What is the best office copier for a small business? | Copier Choice

Buying the right office copier, multifunction printer or multifunction device (MFP / MFD) for your office can be challenging. You used to be able to simply buy a copier that sat in the office somewhere and made black and white copies. Nowadays, they are more complex, high-tech pieces of office equipment which are usually linked in and connected to you office network.

Buying an office copier, or most likely, a multifunction printer with lots of features does not necessarily mean you will be paying for unnecessary options. Many features that used to be options now come as standard. These “extra” features may actually have very little impact on price.

Deciding on what is the best office copier for a small business,  you need to ask the following questions:

What does it need to do?

Digital photocopiers (aka multifunction  printers or devices) do more than just copy. They now are capable of printing, faxing and scanning. These features are now mostly standard.

Having a multifunction printer connected to your network allows your staff to print, scan to email, scan to PC or network server. Multifunction devices are great in terms of space saving, which can be important in expensive office space.

People used to think adding more functionality to a copier would reduce reliability, but that is not the case anymore. However, relying on one device for all your printing, faxing, copying and scanning does mean that if it breaks down, you may lose all three functions at once. It is always important to consider having a good service maintenance agreement in place covering your multifunction device(s).

Do you need a machine that can support colour? Whilst colour copying and printing does not cost the premium it used to, you will still pay much more for colour copies and prints than for simple black and white ones. But prices have come down significantly.

For most businesses that need occasional colour printing and/or copying, setting the default to black and white is a good idea. It will reduce unnecessary colour copying or printing. Of course dedicated colour machines are more expensive to purchase as they have faster processors with much better quality and print accuracy. However, neither is essential in typical office applications.

What is my volume – how much copying and printing do I do?

Once you have decided on features, the next step is to narrow your choices based on monthly copy and print volume.

If you are replacing your office copier / printer, you will most likely already have those figures. If it is a new machine to replace multiple printers for example, or for a new office or new business, you can get an idea by looking at your paper purchases to determine monthly paper consumption. How many reams or boxes of paper do you purchase? If you have been doing you’re copying & printing externally, maybe look at your receipts to get a sense for volume.

If you are expecting to make less than 500-1000 copies a month, you probably do not need to go to the expense of a “business grade” office copier. You’re probably better off buying a small desktop multifunction printer from a department or office superstore, such as Officeworks, which can be purchased for under $500 – unless of course you want the advanced features, print quality or service guarantees & agreements that come with business & commercial grade office copiers & printers.

How fast do I need to print and copy?

Copier speed is measured in copies/prints per minute or pages per minute (ppm). Whichever term is used, it refers to the number of A4 pages the machine can produce in 1 minute at maximum speed. The copier industry has roughly 5 segments defined by speed, ranging from Segment 1 – machines that operate on 15 to 25 ppm to Segment 5 – machines running over 80 ppm. In most offices, machines from the mid-range segments – the 25 to 45 ppm range will be sufficient. Depending on the size and layout of the office, one or more machines may be required.

In summary, business copiers & printers are classified in the following print/copy volume segments, with pricing depending on manufacturer, speed and colour capability:

  • Segment 1: from approx. 500 – 1,000 pages per month, prices between $1,000 – $2,500
  • Segment 2: from approx. 1,000 – 5,000  pages per month, prices between $2,500 – $4,500
  • Segment 3: from approx. 5,000 – 15,000  pages per month, prices between $4,500 – $8,000
  • Segment 4: from approx. 15,000 – 30,000  pages per month, prices between $8,000 – $12,000
  • Segment 5: from approx. 30,000+  pages per month, prices from $12,000

Making two-sided copies or prints, copying on larger paper sizes, such as A3 and sorting and stapling – will of course slow the speed down.  If you do this frequently, plan for the slower speed or go for a faster model. If most of your copies will be one-off single copies, the first-copy speed will become more important – the number of seconds it takes for one single copy to be made. This varies per model.

Once you have decided what your monthly volume, speed, colour and networking requirements are, you can narrow your search down to specific copier models from various manufacturers. This will allow you to base your decision on the most important factors, not functionality that is rarely used in actual office situations.

What options will I require to customise it to my needs?

Functionality that used to be expensive add-ons or not available, are now standard on many digital multifunction devices. For non-standard functionality, many of the options can be added later – if you choose the right model copier.

