourced. 

Your purchase decision will depend on many considerations. The first step is understanding the key features of digital copiers, to help you compare different makes and models. They include:

 

  • Print speed – Unlike older models that capped out at around 30 pages per minute (ppm), newer digital copiers are capable of printing anywhere from 22 ppm on the low end up to 100 ppm with deluxe models. Reducing warm-up requirements, "first copy out" speeds have also improved and now range between 3.5 to 7.5 seconds.
  • Print volume – Depending on the size of the machine, paper capacity is often listed as "tray" and "cassette." Basic models are capable of 100 sheets in the tray and 250 in the cassette. Large-scale, multifunction machines can accommodate up to 500 sheets in the tray and more than 2,000 sheets often distributed throughout two or more cassettes. 
  • Added functionalities – These are the features that really have the potential to cut costs throughout your organization. Multifunctional machines may include wireless connectivity, interactive touch-screen controls, image editing, large built-in hard drives for document storage, enhanced security and reduced operational costs through Energy Star compliance. 
  • Graphic capabilities – Commonly known as multifunction or production printers, models with graphic capabilities ensure the highest resolution (2,400 x 2,400 dpi is standard) as well as color management through five-color control. These models provide reliable and exact reproduction of source material, whether it's taken from an existing physical document or produced new through one of a myriad of compatible software platforms.

 

Editor’s Note: Looking for a digital copier for your business? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from vendors for free:

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  • Analog or digital?
  • New or used?
  • Buy or lease? 

Analog machines are largely relegated to the past. Though many offices still have them tucked away in back rooms, they are widely seen as backups, if that. In the same way that digital downloads replaced vinyl records, analog copiers have failed to keep pace with even the most basic of their digital counterparts for two reasons: productivity and quality.

Many organizations now use digital communication, whether it's sent direct to an individual through email or communicated to a mass audience through social platforms. This type of communication requires digital content. Even if the item being shared started as a physical printout, it must be digitized if it's going to reach the intended individual or audience quickly and cost-effectively. 

To simplify this process, multifunction digital copiers include capabilities for scanning, faxing and distribution, whether delivered internally via intranet or to an external recipient via email. And to make the process even easier, most of these copiers now include large drives that offer 80 GB or more of built-in storage. 

The other difference is quality. Graphic rendering is often built into many multifunctional machines, enabling the exact reproduction of intricate drawings, schematics or artwork. This feature is often one of the more valuable developments for a wide range of companies as it allows them to manipulate artwork and produce high-quality brochures, presentations and documents in-house. Analog copiers may be able to produce an image resolution of only 600 x 600 dpi, compared to digital models that offer up to 4,800 x 600 dpi.

Plus, depending on the machine, digital copiers offer a much broader level of control. Documents can be reduced down to 25 percent of the original size and enlarged to more than 400 percent in some cases. Common thresholds for reduction and enlargement for analog machines averaged 50 percent and 200 percent, respectively.

One of the main questions many business owners confront is whether it will be more cost-effective to purchase new or used equipment. But with the reduction in cost of new technology, the marked improvements in performance mentioned above, and the increasing difficulty associated with finding parts and toner for older machines, a used copier will probably not be the best way to go for most businesses. 

Add in repairs and maintenance and the fact that most of these printers will not be covered by a service plan or warranty, and you're looking at some hefty costs when something goes wrong – not to mention the cost of downtime to your business.

That said, if you only plan on using it for the occasional copy here and there, a used model may work just fine. And it will definitely save you quite a bit of money up front. Here are the average costs for used and new copiers:

  • Midrange copiers – Used models go for $400 to $2,000, with many models available for around $750; new models start around $2,300 and go as high as $23,000.
  • Production copiers – Expect to pay $1,700 to $17,000 used, with many models available for about $2,000; new copiers start around $33,000 to $36,000 and extend well into the $70,000 range and above. 

It's also worth noting that repair costs on a machine without a service contract or warranty start around $60 per hour for on-site service, not including the cost of parts.

This is another big question for many business owners, and one that is often not cut and dried. On the one hand, a lease may offer tax incentives, but you may also be able to claim depreciation with the purchase of a machine.

