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Purchasing a Copier? Here's What You Need to Know editorial staff editorial staff

There are many different copier sizes and features to choose from, depending on the size of the business and the volume of copying the machine will need to fulfill. Here are some features that can help a business regardless of the workload:

  • A multifunctional, or all-in-one, copier will serve most companies well, as it incorporates multiple useful abilities in a single machine. Most multifunctional copiers have the ability to copy, print, scan, email, and fax a document; and the machine will be capable of initiating all of these functions through choices that can be selected via the on-board interface.
  • Most copiers feature an automatic document feeder. This means that rather than placing the original document onto the glass surface of the copier, the machine automatically grabs the next original from the feeder. Document feeders can usually handle up to 50 original pages that will be automatically fed into the copier without an operator having to spend time positioning each original. Everything can be programmed at the start of the copying process and then left to run, saving time and labor.
  • Another useful feature is a copier's ability to reduce or enlarge the size of a document. For example, legal-size documents can be copied onto letter-size paper automatically. Many copiers can enlarge a document by up to 600%, allowing a user to get copies in the desired sizes.
  • In certain circumstances, a business may need to copy a document on a larger or smaller paper size than a standard letter-size sheet (8-1/2" x 11"). Some machines will allow printing onto paper and envelopes down to three inches wide or three inches long. Others will allow printing on legal paper (8-1/2" x 14"), oversized paper, and many standard paper sizes between the minimum and maximum settings.
  • Copiers work by taking paper from one or more paper drawers. Businesses with high-volume copying needs will want a machine with a large paper-drawer capacity. Those companies that frequently need different sizes of paper—such as legal or letter—should look for multiple paper drawers that accommodate different sizes of paper stock.
  • Another useful copier feature is automatic sorting, which makes copies in the same order as the original. An automatic collator will copy and collate multiple copies of a long document. Machines with automatic collators usually have automatic binding equipment that will staple or otherwise bind copies of collated documents. The way to measure the performance of feeders, sorters, collators, and binders is to determine how large the original document is and how many copies can be made, collated, and bound in a single batch.
  • A money-saving feature that's now showing up in even entry-level copiers is the ability to perform two-sided copying, which saves significantly on paper costs.

Types of Copiers

There are two types of copiers currently used by businesses; however, one is an older system that is quickly becoming obsolete.

Analog System

The first type of copier uses the analog system. This is an older system that works by using an internal mirror to copy the image of the original document onto a drum inside the machine. Then, with the use of static electricity, particles of toner can be used to create the image that has been mirrored on the drum. It then uses a heated element to dry and set the toner in place on a sheet of paper—thereby creating a copy of the original document.

Copiers such as these are rapidly being replaced by more modern systems, as these older ones lack many of the features expected by businesses today. However, a number of these copiers are available from established vendors at reasonable prices.

Digital System

The more modern approach to copying uses a digital system, which copies the original document into memory. Then a laser is used to imprint the information that has been copied from the original document onto a drum inside the machine, toner is applied and the copy of the document is printed. Since a digital copier can be linked to different networks within an office, it allows for the image that has been copied to be sent to another device on that network. Digital document sharing is a feature that can be extremely useful for many businesses.

At the home business level, copiers cross over with printers. They are compact, designed for the tabletop, usually with only one paper tray and one output tray. They have high ink costs and a high cost per page (CPP) but require little investment or maintenance. Printers at this level have a useful life of three to five years and are designed to be replaced rather than repaired.

At the small business level, copiers usually run the full gamut of functionality, including the ability to sort, staple, and make multiple sets of documents. These copiers are either purchased or leased and usually come with maintenance plans. The useful life of these machines is 5 to 10 years. Used machines can be sold or traded in for new copiers. The CPP for these machines, even with maintenance costs included, is usually excellent.

Commercial-grade machines are designed for use in copy/print establishments, coffee shops, office buildings, post offices and busy offices-anywhere people need to make lots of copies of all different shapes and sizes with a variety of papers and bindings. Commercial machines usually have sophisticated touchscreens that allow for departmental accounting, access codes, and card-reader attachments.

At the high end, these machines can produce comb-bound reports, saddle-stitched catalogs, and reports in multi-ring binders. Speeds are blazingly fast—even for color—and the CPP is very low. While these machines don't have a useful life any greater than the small-business-grade machines, they're designed to be run at high volume, day and night.

Calculating Costs of Copiers

Copiers tend to have three tiers of pricing. Some of the differences are summarized in the chart below.

