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Business copiers comparison
Choosing office copiers
Evaluating copier machines

Business copiers comparison
A staple of the office for decades, the copier has come a long way since Xerox introduced the first fully automated plain-paper photocopier in 1959. Today's models have more in common with computers than they do with that first Xerox 914: modern business copiers combine copying, laser printing, faxing, scanning, and more into one networked machine.

The copier industry generates $24 billion in revenue by selling over 1.5 million new copiers each year. This huge market drives manufacturers to constantly improve their offerings and leads to a highly competitive market among the vendors who install and service business copiers.

Analog vs. digital

One of the main questions to ask when comparing multiple copier providers used to be whether you should buy a digital copier or analog machine. No longer: the answer now is a resounding "digital." It makes little sense to buy analog these days - most manufacturers have stopped introducing new analog models, and there is little price difference between analog and digital copiers with similar features.

The advantages of digital machines are many:

  • They combine the functions of copiers, scanners, network printers, and fax machines
  • Fewer moving parts means less mechanical breakdowns
  • Less noise makes for a quieter office
  • They are better at reproducing fine lines and photographs.
  • Some people like the simplicity of analog copiers - they can be simpler to operate, with just one button to press to make a copy. However with even minimal training, your staff will quickly get used to operating a digital machine.

    Choosing office copiers
    Before you begin researching digital copier vendors, ask yourself these three questions to get a good grasp of what your needs are. Modern digital copy machines allow you to copy, scan, and fax, all from the same unit.

    1. What do I need an office copier to do?

    Modern digital copy machines allow you to copy, scan, and fax, all from the same unit.

    Modern digital copiers are sometimes referred to as "multifunctional products" because they can do more than just copy. Almost all are also capable of printing, faxing, and scanning. The modules to support these functions are most often sold as add-ons which means you can decide later if you want to add functionality.

    Having a multifunctional product connected to your internal network allows your staff to print, copy, or send faxes from their computers. Because the machine is still a copier, users can also make collated - even stapled - sets of documents without having to leave their seats. Space limitations may also require a multifunctional copier solution.

    Some buyers have a perception that adding more functions to a copier can reduce its reliability, but that is not the case any more. However, relying on one device for printing, faxing, and copying does mean that if it breaks down, you may lose all three functions at once.

    You also need to decide whether you need a copier that supports color. While color machines do not command the exorbitant premiums they used to, you will still pay 20% to 30% above the cost of a black and white copier.

    For most businesses that need some color printing and/or copying, a black and white/color hybrid is the best choice. By switching between b&w and color modes, a hybrid office copier can save you money in expensive color copier consumables. Dedicated graphic color machines are much more expensive, with the additional cost largely for print-quality accuracy in color reproduction and faster processors, neither of which is essential in the typical office.

    2. What is my volume?

    Once you decide on the features you need, the next step is to narrow your choices based on the number of copies you make in a month.

    If you already own or lease a copier, you can determine your actual copier usage by looking at the counter, usually found under the platen glass. If you do not have a copier, examine your copy shop receipts to get a sense for your volume. If you are going to use the copier as a network printer, increase the figure by 30% to 50%. You can also use your monthly paper consumption to help determine your current copy and print volume.

    Once you have a rough volume figure, increase it by at least 15%. This will help you account for future growth, as well as compensate for the somewhat inflated monthly copy volumes set by manufacturers for their models. Overworking an office copier is the quickest route to frustrating downtime and expensive service calls - better to pay for slightly more capacity than you need than risk damaging an expensive and essential piece of office equipment.

    If you are expecting to make fewer than 700 copies a month, you probably do not need the expense of a "business" copier. You would be better off purchasing a small office copier from an office superstore - unless you want the advanced features or service guarantees that come with business copiers.

    3. How fast do I need it?

    Copier speed is measured in copies per minute (cpm), pages per minute (ppm), or outputs per minute (opm). Whichever term is used, it refers to the number of letter-sized pages the machine can produce in one minute when running at full speed. The copier industry defines six segments defined by speed, ranging from Segment 1 machines that run 15 to 20 ppm to Segment 6 machines that top 91 ppm. Most offices will get by comfortably with machines from Segments 2 - 4, in the 20 to 50 ppm range.

    Of course, more complex forms of copying - making two-sided copies, copying on to larger sheets, and sorting - will be slower. If you will be frequently doing these types of copying, make sure you anticipate and plan for the slower speed. Also, if you expect to make many one-time single copies, ask about the first-copy speed, or the number of seconds it takes for one single copy to be made. It may be longer than you are willing to wait.

    Evaluating copier machines
    Once you have decided what your monthly volume, speed, color, and network connectivity requirements are, you can start looking at specific copier machines. Knowing these will allow you to base your decision on the most important factors, not on the bells and whistles offered on so many copiers that rarely serve any useful purpose.

    Do not assume that buying a copier machine with tons of features means that you will be paying for unnecessary options. So many features are built into digital machines these days that the "extra" features may have little to no impact on price. Just make sure you stick to your requirements.

    Test drive it

    When deciding between two or three different copier machines, ask the dealer to bring the copiers for a demo, including hooking them up to your network if you plan to use your machine that way. If an in-house demo is not possible, make sure you visit the dealer to see how the copiers work.

    Whether you demo the copier machine inside or outside your office, test it with your most common tasks. For example, if you know you frequently feed 110-pound cover stock or labels through the bypass, run some through the copier and examine the output. If you want to copy your brochures onto special paper, do so and compare the output to the quality you are used to seeing.

    Evaluating color copying? Take samples of previously outsourced color jobs along with the stock you would like to copy onto most often and see how the copiers handle a typical job.