A buyers’ guide to photocopiers for business

GB cuts through jargon and fancy features to pinpoint what your business really needs

Radical change in the world of copiers in the past five years has given manufacturers ample sales ammunition to hit you with.

Digital machines have replaced simple analogue copiers and the technology has made multifunctionality – copy, print, scan, fax – commonplace. Whether such talk gets your juices flowing or not, it certainly makes buying one that much more complicated.

Advances in functionality

Getting it right for your business is critical as prices and functionality range from an entry-level 10-page-perminute copier with low usage capability to top of the range 80-page-per-minute devices. Start by assessing your average monthly output by conducting a document audit – look at the volume of copies produced in-house and outsourced, the number of copier users in the office and the cost of maintenance and copy contracts. This should give you a strong negotiating point when buying a new machine.

Your company's needs will depend on your current usage. The basic digital office copier can produce single-sided copies at speed – ideal for copying invoices, contracts and letters. If your staff print voluminous documents, consider a duplex facility, which means printing both sides.

If presentation and complex finishing features are a priority, consider your options carefully. Copier manufacturers quote base prices and all finishing features are optional extras, priced accordingly. You can produce anything from A4 and A5 stapled, saddle-stitched booklets to hole-punched, stapled 50-sheet presentations. Some copiers can print documents on a mixture of paper formats, such as heavier stock for covers and dividing sheets, or coloured paper for specific sections.

Popular features

Although manufacturers have rebranded their copiers as multifunctional devices don't feel compelled to plump for fancy features unless you'll use them. There is still a strong market for traditional copier functionality. Popular features for businesses like yours are reduction and enlargement of documents up to 600%, the ability to save information on individual jobs so they can be produced automatically, on-board hard drives to save standard office documents such as expenses forms and internal telephone directories for instant retrieval and copying, margin shift and border erase.

Paper handling is another important factor. In general, standard paper capacity is 1,000 A4 sheets, incrementally upgradeable to up to 10,000 sheets on some models, and a print speed of 70ppm.There are A3 trays on some copiers which can hold around 2,500 sheets, while A5, legal and banner copying is also available. At the higher end of the product range, copiers offer larger hard drives capable of storing hundreds of documents, faster speeds, standard duplex or double-sided printing, and increasingly, colour capability often at comparable speeds to mono output.

Get what you pay for

The more you spend the better the audit features, with coded access and job files so that users can log-in before copying and copy volumes can be charged to individual accounts or clients, a must for law firms, accountants and architect practices. Security is another feature that you pay for: some models can now clean their own hard drive on a daily basis or more frequently so that there is no record or data on confidential documents that have been copied.

Ask yourself whether you will really need all these new technologies and features. If not, don't waste your money.

When it comes to monthly usage, take note of manufacturers' guidance to get an idea of the robustness of the device. Consider how many people will be using the copier. Generally, businesses use copiers less now. If you've got around 10 employees a 20 to 25 page per minute copier should suffice. Up to 50 staff and 35 to 45pages per minute will probably be fine. Anymore and you can get a 55-pages-plus copier, but do you really need it? Warm-up times and first copy out times can be frustrating, but again will this be too big a deal for your staff?

Copiers are far quieter than they used to be. All manufacturers have developed technology to reduce noise considerably, but there are no industry standards. The life expectancy of a copier is said to be three to five years, which is incredibly low and will quite possibly prove inaccurate. If that were really the case you might want to hold back a little. Leasing allows you to upgrade every three years as part of the deal.

A changing market

The copier market is highly competitive and there is pressure on prices. This has seen a raft of launches around the £2,500- price point offering multifunctionality and even networking as standard. Most companies also now offer the option to lease the copier for often as little as £21.00 a month.

New models are driven by digital technology, creating a market for machines that offer much more than a simple copier. There are advantages in consolidating your office equipment. Now that copiers can be networked to your business' internal IT system, they immediately open up a cost-effective alternative to standalone printers, faxes and scanners. The total cost of ownership is a good deal lower as copiers use toner, and consumables are substantially cheaper than printer ink. You can also save space and consolidate maintenance and service agreements. This is a potentially huge development and justifies the extra initial cost.

