Business copiers introduction
Choosing office copiers
Evaluating copier machines
Traditional office copier features
Digital multifunction devices
Digital copier memory
Color copier specifics
Copier prices and how to buy
Choosing a copier dealer
Copier service agreements
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A staple of the office for decades, business copiers have 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 copiers.
Analog vs. 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:
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.
Before you talk to dealers that sell office copiers, ask yourself these three questions to get a good grasp of what your needs are.
1. What do I need an office copier to do?
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. 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 more 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 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.
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?
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.
Once you have decided what your monthly volume , speed , color, and network connectivity requirements are, you can start looking at specific copier machines and models. Knowing these will allow you to base your decision on the most important factors, not on the bells and whistles offered on so many copier machines that rarely serve any useful purpose.
Do not assume that buying a copier 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.
Having a multifunctional product connected to your internal network allows your staff to print, copy, or send faxes from their computers.
Test drive it
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.
If you copy lots of double sided originals, you should invest in a recirculating automatic document feeder (RADF), which can flip pages inside the machine for simplified double-sided copying.
Sorting and finishing
You may want a finisher if you want your office copier to copy many sets of multi-page documents. The most familiar type of finisher is the automatic stapler, which can be a huge time-saver. More advanced versions include three-hole punches, saddle stitch binding, folding, and more. Finishers are optional on many machines, and usually carry an additional cost.
Typically, office copiers include at least one fixed-size and a couple of adjustable-size paper trays. Unfortunately, heavy paper stock often jams if you load it into a standard paper tray. To get around this problem, most copiers include a bypass tray, a special tray that provides a straight paper path for heavy paper and labels.
Capabilities that used to be expensive or simply not available are now standard on today's digital multifunction devices. Remember that you can upgrade many of these features later — if you choose the right copier.
Some machines can be upgraded with a "plug and play" type of upgrade, while others require more extensive hardware fixes. If you are considering adding printing or faxing modules later, ask about the specifics of the upgrade process.
Most copiers run standard networking protocols, but you still need to make sure the model you choose is compatible with your network. Involving your IT department in this aspect of the copier purchase decision upfront can save you significant headaches later.
They can also combine images in creative ways, such as copying a two-sided original — say, a check — onto one page, or reducing and combining originals to put 2, 4, or 8 pages onto one.
Memory (RAM, the same memory used in computers) is essential for supporting digital copier features such as scan once/print many, automatic page numbering, faxing, and printing. Additional memory can be added to boost productivity and enable more memory-intensive features. Insufficient memory will result in slower output and an inability to print or copy new documents.
In some cases, a fairly small cache of memory is dedicated for each function — copying, printing, and faxing. In other configurations, a single larger cache is shared between functions. Find out how memory is allocated before you decide on how much to buy.
Make sure your chosen machine accepts generic memory like SIMMs. Most do, but some holdouts still use proprietary memory systems — avoid them. If your copier accepts industry-standard memory, you will be able to easily purchase more memory if the need arises.
Often, you can not take advantage of advanced image editing features without purchasing extra memory. Copiers come with anywhere from 4 MB to 256 MB and higher of RAM. If you intend to use any image editing features, or frequently produce complex documents with over 20 pages, make sure you get at least 16 MB of copier memory.
The standard 2 MB to 8 MB of memory many printers are equipped with is typically not enough for effective printing. Additional memory or hard drives are almost always available as an option.
All color copiers are digital and work much like a computer scanner connected to a laser printer. The copier scans the original then transfers the information via laser to a charged image drum. Color toner adheres to the charged areas of the drum before being transferred to paper. The final step, as with a laser printer, is to heat the toner on the page and fuse a permanent image.
High-end models apply all four colors in a single application. Low-end machines take four passes of the same image, rolling the paper around the drum four times to apply each color. While low-end technology is less expensive, it also makes for slower copying speeds.
Color copier editing features
Although these advanced editing techniques can be impressive, they tend to be difficult and time-consuming to master. And, if your copier is set up as a network printer, you can do much more complex image manipulations using standard image editing software at your computer, then simply print the results. Basic editing functions are enough for most users.
