There used to be a major distinction between printers and copy machines, but today, most office-focused printers are digital and multifunctional. They can scan, copy, print, fax, download and email. Most can be owned or leased. Some advanced models can also store account codes, make duplex copies, full-bleed print, sort, staple, make three-hole punches and print transparencies. Still others also offer features that can cut costs and improve productivity. Those include wireless connectivity, image editing, security features such as biometric authentication, and energy savings.
The sheer variety of copiers on the market can make shopping a daunting task. This guide will help you choose a copy machine by outlining the different types of copiers available, describing the key features to consider and outlining the major players in the business copier industry.
Types of printers
The first question you should answer is whether you want a monochrome or color printer. Once that's established, you can start to consider the configuration you want. The design you choose should be based on your budget, needs and amount of space.
Copiers designed for small offices and home offices are typically desktop size to conserve space. Designs like these can be purchased for as low as $50, but we recommend spending in the $300 to $700 range. Very low-priced desktop copiers are intended for occasional individual use and will not meet the needs of most small business owners.
Office copiers are often large tabletop size or freestanding and are built to suit the needs of multi-person offices. Printers like these can typically be networked and usually include lots of printing, scanning and faxing capabilities as well as the option to print on different paper sizes. Office printers start at around $1,200, but higher-end office machines can run as high as $5,000 or more.
If your business requires high-volume printing, professional-grade graphics and advanced document-finishing options, you may need a production printer. Production printers offer high resolutions, ranging from 2400 x 1200 dpi for color copies to 9600 x 600 dpi interpolated with 8-bit color depth for black-and-white prints. Production printers vary greatly in cost depending on specific features, but entry-level production machines typically start around $7,000 and go well above $25,000 for specialty models.
Features to compare
When you're comparing different copier models, it's important to look at the features that matter most.
Print speed and volume
Print speed is one of the most crucial specs to look at when you choose a copier. Print speed is often listed on spec sheets as "ppm" for pages per minute. We recommend a minimum of 27 ppm for microbusinesses and around 52 ppm for small businesses with average printing needs.
Often listed on spec sheets as "tray" or "cassette," you'll find the paper capacity of each printer as well as the sizes of paper the machine can print on. Make sure the capacity and available sizes meet your needs.
Nearly all office printers have scanners built in, but not every machine has an automatic document feeder or duplex scanning abilities. Document feeders on scanners are a must if you plan on scanning a large volume of documents. The duplex feature is essential for double-sided scanning. You may also want to check the optical resolution of the copier's scanner if you intend on scanning images as well as word documents. For basic document scanning, 600 pixels is good enough, but for graphics, you'll want at least 4800 pixels.
Production printers have very different graphics specs from office printers. On production printers, a resolution of 2400 x 2400 dpi is standard, and color management is essential. Office printers that are used primarily for printing word documents have much lower dpi. If you're not sure what level of graphics you need, reach out to a rep from a copier company and discuss what you'll be using the printer for; they should be able to recommend a model that suits your needs and budget.
Ink and toner
It's advisable to consider how much toner or ink will cost you over the operational lifespan of the copier you buy or lease. Before you choose a specific machine, make sure you know how many pages you can expect to get out of each cartridge or batch, and how much replacements cost. Also, look at the possibility of using third-party ink refills.
Most digital copiers have some type of internal memory that allows them to retain substantial numbers of documents and scans. An internal drive is similar to any other computer hard drive. Depending on the size of the machine, the RAM ranges from 256MB to 1.5GB, and the capacity can vary from 1.5GB to 1TB of storage space.
Buy vs. lease
Most of the companies we considered offer copier sales as well as leasing options. This is a big question for many business owners, and one that is not quickly answered. Both methods come with all sorts of pros and cons, including tax incentives, maintenance issues, depreciation and costs. If you're not sure whether leasing or buying is right for your business, check out this buy vs. lease guide on our sister site, Tom's IT Pro.
Maintenance and service agreements
The average digital copier service agreement encompasses toner, drums, and all parts, maintenance and repairs. These are designed to free up office staff and employees from worrying about toner levels and the long-term performance of the machine. Rollers, cleaning blades and other parts that break or wear out over time are typically covered. Unfortunately, "parts" has a unique definition to each dealer, so make sure you have a complete list of parts that are covered before you buy.
