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Grow Your Business Technology

Best Copiers of 2018

Best Color Copiers 2018
Credit: Chanachai Saenghirun/Shutterstock

The demand for copiers among small business hasn't waned, despite a wave of digitalization and content management tools. Many small businesses find increasing value in copiers as they seek to print various materials, including marketing collateral materials using professional, quality, in-house printers and copiers. Printing in-house can save small businesses time and money, especially when it's an urgent project.

True copiers are still sold, but for small businesses wanting color-copying functionality, a multifunction printer is the most practical solution. These machines allow businesses to do more than just color copy: They print, fax and scan from a single machine. And the latest machines are equipped with modern touches, like digital displays, wireless printing capabilities and more.

The price for copiers varies significantly. Prices may be in the high hundreds of dollars or several thousand dollars. Small businesses evaluating digital color copiers and printers should first assess their needs. How much do you print monthly? What documents will you be printing? Who will use the printer and how?

Once you answer these basic questions about functionality, then you can evaluate speed (including how long the printer takes to warm up and print the first page), volume requirements, price and more.

Editor's note: Are you looking for a copier for your business? Complete the questionnaire below to have our sister site BuyerZone connect you with vendors that can help.

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Another issue to be aware of as you evaluate copiers has to do with color itself. You may notice that most printers and copiers use CMYK colors, whereas your computer monitor uses RGB. These are just two methods of representing colors. The letters stand for the colors that are used to mix colors. For example, CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow and black, whereas RGB stands for red, green and blue. CMYK is used exclusively for print media. RGB refers to color on the screen, such as in monitors or televisions. If you're buying a copier to print in-house materials and those materials are RGB, but your printer is using CMYK format, you may notice a mismatch in the brightness and depth of color. Rest assured, the problem is not with the copier; it's a discrepancy in color format between the file and the printer. There is an easy fix for this. A lot of applications – Photoshop, Illustrator and Publisher – let you convert RGB color to CMYK so your colors are compatible.

We evaluated color digital copiers exclusively for the small and medium business market. We evaluated speed, volume and paper capacity, ease of use and connectivity. We also checked whether modern features, such as security and wireless printing, were available. Some features or configurations may be more paramount to small businesses in specific industries, such as legal or finance.

A digital copier can be a major investment for a small business. While many SMBs may purchase a copier outright, especially if the price point falls below $1,000, many businesses with specific needs (high volume, print definition, etc.) must, therefore, consider more expensive models, which can represent a significant cost for the organization. Many, therefore, lease rather than buy.

There are pros and cons to each path.

When comparing copiers, it's not just price. Businesses need to budget for operating costs, such as printer, ink or toner, maintenance and more. Many experts insist that you "get what you pay for," meaning that if you purchase inexpensive supplies, you may pay for it later with additional maintenance costs or slow machines. Do your research; what may appear affordable now may carry a hefty price tag later on.

You also need to consider factors that play into productivity. How quickly it prints documents, paper capacity, maintenance — all of these things determine whether your employees speed through various tasks or if there's a long line at a printer. Many businesses concerned about environmental responsibility also may be concerned with factors like energy use and two-sided printing.

Perform a cost-benefit analysis before choosing your next printer. What are your deal breakers? Speed? Security? Auto-duplexing? These factors will guide you through the process.

Speed. In the 1990s and early 2000s, speed was the top consideration. At that time, speeds, measured in pages printed per minute, varied quite a bit. Today, speeds are consistent whether you have an inkjet printer or a laser one. What matters now is how long the machine takes to warm up and then print the first page. If it's 20 minutes, or even five, you have a problem.

Auto-duplexing. Auto-duplexing is a big deal for many companies. With auto-duplexing, your copier automatically prints on both sides of a page. Not only is this a major time-saver, it cuts down on costs. Without auto-duplexing, users have to manually feed pages into the copier. It may sound like a slight inconvenience, but time spent feeding paper into the copier quickly adds up and can become a significant inconvenience. And – like with anything in technology – the more you rely on manual processes, the chance for mishaps increases.

Paper capacity and duty cycle. Paper capacity is the amount of paper a machine can handle. Organizations with busy printing stations need to consider capacity, lest they be okay with replacing paper in the printer every hour or two. Duty cycle refers to the maximum number of pages you can print in a month. A cycle with a lower figure, say, 25,000 pages, might be just fine for a small office with four or five employees. But if you're considering a copier with a similar duty cycle and you print 150,000 pages each month, you could risk overheating and damaging the unit. The duty cycle figure doesn't predict the copier's life, but it does give you a sense of its capabilities and is, therefore, something to keep in mind when shopping for an office copier.

Ease of use may be the most crucial factor of all for small businesses. Avoid a complex set up – plug and play functionality is key. Further, it's important that the copier is easy to use. This applies to everything, from initial training and setup to using the machine and refilling paper, toner, ink, etc. Many copiers today link with applications, helping users print wirelessly. They also offer shortcuts and personalization, which can save you even more time, especially with repetitive tasks.

Other factors you should consider with a copier is size and weight. Where will you place the machine? Will it be in a central location? Is it easily accessible by everyone? If you can't accommodate a large, heavy printer, then rule those models out at the outset of your decision-making process.

We live in a cloud-powered, digital world. Connectivity counts. USB connectivity is still considered standard among printers, but wireless connectivity is the new thing. Many users want to print from anywhere and from any device.

Some printers offer the option to connect directly to cloud drives such as Box or Microsoft. In just a few clicks, users can access files and print from anywhere. In some businesses, the idea of having to click Print from your desktop may be antiquated.

Security is important, especially in today's digital world. There have been numerous reports highlighting the need to secure every endpoint, especially in the internet of things age.

For many businesses, placing printer security as a top priority may be a stretch. However, for some businesses, such as financial organizations, law offices and doctor's offices, secure printing is critical. If so, narrow your focus to printers that offer built-in security features.

For printers priced $1,000 or under, there's a good chance that small businesses will purchase it outright. However, leasing a printer – referred to as managed printing – comes with many benefits.

One such benefit is the opportunity to transition capital expenses to operating expenses. Technology evolves at a rapid pace. If you're not sure whether you can afford the cost of a new printer plus maintenance and repair fees, outsourcing may be a smart idea. It allows you to bundle your digital copier, and everything required to use it, into one monthly fee. It's easy to budget, easy to plan for, and it's all taken care of for you. This includes ink, paper and maintenance.

Not ready to lease or skeptical of the benefits? Sure, you can still purchase your printer, but be prepared to budget for regular maintenance as well as any unexpected costs. And maintaining and fixing a printer/copier may be yet another task on your already busy to-do list. However, purchasing a copier outright gives you the opportunity to own it and deduct it as a business expense while saving money on fees and interest.  Discuss the purchase with others in your organization and determine how both options will affect your cash flow.

Ready to choose a copier? Here's a breakdown of our full coverage:

Editor's note: Are you looking for a copier for your business? Complete the questionnaire below to have our sister site BuyerZone connect you with vendors that can help.

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Joanna Furlong

Joanna Furlong is a freelance writer and content strategist based in Southern California. Her background is in digital marketing, but she’s been writing professionally for more than 10 years. She loves to report on the intersection where business, management and technology collide.