The real question when deciding whether to buy or lease is related to your estimated use. Take a moment to factor your seasonal increases and decreases in production, as well as any expected business growth in the coming one to three years. Now how many copies on average do you expect to make each month?

Copier leases are similar to those for an automobile: They're based on usage. And many times, that estimate has to be exact. Go over your monthly allotment, and you could pay hefty surcharges every time you hit the print button. Copy below what you anticipate, and you could be subject to a "print minimum" service fee. 

Fixed service contracts average from one to three years and offer a fixed rate based on your "per click" usage. Common examples for full-color A3 and black-and-white printing include:

  • One year at $0.41 to $0.58 per click 
  • Three years at $0.24 per click

So if you estimate 200 copies per month, you'll spend $984 on a one-year contract and $576 per year, for a total of $1,728 with a three-year lease. This is in comparison to purchasing the machine outright, with new business copiers available for from $1,500 to $3,000 for a basic machine that offers print speeds of 20 ppm and a total monthly volume of 10,000 copies.

It's important to have a firm understanding of exactly what you need the machine to do, what type of volume you expect and how quickly you'll need to be able to complete each job. Each of these considerations will refine the options available to you and have a sizable impact on what you'll pay for one of the four following types: 

  1. Monochrome digital copier (black and white)

    Typically one of the most inexpensive types on the market, black and white copiers save on the costlier consumables required by their color counterparts — multiple ink cartridges serving as a prime example. These copiers also tend to lean more toward bare bones in terms of the technology they include, usually providing straightforward copying, faxing and scanning without the more elaborate graphics-editing capabilities found in many color copiers.

    Ideal for small businesses or those requiring only occasional use, mono-digital copiers offer average print speeds of 30 to 140 ppm with paper capacities that include 100 sheets in the tray and up to 550 in the cassette. Costs range from $2,300 to $16,000 and above.
     
  2. Digital color copier

    Representing a major step up, color digital copiers offer the ability to produce high-resolution reproductions of an endless range of source material. Increasingly used by a wide range of marketing departments and business professionals, they are commonly relied upon to create multicolor brochures, pamphlets and presentations, with resolutions that range from 600 x 600 dpi to 2,400 x 600 dpi.

    Speeds average 40 to 90 ppm, with paper capacities that start around 1,000 sheets in the tray and may also include 500 to 1,500 additional sheets in a backup cassette. Costs for midrange models start around $23,000 to $33,000 and extend to $50,000 and up, depending on features.

    As you've probably noticed, color copiers are 20 percent to 30 percent more expensive than their monochrome counterparts due to the brilliant reproduction most of them provide. In fact, color is the single most determining factor for overall cost on a digital copier. So if you're looking to save money and only need color copies occasionally, buying a monochrome model and outsourcing your color copies may be a cost-effective alternative.
     
  3. All-in-one copier (AIO)

    All-in-one copiers are essentially  desktop models but may be multifunctional as well. Ideal for small businesses or home offices, they typically include only basic functionalities, such as print, scan and fax. Expect to find resolutions from 300 x 300 dpi to 1,200 x 600 dpi and output speeds of 19 to 30 ppm.

    The resolution and print speeds provided by an all-in-one device are often not adequate for many business demands, and therefore these machines tend to be rare in office settings. However, given their compact size and portable nature, they are occasionally assigned to an individual employee or used for a satellite or temporary location. And the price is hard to beat. Costs range from $150 for basic models to about $600 on the high end.
     
  4. Multifunctional copier 

    This is one of the most popular models among businesses of every size today, allowing them to eliminate unnecessary equipment and labor by providing a wide range of communication technologies. All models usually include print, scan and fax options. But depending on the levels of quality and finishing required, they can be vastly different. 