Reputable copier companies
Brother – Best known for its specialty fabric printers and industrial sewing machines, the Brother company also manufactures and sells multifunction laser copiers for home use, small businesses and large businesses. Small entry-level Brother machines start at around $150 and typically print 24 to 27 pages per minute, while the Brother Workhorse Series, which we recommend for SMB, retails for $450 to over $1,000, with a print rate of up to 52 pages per minute. Brother-usa.com
Canon – Canon's small desktop copiers are popular because of their attractive design, quality scanners and low entry price. Canon's business-worthy tabletop machines start at around $200, while office copiers run from around $750 to well over $5,000, depending on the configuration and features. Its production print systems are popular with businesses that require high-end printing in house, and the company has a reputation for offering some of the best leases and servicing packages on the market. USA.canon.com
Epson – Epson makes high-end photo printers and fabric printers as well as business-ready multifunction copiers. Quality runs throughout the Epson line, from its compact series of home office machines to its commercial wide-format and graphics printers. Epson also makes specialized printers for printing signage and art reproductions as well as health care labels, dot matrix receipts and more. Its EcoTank printers are an excellent choice for small businesses to minimize ink costs. The cartridge-free printers include up to two years of ink in the box and sport refillable vessels that can be filled with inexpensive bottles of ink. Epson.com
HP – HP's affordable multifunctional copiers are popular because they come in a variety of configurations and sport one of the best touchscreen interfaces of any printer brand on the market. HP's tabletop line of LaserJet Pros is popular with small businesses and microbusinesses and can be purchased for $300, while freestanding models can be bought for around $750 refurbished or $1,200 new. HP also owns Samsung's copier division, which in recent years has become known for beautifully designed machines with fast scanning and printing capabilities. HP machines are best suited for standard SMB needs, not for high-volume or production printing. Store.hp.com
Konica Minolta – Konica Minolta offers a full range of copiers. It's best known for its multifunction office systems and large print-production models, which are known for their ability to handle high print volumes. High-end models are capable of outputs up to 105 ppm, with most midrange models offering 30 to 60 ppm. One common criticism of Konica Minolta is of the UI on the company website, as well as on the copiers themselves, both of which are said to be clunky and unintuitive. KonicaMinolta.us
Kyocera – Like some other copier companies on this list, Kyocera offers comprehensive document workflow solutions, with specialty services for education, government, health care, legal, manufacturing and enterprise organizations. Kyocera's business-focused multifunction copy machines are known for their durability and ability to handle a high volume of work. Kyocera also sells specialized wide-format printers with 600 dpi image resolution, which is ideal for architecture and design firms. Americas.kyocera.com
Lexmark – Lexmark makes multifunction copy machines and offers industry-specific managed services, as well as unique features like Pantone color matching, which is ideal for brand consistency. Lexmark's home printers are cheaply made and don't offer the best performance, but the enterprise and SMB printers are the company's bread and butter. Lexmark machines are best for small-batch printing, and the excellent visual touchscreen interface makes them popular with users of every ilk. Lexmark.com
Ricoh USA Inc. – Ricoh is the largest copier manufacturer in the world. It makes and sells its own copiers and printers under the Ricoh name and owns and operates several other well-known copier companies, including Savin, Gestetner, Hitachi, Lanier and the IBM Printing Systems Division/InfoPrint Solutions Company, but the quality varies greatly depending on the brand name used. Ricoh's own branded office printers are known for their quality, versatility, capacity, speed, graphics, and comprehensive document workflow solutions and managed print services. Ricoh is a better match for established SMBs than microbusinesses or home offices. Ricoh-USA.com
Sharp – Best known for televisions and monitors, Sharp is also in the printing business. It primarily sells office printers and production printers and not home office or personal-use machines. Sharp copiers have been shown to increase workflow efficiency through a 10-inch touchscreen panel that allows a user to edit documents and rearrange files simply with the drag of a finger. Sharp copiers' reliability, user-friendly interface and functionality right out of the box make them a good choice for small business owners who may not have an in-house IT tech. Sharp-world.com/products/copier/
Xerox – Often referred to as the Cadillac of copiers by systems administrators, Xerox offers high-quality printers with a high price tag to match. While some users feel the price is justified, others feel that Xerox is simply a luxury brand name. Xerox has a reputation for excellent customer service, durable machinery and a solid UI. Office.xerox.com
Shopping for a printer, whether you're buying or leasing, is kind of like shopping for a car. You should narrow your options to a minimum of three different providers and then see who can give you the best deal.
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: