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Digital Copier Buying Guide

Matt D'Angelo
Matt D'Angelo

Follow this basic advice to make the right choice for a digital copier for business.

A digital copier is a good investment for a small business. Find out how to choose the best one for your printing needs.

Despite the exaggerated reports of the death of paper, many small businesses still rely on printed materials. Thus, a multifunctional digital copier is a must-have for copying, printing or scanning. For some, however, cost presents a significant challenge.

Depending on the features, prices for a digital copier can run from $400 to $70,000. You'll need to do your research to decide which model is the best for your business. If you are judicious in deciding what features your business will actually need, you can get a good deal.  

Assess your printing needs 

Before you jump at the first inexpensive digital printer you find, which may not meet all your needs, or get seduced by an expensive one with all the cool features you will never use, consider the following requirements of your business.

  • How many copies will you make each month in black and white? In color? Be sure to note seasonal highs and lows.
  • Do you need to print quickly? Some printers can print more than 100 pages per minute, but they are more expensive.
  • How often do you want to refill the paper bin? This can be an annoyance at best, and with large print jobs, it can drain productivity. 

What special features do you need? Copiers come with security settings, wireless support, and the ability to fold, staple, collate and punch holes in documents. Some can print, email, function as a fax machine or save backups.

Editor's Note: Looking for a copier solution for your business? If you're looking for information to help you choose the one that's right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:

Buy or lease? How to decide

Before committing to the idea of buying a new or used copier, you may want to consider leasing one. While leasing is essentially renting the machine, there are some benefits to consider.

There are two types of leases for digital copiers: capital and operating leases. With operating leases, a business rents the equipment by paying a monthly fee. In a capital lease, the copier is treated more as a loan to the business. Once the lease is signed, monthly payments go toward the overall price of the copier, which is on the company's balance sheet. Capital leases are ideal for companies looking to purchase a copier after a long trial period, or for those who are basically renting to own their model.

Whether they enter an operating or capital lease, the flexibility and low upfront costs make leasing a digital copier an ideal scenario for some businesses. It is more expensive than buying in the long run, though, and it locks you into a contract. It does, however, grant businesses with low capital the opportunity to use a copier for a monthly fee that is significantly less expensive than purchasing one outright.

Regardless of which type of lease you get, you may also want to go this route because of the maintenance programs. If you own the machine and it breaks, you may have to pay a company to come service it, but in leasing, your agreement likely covers what the company will fix for you. Be sure to check the fine print on that before you sign.

Buying a copier also has its advantages. Owning your machine offers autonomy to print for less than it would cost to lease. There's no contract, and you can perform maintenance without being tied to the leasing company's schedule. Plus, you'll be able to recoup some of your upfront costs when it comes time to sell your old model.  

Other basics to consider 

Price: Midrange copiers, which are suitable for everyday business needs, run from $400 to $2,000 used and $2,300 to $23,000 new. Production copiers for heavy-duty printing run from $1,700 to $17,000 used and up to $70,000 for a top-of-the-line new model. In addition to quality, monochrome vs. color and what extra features you choose can affect the price. 

Cassette/tray size: A cassette stores the blank paper, while the tray holds the printed sheets. A good average is a 250-sheet cassette capacity and 100-sheet tray capacity. However, large-scale machines can handle up to 500 sheets in the tray and 2,000 sheets in multiple cassettes, fed in sequence. 

Toner price: In general, the cheaper the printer, the more expensive the toner. Look up the toner cartridges, and check the price as well as how many copies each one handles. Then, weigh that against your printing needs to find the best deal for you. A monochrome (black) toner cartridge runs from $100 to $180 and can print up to 60,000 pages. Color requires four cartridges – black, cyan, yellow and magenta. These run from $400 to $700 for the set and print around 30,000 pages. 

Print quality: If you only print documents for internal use, you may not need as high a quality as you would if you regularly produce full-color brochures to sell your products or services. On average, 600 x 600 dots per inch (dpi) is standard for monochrome. A good minimum for color is 1200 x 1200 dpi, but businesses that need high-quality printouts should look for 2400 x 2400 dpi. Some companies, such as HP, feature design-specific printers for businesses that need to print projects that involve blueprints or high-quality images.

Print speed: Printers can run from 20 to 140 ppm for black and white, and 40 to 90 ppm for color. In general, 35 to 40 ppm is a good speed for most businesses, depending on your printing goals. Also look for warmup speeds that range from 3.5 to 7.5 seconds, the industry average. 

Memory: If you have projects that need to be reprinted periodically, like sales brochures, you may be able to store them in the memory of the printer itself. Capacity often runs from 256MB to 1TB. 

Security: Some printers let you put in passwords to limit who can use the printer, and account codes to assign copy runs to specific clients or departments. 

Printing capabilities: Some copiers can print on both sides of the sheet or do a full bleed, printing to the edge of the paper. Some can print to transparencies, with sheets of regular paper separating each. 

Image editing: This feature lets you crop, rotate or brighten an image using the printer controls instead of going back to your computer to do it. 

Energy savings: Many copiers are now Energy Star certified and may be eligible for green technology rebates. 

Bottom line

A lot goes into buying a commercial printer – print speed, tray size, overall price and toner price can drastically affect your decision. Whether you buy or lease, it's important to consider these basics before deciding which copier is right for you and your business.


Image Credit: Mayuree Moonhirun/Shutterstock
Matt D'Angelo
Matt D'Angelo Contributing Writer
I've worked for newspapers, magazines and various online platforms as both a writer and copy editor. Currently, I am a freelance writer living in NYC. I cover various small business topics, including technology, financing and marketing on and Business News Daily.