So it's no surprise vendors are putting all their efforts into pushing the colour multifunctional solution. Imagine the scenario: printers, scanners and faxes are replaced with a single unit offering all the functionality in a single device. There is a strong economic argument for your business; manufacturers have addressed initial concerns about reliability with improvements to the design and paper flow to reduce the possibility of paper jams. There are also fewer moving parts in today's copiers, meaning your staff will spend less time chasing up the service engineers.

Colour copiers

The new breed of copiers are colour-capable devices, offering a much cheaper option than dedicated colour copiers that are prohibitively expensive and need separate colour processors. Colour-capable essentially means mono machines with capacity to print in colour at fractionally slower speeds. The quality has improved dramatically over the past five years and is ideal for PowerPoint, with high-end copiers also producing good results for quality graphics and photographic applications.

Many colour copiers use  wireless devices and a few models have slots for multimedia data cards for direct printing.

Costs and contracts

There is so much choice on the copier market from the likes of  Canon, Xerox, HP(, Toshiba and Brother. Entry-level mono machines with copy speeds of 25 pages per minute start from as little as £119 and are targeted at smaller businesses. Colour-capable laser copiers tend to start at around £1,450but colour print speeds will be slower at around 15 pages per minute. For 45 -pages-per-minute colour copying you might see prices of £4,000 plus. By looking around we found the Ricoh Aficio MP C5000, which is 50 ppm colour and mono copy, print, scan and fax system retailing at £17,999, although which can be found for as little as £4,999. Lease options were also available for between £93 for a 60 month lease to £140.00 for a 36 month lease. There are also cheap inkjet machines coming to market, some below the £500 mark. Just to give you an idea of the top-end, which you're highly unlikely to need, prices range from £15,000 to £40,000 for high-end graphic, high-quality, fast colour and volume printing at speeds of up to 90 pages per minute.

Leasing vs outright purchase

The majority of copiers are leased on three to five year contracts and running costs are worked into the cost of the lease, allowing for a per page price of less than 1p per copy for mono and anything up to 5p for colour. The main running cost on outright purchased machines is toner, up to £75 to replace each time. When we looked we found the cheapest Xerox black toner cartridge retailing at £41.00 excluding VAT, with the highest cartridge retailing at around £142.00 excluding VAT. A maintenance contract is absolutely vital but will be included in any lease contract. Most vendors also offer helplines and technical support to discuss faults while websites provide software downloads and technical updates.

Some vendors also offer automatic upgrade paths for you to change your machines within the lease. The advantage of a contract or leasing is that you do not need to make an initial capital investment and only pay for usage.

There are no restrictions on the type of paper you can use in copiers, unlike some printers where manufacturers have developed specialist photographic paper.

Getting a deal

On the whole, copiers are sold through a network of vendor accredited dealers, specialising in office equipment. They may sell products from two or three manufacturers, giving you a choice of models and brands. In general, dealers will handle the installation and service contracts.

Copiers or multifunctional devices are also available through resellers such as PC World Business, Computacenter and Specialist Computer Centres (SCC). In addition to selling hardware and software, most resellers also offer strategic planning, system design, implementation, training, asset tracking, technical support and consulting. Some manufacturers also sell direct, although the focus tends to be at enterprise level.

As copiers have changed so has the buying process. Make sure your IT department is involved if the device is going to be networked as this is an area where facilities managers do not have any experience. If you do take the multifunctional option it should be based on a strategic audit of document usage. Get involved yourself or get your finance director on board to drive the financial benefits and cost saving issues.

The fierce competition in the market has cut prices and there is little brand loyalty in the copier market. While established names like Xerox and Canon once dominated the mono market, their dominance has been squeezed by HP, Toshiba and Konica Minolta. Over to you.


? Cost and usage: Compare costs per page and monthly volumes

? Maintenance: Find out call out charges for engineers

? Shopping around: Look at websites and discount warehouses for bargains. But check you?re buying the latest model and the warranty is valid in the UK

? Checking credentials: Make sure the dealer is accredited, if necessary check with the vendor

? Is it compatible? Get your IT manager involved if you want to network the copier

? Carry out tests: Look at image quality and speed for shortlisted models

? Service and support: Make sure response times are a minimum of four hours (up to 24 hours is acceptable


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