Buyer's Guide for Copiers

Photocopiers have experienced a significant amount of technological development since Xerox introduced its first fully automated plain-paper copier in 1959. In fact, today's copiers have more in common with computers than with the first Xerox 914. Modern copiers combine copying, laser printing, faxing, scanning, and more into one networked machine, with manufacturers continuing to improve their offerings. While deciding what kind of copier and what features best suits a company's needs can seem daunting, this guide will provide help to simplify the process.

Finding the Right Copier

Many companies have begun to choose digital black-and-white (B/W) copiers or digital color copiers with a variety of features over older analog copiers that only allow users to make copies. Digital copiers, also called multifunction copiers, produce less noise than analog copiers, have fewer moving parts (which usually means fewer mechanical problems), better reproduce fine lines and photographs, and vary little in price from analog copiers with similar features. Even with minimal training, staff can quickly get used to operating a digital copier.

Types of Copiers

Modern copiers come fall into a few broad categories based on the type of toner they use. A company should take into account its color printing needs before deciding which type of copier would best suit its needs.

  • Digital Monochrome Copiers

Digital black-and-white copiers use modules to combine the functions of copiers, network printers, scanners, and fax machines. Modules supporting special functions, often sold as add-ons, give users the ability to add functionality to a copier at a later date. Some machines can be upgraded using plug-and-play upgrades, while others require more extensive hardware fixes. If users want to add printing or faxing modules later, ask about the specifics of the upgrade process at the time of purchase. If there is rarely a need to make color copies, consider buying an inexpensive all-in-one inkjet printer with scanning capabilities to complement a B/W digital copier.

  • Digital Color Copiers

Color copiers support color printing and work much like a computer scanner connected to a laser printer. The color copier scans an original document and transfers the information via laser to a charged image drum. Colored toner then adheres to charged areas of the drum, the copier heats the toner, and a permanent image is fused onto the paper. High-end color copiers apply all four colors in a single application, while low-end color copiers take four passes of the same image, rolling paper around the drum each time it applies a color. Low-end copiers may cost less than high-end ones, but have slower copying speeds. Color copiers typically cost 20% to 30% more than black-and-white copiers with similar speeds and volume ratings. Dedicated graphic color copiers cost more still, as they offer printshop-quality color reproductions and faster processors.

What Does a Business Need from a Copier?

Companies should base the decision to buy a copier on their monthly volume, copy speed, color copying needs, and network connectivity requirements, not on the "bells and whistles" featured on a copier. A small office copier should work for businesses that typically make less than 700 copies per month. However, more advanced features and service guarantees are offered with business-grade copiers. Expect prices to increase as copier capacity, speed, and monthly volume increases.

Determine Copier Capacity

The amount of copies put out by a business each month is an important factor to consider when looking at copiers. If a company already owns or leases a copier, management can determine actual copier usage by looking at the counter, usually found under the platen glass. They can also use monthly paper consumption to help determine current copy and print volume. If a company doesn't have a copier, it should examine its copy shop receipts to get a sense of volume. Increase the figures by 30% to 50% if the copier will also be used as a network printer. Also, increase the rough volume figure by at least 15% to account for future growth. It's better to pay for more capacity than needed than to risk overworking and damaging an essential piece of office equipment.

Consider Copier Speed

Copier speed is measured in copies per minute (cpm), pages per minute (ppm), or outputs per minute (opm). Each term describes the number of letter-size pages the machine can produce in one minute when running at full speed. The copier industry has six segments that specify copier 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 through 4, in the 20 to 50 ppm range. If users expect to make a lot of one-time single copies, ask about first-copy speed (the number of seconds it takes for a copier to produce a single copy). Also, expect slower speeds for more complex forms of copying, such as making two-sided copies, copying onto larger sheets, and sorting.

Look at the Cost of Copier Consumables

Remember to figure in the cost of consumables, particularly toner. Color copier consumables, such as paper, color toner, developer, and fuser oil, often have a higher cost than consumables used by monochrome copiers. For example, paper used for color prints is usually brighter, heavier, and more expensive than paper used for regular copying. Color copiers use four complementary toner colors, which are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Each toner color typically comes in a separate bottle or cartridge, so you can replace colors as they run out. Toner also needs to be mixed with developer so that it will magnetically attract to the copier drum and properly fuse to paper. Most color copiers require a separate developer for each toner color. When copies start to get lighter, it's usually time to change the developer. When toner runs out, users will see an overall unevenness in color. Fuser oil, required for the final step in the laser copying process, usually lasts twice as long as developer.