Categorizing these differences, multifunction copiers are broken down into four different types:

  1. AIO MFP – Desktop models designed for individual use; network capable but typically include little to no built-in memory. Average price range is $150 to $600.
  2. SOHO MFP – Small office/home office models that include internal memory, document feeder and security features. Average price range is $300 to $700.
  3. Office MFP – One of the most popular of the four types, this is the model found in many midsize to large businesses. Capable of meeting a wide range of needs, office MFPs are commonly networked among a workgroup or entire floor and include advanced scanning and document-editing features. Data encryption and advanced security features are also common, given the extensive use by a range of different people. Average price range is $1,200 to $4,000.
  4. Production MFP – The costliest of the four types, production MFPs are the biggest of the four in terms of size and production output. They are geared to deliver high-volume copies and advanced document-finishing capabilities (covered in detail in the features section of this guide), including stapling, binding and collating. They also provide the highest resolutions available, ranging from 2,400 x 1,200 dpi for color copies to 9,600 x 600 dpi interpolated with 8-bit color depth for black and white reproduction. Average price range is $8,000 to $25,000 and above.

There are a number of different specs that cater to a wide range of business purposes. When comparing different models, here are the most important factors to consider:

Paper enters the machine through an internal cassette or the rear tray, with paper volume determined by the size of the machine. AIO copiers are usually only equipped with a tray that accommodates around 100 sheets. 

On the other end of the scale, a production MFP may accommodate a minimum of 100 to 500 sheets in the tray and up to 2,000 sheets in a number of internal cassettes. Most have one to three cassettes on average, with the first capable of the greatest volume (1,200 sheets is a common example) and all additional cassettes accommodating around 500 sheets. 

Remember, refilling a machine takes time, so the greater the volume the better.

Similar to paper volume, paper size is determined by the size of the machine. AIO models typically only accommodate standard (8.5 x 11 inches) or legal size sheets (8.5 x 14 inches). Most other digital copiers accept a variety of paper sizes, including envelopes and other types of media such as 14-lb. bond cover stock. Media is loaded either through the rear tray or an adjustable cassette. Max sizes usually cap out at around 13 x 19 inches.

Print speed and copy speed (also known as scanning speed) are listed separately, as many modern offices use the machine only for scanning purposes, storing the files internally or distributing them electronically. And there's a substantial difference between the two. 

Print speeds range from 20 to 100 ppm, with "first copy out" times that are anywhere from 3.5 to 7.5 seconds after powering on the machine. Scanning speeds are often broken into two parts: simplex (for machines with a single scanner) and duplex (for those with double-sided scan capability). Simplex speeds average 120 scans per minute (spm) for both color and black and white, with duplex scans capable of 220 spm.

Other than paper, toner is one of the most costly consumables when considering a digital copier. Of the two main types (color or monochrome), the black and white version is going to be cheaper as it requires only one toner cartridge. On average, a black and white toner cartridge will cost $100 to $180 and yield about 60,000 pages. 

Color machines require four individual cartridges: black, cyan, yellow and magenta. Depending on the make, model and yield, each cartridge will cost $100 to $200. Multi-packs are available for $400 to $700 and include all four cartridges. In a color machine, black toner cartridges typically yield about 50,000 pages and color cartridges yield about 30,000.

For those interested in "green" options, many major manufacturers, including HP and Canon, offer recycling programs that reuse certain parts and recycle the remaining materials, often providing free return shipping via UPS for cartridges bearing the company's brand name. Additional details can be obtained through your machine's manufacturer or your individual dealer.  

With the exception of all-in-one devices, most digital copiers now have some type of internal memory that allows them to retain a substantial number of documents and scans. This efficiency feature enables an individual to quickly reproduce countless sets of documents or printouts without requiring the original document. Sometimes referred to as the "scan once/print many" feature, the size and detail of the original papers dictates how many documents can be stored. 

A copier's internal drive is similar to any other computer hard drive. Your production requirements will determine the amount of internal memory you need. Depending on the size of the machine, memory (RAM) ranges between 256 MB on the low end to 1.5 GB on larger black-and-white MFPs. Memory capacity (hard drives) also varies based on size, with black and white models offering as little as 1.5 GB of storage space and color models featuring 640 GB to 1 TB of hard drive storage.

Every digital copier on the market includes a unique set of features geared toward its level of productivity. Many of these, such as email, scanning and fax, are standard. More specialized features, including duplexing and finishing options, are only available on the higher-end models. 