If you do choose to invest in an editor, or a model that includes one, and set out to compare features across models, you may find the process frustrating. Most of these editing features are named differently from model to model, even though their functions may be the same. Ask a sales representative to demonstrate exactly how to use the editing features you want.
Prices for digital copiers have come down remarkably in recent years. However there is a very large variance in pricing, even among similar or identical models. Some vendors overcharge simply because they can get away with it, while others price their base machines far below market value — even below cost — to lure you in, then charge considerably more for service contracts and add-on features. Before signing a contract, make sure you understand all current and future costs.
Digital copiers for businesses start at just under $1,500 on the lowest end for a machine capable of 15 ppm and a total monthly volume around 10,000 copies. Faster models that can handle more monthly volume run from $3,000 to $10,000, and the high end of the business copier segment reaches as high as $40,000. Top-of-the-line copiers cost more than $100,000, but the performance they offer — 100+ ppm and volumes of 600,000 to 800,000 outputs per month — is usually only needed by print shops and central copy offices for large organizations.
The price is affected by a number of factors. One is the add-ons you choose. Color has the most significant impact on price: expect to pay a 20% to 30% premium over a black and white copier with similar speed and volume ratings. Network printing is standard on some models, but may be an option you have to purchase for an additional $500 to $2,000. ADFs add $1,000 to $2,000 to the price if they are not included.
Of course, you can buy an ink-jet color printer with scanning capabilities that will essentially function as a color copier for as little as $130. However the speed and reliability of these "all-in-ones" are not adequate for most business use, and the high cost of consumables — specifically ink — will drive your per-copy cost through the roof. If you very rarely need a color copy, you may want to purchase an all-in-one to complement a black and white digital copier.
You may get even greater discounts depending on the competitive situation or if you are buying an older or discontinued model.
And remember, just like when buying a car: never discuss a trade-in until the end of your negotiation period. A high trade-in offer can easily blind you to an inferior deal.
Buy or lease?
As with most products, however, leasing is more expensive in the long run. Many leases charge on a per-copy basis and may include monthly copying minimums. Be careful — complex language around minimums can disguise higher costs in the future. Other leases allow you to walk away from a machine, increasing your financial flexibility if you can not afford ongoing monthly payments.
When it comes time to choose a dealer, "service" is the most important word you need to remember. A great copier with bad service can cause more headaches than a so-so copier with excellent service. Since you will need to be comfortable with your copier vendor for years and years, it is in your best interest to be particular when evaluating them.
Talk to the techs
You do not have to take the dealer's word about the technicians' experience. Try to speak with the technicians directly. You can quickly judge how seasoned a technician is by having him or her recount stories of copier breakdowns or how users can prevent them from happening.
Take a tour
The references you call should own the exact model of copier you are considering. Ask them how responsive the dealer has been to service calls and how comfortable they feel about the technicians' competence and level of expertise. If the copier has been problematic, find out how these problems were resolved.
Because the office copier is so essential to many businesses, the service agreement that stipulates when and how repairs will be done is a very important part of any purchase or lease decision. As with pricing for the copier itself, service agreement pricing can vary significantly from vendor to vendor, so make sure you are able to compare by getting quotes for the same level of service from multiple vendors.
Copy volume assumptions
If copy volume is something you are still trying to assess, try to get a service plan that charges you only for the copies you make (pay as you go) or one based on your estimated annual, not monthly, number of copies. A fair dealer should agree to those terms.
You can also negotiate a contract with monthly payments that cover copier parts and service but not supplies, or a lower monthly payment and a higher per-copy fee.
Also ask about loaner service. Many vendors will provide you with a replacement copier of equal or greater specifications if yours requires significant repairs.
Letting a dealer know you are considering alternate sources for service or supplies can be a good way to dramatically reduce the price of these higher-margin items. Some copier dealers may falsely claim that you must purchase your consumables through them. This is illegal, so stand your ground.