Some machines offer a “plug and play” type of upgrade; others require more extensive hardware fixes. If you are considering adding printing or faxing modules later, ask about the specifics of the upgrade process. In most cases it will be cheaper to purchase the options you require up front. This also eliminates the risk sometimes of options being no longer available for machines that are only 2-3 years old, which in the copier industry is a long time.

Some typical options to consider besides the basics of copying, printing and scanning are:

Faxing

A fax module allows you to send and receive faxes through the copier. However, are you still faxing? These days documents are mostly scanned and then emailed. But a fax module is still available as an option for many multifunction printer models.

Image Editing

Many multifunction devices can now edit documents during copying. For example, you can set the machine to include automatic page numbering, adding watermarks, such as “confidential” or “copy,” or adding a date stamp. Images can be rotated to match the orientation of the available paper supply in the trays, saving paper waste from unanticipated errors.

They can also combine images in creative ways, such as copying a two-sided original onto one single sided page, or reducing and combining originals to put 2, 4, or 8 pages on to one single page.

Duplexing or Double-Siding

Most multifunction devices now support stack-less duplexing – storing each side of the original page in memory, and then printing both sides of the copy. This means the number of two-sided copies you make is no longer limited by the capacity of a separate duplex tray. Output speed is also increased as no mechanical re-feeding of the paper is required, although on lower end models, this is still required. 

Automatic Reduction / Enlargement (auto-sizing)

Digital photocopiers usually offer an auto reduce / enlarge function. This enables the copier to sense the dimensions of your original document and adjust itself using pre-set reduction/enlargement settings, even if your copy paper is a different size to your original.

Automatic shut-off

Almost all copiers now have an automatic shut-off option. This saves energy and wear and tear on the machine by turning the copier off after a set period of time if it hasn’t been used.

Security

Many digital multifunction devices allow you to enforce users to enter a PIN code before they can make copies or prints. This prevents unauthorised usage and allows analysis of usage patterns. Many machines can also hold faxes and network originated documents in memory until the correct code is entered at the machine by the user, it then prints them. This prevents confidential documents from being left in the output tray for anyone to view. It can also eliminate the need for a separate, private printer in a user’s office. 

Wired and wireless connection options

Wireless printing from desktop computers, tablets and mobile phones is now widely supported. Talk to your supplier if any extra costs are involved.

Environmental Friendliness

Photocopiers can be big consumers of electricity, especially if left on continuously, although most will go on a low energy/stand-by mode after a pre-set time frame. Paper consumption is anotjer consideration but obviously depends on your business requirements. Setting default printing to ‘print on both sides’ will help. Despite this, copiers are becoming more environmentally friendly all the time: Higher energy efficiency and manufacturing with recycled plastics and metals is one of the prime concerns of manufacturers and consumers alike.

Most models have an “energy save” mode that cause the machine to power down if it hasn’t been used for a certain period of time. “Energy Star” rated copiers save money (and protect the environment) through intelligent power management. So if this is important to you, make sure your new machine has a good Energy Star rating.

Memory

RAM, like memory used in computers, is used for supporting digital copier features, such as scan once/print many, automatic page numbering, faxing, printing, double-sided copying and printing. Additionally, memory-hungry printer languages, such as PostScript can require more memory for faster printing.

Additional memory can be added to boost productivity and enable more memory-intensive features, especially where high quality colour printing is involved. Insufficient memory will result in slower output and possibly the inability to print or copy certain documents.

The standard memory many printers come with ‘out of the box’ is sometimes not enough for effective printing. Additional memory or hard drives (HDD) are almost always available as an option and are a good idea. Don’t forget you will probably be using your machine for the next 3-5 years and many new applications and printing higher and higher quality colour documents continuously require more and more memory. Future proof your purchase now by buying enough memory.

Colour copiers work much like a computer scanner connected to a laser printer. The copier scans the original(s), and then transfers the information via lasers to a charged image drum. Colour toner (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) 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’ the image.

High-end copier or multifunction models apply all four colours in a single pass-through. Lower-end machines take four passes of the same image, rolling the paper around the drum four times to apply each colour. Whilst this technology is less expensive, it also drastically reduces copying and printing speeds.