Depending on the size of the machine you buy, you'll pay anywhere from $1,200 to $4,000 on average for a machine that includes all of the following:

  • Scanning/faxing/emailing – This feature has been shown to dramatically simplify distribution both internally and externally when networked within a workgroup. Most machines connect either through BaseT Ethernet or a high-speed USB 2.0 connection. Higher end models offer connectivity via Wi-Fi, enabling the quick printing or distribution of documents from almost any mobile device.
  • Document feeder – Sometimes known as an automatic document feeder (ADF), this device is mounted to the top of the machine and allows fast-batch scanning of large documents. Depending on the size of the machine, trays can hold from 75 to 110 sheets of paper. On a duplex-capable machine, the document feeder would also have the capability to scan both sides of a document.
  • Editing– Advanced machines allow basic editing of documents after they've been scanned and before distribution and printing. Common examples of editing features include the addition of page numbers, watermarks or date stamps. Most such features also allow image rotation to fit the selected paper stock as well as size reduction of originals to fit multiple pages on a single sheet. 
  • Digital copier interface– Many new models include touch-screen operation on a monitor that resembles an iPad. Featuring a clean layout and large graphic icons, a touch-screen interface simplifies editing and also provides full access to the system including economy printing, language options, moving or deleting pages, contextually based print options and menus, and a real-time preview of the document being printed.
  • Security– Advancements address everything from document protection to access control and may include overwrite protection for the hard drive, removable hard drives and lock print, as well as user code, card or even biometric authentication. As a networked device, the machine itself may be protected by data encryption, WPA support and a range of unique IP addresses.
  • Networking capabilities– As mentioned in the scan, fax and email section above, network solutions are some of the most popular features among workgroups that have mobile employees. Whether workers are on the road or simply traveling throughout a single location, networked digital copiers simplify printing and document management for everyone. Plus, with a dedicated print server and standard TCP/IP protocol, most networks can support a limitless number of devices and printers.

Depending on the model you select, the features below may come built-in or can be added post-sale. If you think you may need one or more of the following in the future but don't want to make the investment up front, check with your dealer about the possibility of upgrading the machine you're considering. 

Expect to pay between $4,000 and $12,000 (or more) for a machine that includes all of the following features.

  • Account codes– Similar to security features, account codes are numeric indicators that allow employees to "bill" copies to a specific department or account. They're a type of user-group profile that can also be password protected.
  • Duplex copying– Duplex or doubled-sided copying allows printing on both sides of a sheet of paper. By reducing consumption, this feature is one way many businesses are making strides toward sustainable operation.
  • Wireless connection options– Designed to simplify printing while practically eliminating cables from an office environment, wireless connectivity allows users to print from or scan to any mobile device, including Apple, Android or Windows Phone devices. Prints are handled through a dedicated software application such as AirPrint, Google Cloud Print, Cortado Workplace or Wi-Fi Direct. 
  • Full-bleed printing – Ideal for professional-looking pamphlets and brochures, full-bleed allows printing on the entire surface of the document, including the trim area, and is often found on production models. Also known as "borderless print," full-bleed printing allows you to print up to 12 x 18 inches if the max copy size is 11 x 17 inches. 
  • Sorter, stapler and three-hole punch – A specialized aspect of finishing, sorters, staplers and a three-hole punch simplify the creation of booklets. These may be included on high-end models but are largely considered additional accessories by most vendors. 
  • Transparency interleaving – Used widely within educational institutions and for business presentations, transparencies can be reproduced on a digital copier, leaving a sheet of paper in between each transparency to simplify distribution. Paper sheets can also be printed with the same text and image as the transparency.

The average digital copier service agreement encompasses toner, drums, and all parts, maintenance and repairs — essentially anything that isn't paper stock. These service agreements are designed to free up office staff and employees from having to worry about toner levels and the long-term performance of the machine. Unfortunately, "parts" has a unique definition for every dealer. But rollers, cleaning blades and other parts that break or wear out over time are typically covered. Just be sure you receive a complete list of the parts that ARE and ARE NOT covered so you can compare service agreements accurately.

It's also worth noting that the total cost varies from dealer to dealer and is also determined by whether you've purchased or leased your copier. Leases often include free service calls on all machines covered under the lease and are usually billed on a per-click fee. Copiers that have been purchased may be subject to additional fees.

Ask your dealer about any service contracts or post-sale support to determine whether the inclusiveness and cost of the plan will be worth it to you and your employees.