To Buy or Lease

Few copiers sell at list price. Buyers can generally expect to see 10% to 20% off the manufacturer's suggested retail price. Prices can also vary widely, even among similar or identical models. Certain vendors who offer service contracts price copiers below market value, but negotiate additional fees for extended service contracts, options, accessories, and add-on features. Shoppers may get even greater discounts depending on the competitive situation or if they are buying an older or discontinued model. Before buying a copier or signing a service contract, understand all current and future costs.

When deciding to lease or buy a copier, know that, as with most products, leasing a copier will cost more in the long run. Many leases charge on a per-copy basis and may include monthly copying minimums. Companies should consider leasing a copier if they want to avoid a significant capital outlay. Some leases also include provisions to trade up to newer models as technology changes. Be careful, however, as complex contracting language can disguise higher costs in the future.

Evaluate Copier Features

Digital copiers possess several built-in features that may have little to no impact on price. Buyers can expect to find traditional copier features on most models. In addition to basic features, however, modern copiers offer numerous options which can streamline office work.

Automatic Document Feeder

An automatic document feeder (ADF) allows users to copy multi-page documents without having to lift and lower the cover for every sheet. Instead, they drop a stack of up to 50 original pages into the feeder, press start, and the ADF automatically pulls each page through. If a company copies many double-sided originals, it should invest in a re-circulating automatic document feeder, which can flip pages inside the machine for simplified double-sided copying.


Digital copiers can also sort copied sets electronically without the use of sorter bins. Instead of separate bins, the copies are placed in a single tray at a right angle or offset from each other, allowing the user to easily identify where one set ends and another begins. Bin-free sorting allows users to make unlimited sets at one time rather than only as many sets as there are sorter bins.


Shoppers may want a finisher if they are frequently going 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, and folding, among others. Finishers are optional on many machines, and usually carry an additional cost.

Paper Trays

Each paper tray, cassette, pedestal, or paper feed unit is a separate paper source. The number of sources can prove important if users want to be able to copy onto different paper stocks, such as letterhead, legal size stock, or transparencies, without reloading the machine. Paper sources typically hold a minimum of 50 to 100 sheets, and the largest-capacity units can hold up to 3,000 sheets. Copiers usually include at least one fixed-size and a couple of adjustable-size paper trays. Unfortunately, heavy-stock paper often jams if it is loaded 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.

Networked Printing

Adding a printer module and network card to a digital copier enables it to double as an office laser printer, working at the same speed at which it makes copies. For example, the copier can allow employees to produce dozens of stapled copies of a five-page, two-sided proposal without leaving their desks. Most offices can benefit from using a copier as a printer as per-page costs can be as little as 20% of laser printer printing costs. Most copiers run standard networking protocols, but buyers still need to make sure the model they choose is compatible with their network. Involving the IT department in this aspect of the copier purchase decision can save a company significant headaches later.


With the addition of a fax module, users can send and receive faxes through the copier. They can easily send multi-page faxes using the document feeder, or they can use the copier glass to fax single pages or parts of books or catalogs. Incoming faxes print as they're received, sometimes into a separate output tray. With a network interface, users can even send faxes from their computers.


Digital copiers usually offer an automatic sizing function that enables the copier to note the dimensions of the original document and adjust itself using preset reduction/enlargement settings, even if the copying paper is of a different size than the original.

Security and Power Management

Almost all copiers now have an automatic shut-off option, which saves energy and decreases wear on a copier by turning the machine off if it has not been used for a set period of time. Many copiers also provide an option to require that users enter a code before they can make copies. This provides a level of security, preventing unauthorized usage and allowing management to analyze usage patterns by department. Some machines can also hold faxes or network documents in memory until the correct code is entered, which prevents confidential documents from being left in the output tray for any passerby to view.

Editing Functions

Copiers can often edit documents by automatically numbering pages, adding watermarks such as "Confidential" or "Copy", or adding a date stamp. Many can also rotate scanned images to match the orientation of the available paper supply or combine images in creative ways, such as copying a two-sided original onto one page, or reducing and combining originals to put two, four, or eight pages onto one page.

Standard features on digital color copiers include border erasing, image centering, color adjustment, and color balancing. Some models offer a menu of additional editing functions, such as colorizing, which lets users create color documents from monochrome originals. Although these advanced editing techniques can be impressive, they can be difficult and time-consuming to master. If a copier is set up as a network printer, users can do much more complex image manipulations using standard image editing software at their computers and print the results. Basic editing functions are enough for most users.