Make sure your chosen copier accepts generic memory, like SIMMs. Most do, but some manufacturers still use proprietary memory systems. You should avoid them if you can. If your copier accepts industry-standard memory, you can easily purchase additional memory if required. If you do intensive colour printing, purchasing the maximum amount of RAM is recommended.

Colour Editing

Most digital colour copiers include standard features such as border erasing, image centering, colour adjustment, and colour balancing. Some models offer a whole menu of additional editing functions, such as colourising – creating colour documents from black and white originals. Pantone colour matching or emulation (with a PMS colour chart) is another advanced feature available on some higher end models. Unless you require almost exact colour matching, maybe for corporate logos & graphics, this is a feature not needed in normal office applications.

Although these advanced editing techniques can be impressive, they tend to be difficult and time-consuming to master. Iif your copier is set up as a network printer, you can do complex image manipulations simply by using standard image editing software at your computer and then print the results. Basic editing functions are enough for most office users.

If you do require specific editing applications, or a certain output quality which must match existing documents, ask a sales representative to demonstrate exactly what is available for their range, how to use it and what is the extra investment required.

Consumables

You should also factor in consumables – paper, toner, developer and in some cases fuser oil, into the overall purchase of a copier. The cost of consumables will end up being significantly higher over the life of the equipment than the original purchase price. Most business copiers or multifunctionals can be covered with a maintenance, or service agreement. These agreements can include toner, parts and labour involved in the use and upkeep of the machine. You usually pay for this with a ‘cost per copy’ charge. Each month you manually provide the supplier of the service with the copy and print usage, or it can be sent automatically through the network if set up that way. You’ll simply get an invoice for your monthly usage. 

As of the date of this writing, December 2019, typical charges for black and white prints and copies are somewhere between 0.6c – 1c and for colour somewhere between 6c – 10c.  These figures should only be taken as a guide. It depends on the printer model and your monthly volume. Regional areas are usually more expensive to service by copier dealers and usually have higher costs. 

The benefit of an agreement like this is that you never get expensive surprises when fusers blow, drums need replacement or for any other unexpected repairs and servicing. A disadvantage can be that over the life of the machine you pay more this way than if you had paid for parts, toner and service separately. It’s very much like insurance.

Paper

Paper costs will be a significant part of your overall copying & printing costs. Select paper for your colour copies and prints carefully, as it will be more expensive than the paper you buy for regular copying. Although colour copier manufacturers will typically recommend you use whiter and heavier paper (90-100gsm or sometimes higher), consider using normal 80gsm copy paper, which in many cases will produce acceptable results for office applications. But make sure to test this on the actual machine you’re looking to purchase. In demonstrations, high quality paper is always used. Ask the demonstrator to put in normal 80 gsm paper and see what the quality is like.

Toner

Toner is more complex with a colour copier than with a black and white machine, since four toner colours are used: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. (These are referred to as CMYK, where K stands for black.) Each toner colour typically comes in a separate bottle or cartridge, which can be replaced individually, as they run out.

Toner has to be mixed with developer – this allows it to be magnetically attracted to the copier drum, after which it is fused on to paper via fuser rollers. Copiers may require separate developer for each toner colour. Developer yield varies but usually is twice that of the toner. When copies or prints seem to get lighter, it is usually time to change the developer. When you run out of toner, on the other hand, you will see an overall unevenness in colour.

What is my budget?

Decide which features are essential, and which aren’t. Expected average monthly print requirements, machine size, paper size and budget constraints should be considered when deciding which model copier / multifunction printer is right for you.

The type of photocopier that is best for your workplace must have the features you need but also be within your budget. More important than initial purchase price, but often not taken into account, is the actual ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO). This is what it costs to operate the equipment through its life cycle, including consumables, servicing and parts and labour.

It is very worthwhile to do a couple of simple calculations over the planned life cycle and to translate this to an effective net cost per copy. This is not always an exact science but can be an indicator of economic efficiencies between certain copier brands and models and may mean a cost saving overall.

It is definitely important to always get quotes if you are looking to purchase a new office copier or multifunction printer, or replacing an existing one. Even if you are happy with your current copier supplier, it pays to get at least 2 or 3 quotes, as many suppliers increase their service costs each year. You can’t get the best copier deal unless you know what the market is offering.