  • Cost
    • Home Business: $100 - $500
    • Small Business: $500 - $5,000
    • Commercial: $5,000 - $25,000
  • Page per minute (PPM)-B&W
    • Home Business: Fast
    • Small Business: Very Fast
    • Commercial: Incredibly Fast
  • PPM color
    • Home Business: Slow
    • Small Business: Ok
    • Commercial: Fast
  • Collating
    • Home Business: Yes
    • Small Business: Yes
    • Commercial: Yes
  • # of Sets
    • Home Business: 1
    • Small Business: 5
    • Commercial: 15+
  • Stapling
    • Home Business: No
    • Small Business: Yes
    • Commercial: Yes
  • Drilling
    • Home Business: No
    • Small Business: No
    • Commercial: Yes
  • Binding
    • Home Business: No
    • Small Business: Yes
    • Commercial: Yes-many kinds
  • Toner cost
    • Home Business: High
    • Small Business: Medium
    • Commercial: Low
  • Cost per page (CPP)
    • Home Business: High
    • Small Business: Medium
    • Commercial: Low

To Buy or To Lease?

There are two payment options available when it comes to choosing an office copier. It can be bought outright or leased from a provider. The decision will depend upon the financial situation of the business looking for the copier, as well as its current needs and future plans. Refurbished equipment with a good service contract is often available at a bargain price.

Renting the machine from a provider has its benefits and downsides. The cost of renting a copier can be anywhere from $100 to $500 per month for a large multifunctional copier. This may seem costly; however, a maintenance contract is usually included. Renting also allows businesses to upgrade or downgrade as needed. If you're the person making the leasing decision, be sure to carefully examine the rental contract, as there may be rules and regulations regarding how often a system can be upgraded or downgraded, as well as hidden maintenance expenses.

Choosing a Vendor

There are many features to consider when choosing a vendor to buy a copier from; however, this decision can be made easier once certain considerations have been decided upon.

  • An important aspect to consider before settling on a particular copier is the volume of copying it will need to fulfill within the timeframe of a day and/or week. If the workload is going to be very high, it may be worth investing in a large multifunctional copier that produces a high rate of copied pages per minute (PPM), and which also has an automatic feeder and sorting function. This is assuming that there are many long documents to be copied. If the volume of copying to be done within a set timeframe is minimal, consider whether this volume will go up in the future. The higher the chance that the workload will increase due to business expansion, the more worthwhile it may be to invest in a more comprehensive system.
  • Finishing options. These are finishing touches that the copier can add to copied documents, such as cover interposing, which automatically inserts cover sheets onto printed documents. There's also a feature called the mail bin, which sorts documents that are being copied or printed into different bins for different employees within an office.
  • There are some technical considerations that can be addressed if they're relevant to a particular business. These include features such as network security, which allows only specific users to be able to copy a certain number of documents per day or to print documents in color. Another factor is the copier's ability to send signals via the network to certain users when the paper is jammed or the paper drawer needs refilling. This can serve as an efficient timesaver, as the copier can be serviced shortly after the issue arises.
  • Many businesses are interested in conserving energy as much as possible, and there are definitely copiers available that can contribute to this goal. Some include automatic sleep modes that are activated when the copier isn't in use, as well as toner-saving modes and dual-sided printing-all of which conserve energy and help the environment since they reduce paper and toner waste.
  • Another consideration involves the employees who will be using the copier. For example, many copiers come with features for employees with disabilities, such as accessibility handles, enlarged and tiltable displays for the sight-impaired, Braille label kits, and voice-recognition software to help users who may otherwise struggle to use the machinery. Allowing all team members to be able to easily use the equipment is a crucial feature for copiers in modern businesses.

Copier Glossary of Terms

Copier: A machine that creates an identical copy of a document or image.

Copier Drum: A component of the copier that is charged in certain areas with static electricity; it is used in conjunction with toner.

Cover Interposing: A system that automatically inserts a cover sheet onto a copied and printed document.

Document Feeder: A system used to feed original pages into the copier to allow for automatic scanning and copying.

Mail Bin: A function that sorts copied items into different paper bins for different employees.

Multifunctional: A copier with more than one functionality. Usually refers to machines that include copier, printer, fax machine, and scanner-all in one device.

Paper Jam: The term for a situation that occurs when a sheet or multiple sheets of paper get stuck inside the copier.

Paper Tray: One or more bins that contain blank paper for use in making copies. The size and number of paper trays is one of the more important factors in copier pricing.

Toner: A powder that is stored inside the copier; it is used to form the copied words or images of the original document on a clean sheet of paper.

Image Credit: Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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