Decide How Much Copier Memory You Need

Copiers use RAM, the same memory used in computers, to support features such as scan once/print many, automatic page numbering, faxing, and printing. Copiers come with anywhere from 4 MB to 256 MB and higher of RAM, and users can install additional memory to boost productivity and enable more memory-intensive features. In some cases, a fairly small cache of memory is dedicated to each function, such as copying, printing, and faxing. In other configurations, a single larger cache is shared between functions. Shoppers should find out how memory is allocated before they decide on how much to buy. Insufficient memory may result in slower output and an inability to print or copy new documents.

By holding a scanned image of each original page in memory, copiers are able to produce as many sets of documents as required without feeding the originals through again. The number of pages that can be duplicated with this scan once/print many feature depends on the size of the originals and the amount of detail. With less memory, the copier may be unable to complete larger copy jobs in one run. Often, users can't take advantage of advanced image editing features without purchasing extra memory. If a company intend to use any image editing features or frequently produce complex documents with over 20 pages, it should be sure to purchase at least 16 MB of copier memory.

A single MB of fax memory holds about 60 to 80 pages, which should be enough for most offices. Unless users plan to hold many international faxes in memory to send during off-peak hours, they probably won't need to upgrade your fax memory.

Printer memory determines the overall efficiency and speed of the printer. As with the copier, more detailed documents require more memory to process. In addition, memory-hungry printer languages such as PostScript can require memory for faster printing. The standard 2 to 8 MB of memory many printers come equipped with is typically not enough for effective printing. Additional memory or hard drives are almost always available. Buyers should make sure their chosen copier accepts generic, industry-standard memory, such as SIMM, so that they can easily purchase more memory if the need arises.

Service Your Copiers

Some vendors offer service contracts, while others can refer users to qualified service technicians in their area. Because modern copiers combine electrical, mechanical, digital, and chemical systems, maintaining them requires a unique set of skills. Buyers will want technicians with extensive installation and service experience who are familiar with their brand and model of copier.

Research Service Technicians

Companies should make sure any service agreement stipulates when and how repairs will be done and try to have someone from the IT or MIS department speak directly with technicians in order to judge the technicians' experience. Also, check their references. The references should own the exact copier model the prospective client is considering. Ask how responsive the technicians have 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 the technicians resolved the problems.

Make the Right Copy Volume Assumptions

Service contract pricing is based on estimated copy volume. However, actual copier usage will likely fluctuate from month to month due to regular business cycles. Be wary of contracts that stipulate an annual or monthly copy volume that seems unrealistically large. While it may be tempting to overestimate the expected copy volume to get a lower per-copy rate, if that maximum is not met, users are not be reimbursed for the difference. Similarly, if a buyer underestimates copy volume, it may have to pay a per-copy fee for every copy above its limit. If a company is still trying to assess copy volume, it can try to get a service plan that charges only for the copies made or one based on the estimated annual, not monthly, number of copies. Buyers can also negotiate a contract with monthly payments that only covers copier parts and service, but not supplies, or a lower monthly payment and higher per-copy fee.

Know What a Copier Service Contract Covers

Copier service plans typically cover costs of parts and labor for repairing and maintaining a copier. Parts that break during use are almost always covered, as are parts that wear out over time, including fuser rollers, cleaning blades, and other parts often bundled in preventative maintenance kits. Parts can have a different definition from contract to contract, so buyers should make sure they get a comprehensive list of what is and is not covered so they can compare plans. Consumables are usually excluded from service contracts, unless buyers opt for an all-inclusive contract that covers service calls, maintenance, and consumables other than paper and staples.

Find out whether service costs are covered in full or priced on an as-is basis. If purchasing a "pay as you go" plan, buyers should know their costs beforehand and get a written commitment on response time and service hours, particularly if they expect the copier to see a lot of use during evenings and weekends. Also, ask about loaner service. Many companies will provide a replacement copier with equal or better specifications if a covered copier requires significant repairs. Finally, get a sense for how service contracts will be priced in the future. Costs should ideally be limited to increases of less than 8% per year.

Buying Copiers With Confidence

With hundreds of copiers listed on CopStore in the Photocopiers category, you will most likely find one that will interest you. When trying to select the right black and white or color copier, get to know exactly what you're buying, research the copier model, and understand how the copier can work for you and your needs


Copiers have developed considerably since they were first introduced in the mid-20th century. Nowadays, a copier is an integral part of any well-designed office, sporting numerous features that allow companies and employees to save money and time. Online marketplaces like CopStore allow shoppers to browse a wide selection of equipment from the comfort of their home or office, helping streamline the shopping process and ensure that buyers receive the exact copier their businesses need.


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