You should be aware of a number of things before selecting either a digital copier or the dealer that will provide your post-sale support. Start by taking an average print job to your prospective dealer and trying it out on the machines you're comparing. Some of the most critical components to evaluate are:

  • Scanner – How does the quality compare to your original?
  • Document feeder – How many sheets can it accommodate? Does it jam, or does the feeder run smoothly?
  • Image editor – How simple is the platform to use? How quickly were you able to accomplish your goal?
  • Paper cassette – Is it accessible? How long does it take to refill?

While most manufacturers offer a range of digital copiers that are compatible with any number of industries or business applications, many companies also specialize in a particular type of machine. These vendors may offer a unique line tailored to a specific niche or may target specific industries. 

Here's a quick overview of the top names on the market and where they tend to focus their research and development dollars.

Konica Minolta – Known for producing cost-effective machines that cater to budgetary concerns, Konica Minolta offers a full range of digital copiers, from small multifunction office systems to large print-production models. Notable for their fast print speeds, high-end models are capable of outputs of up to 105 ppm, with most midrange models offering 30 to 60 ppm. Image quality is excellent, but resolutions tend to be less than those of competing models within some price ranges. Certain production models are only capable of a 1,200 x 1,200 dpi resolution. KonicaMinolta.us

Ricoh America Corporation – In business since 1936, Ricoh offers an extensive line of high-end production models. This company has established a reputation among consumers and businesses alike for consistently providing trustworthy products that perform reliably with minimal downtime. Ricoh machines are also reportedly simple to use, with networking capability that's easy to set up and few maintenance requirements. The company has also been recognized for the quality of its customer support. Ricoh-USA.com

Canon – Renowned for the compact size of some of its machines, Canon's models often represent a solid choice for small businesses or those with floor plans offering minimal space. The company's touch-screen user interface is also widely popular among users for the simplicity of the menu and graphical interface. In addition, Canon boasts one of the most trusted reputations among those who lease equipment. The perceived fairness of Canon's lease agreements largely results from the option that has no monthly minimum. usa.canon.com

Sharp – Sharp manufactures MFPs that are designed to simplify all aspects of setup and to facilitate operation, control, job monitoring and management, and copier maintenance. With an intuitive interface and easy, direct access to consumables, these copiers have been shown to increase workflow efficiency through a 10-inch touch-screen panel that allows a user to edit documents and rearrange files simply with the drag of a finger. Interestingly, Sharp makes a concerted marketing effort toward government agencies, educational institutions, health care facilities and a number of specialized commercial markets. sharp-world.com/products/copier/

Toshiba – Known throughout the world for its reliable brand of office products, Toshiba's copiers enjoy a similar reputation, especially among those within small to medium-size workgroups. In particular, they're recognized for the ease of use they provide overall and the simplicity involved in their menu navigation. Toshiba is also ranked high among environmentally conscious consumers for the number of energy efficiency models it produces, saving on long-term operational costs while minimizing the machines' environmental footprint. business.toshiba.com

Xerox – Recognized for the superior quality of their paper handling, Xerox digital copiers are also popular for the durability of their individual components, including the document feeder and output tray. Easily adapted to a wide range of office applications, Xerox machines are upgradable to incorporate some of the more advanced finishing accessories. office.xerox.com

Savin – Savin copiers are just Ricoh machines with a different name. But that doesn't make them any less impressive. Ricoh bought the Savin brand name in 1995 and has since focused the brand's development on machines that specialize in Energy Star compliance. In fact, Savin's digital-imaging product line offers six different Energy Star-certified monochrome copiers. Plus, users report favorable experiences with the innovation and service Savin products and support personnel provide. savin.com/products

Lanier – Responsible for one of the most comprehensive selections on the market, Lanier produces more than 90 unique digital copiers. Offering a combination of performance and budget that tick upwards in tiny increments, Lanier machines differ from one another in small but important ways. For example, the difference in print speed between two different color models is 20 and 21 ppm. Some of the company's smaller, midrange models also include a document feeder with a max capacity of 100 sheets, offering almost 100 percent more room than competing models that cap out at around 35 to 50 sheets. Lanier.com

Editor’s Note: Looking for a digital copier for your business? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from vendors for free:

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