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Purchasing a Copier? Here’s What You Need to Know

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks
Editor
business.com Staff
Updated Dec 01, 2022

Copiers are an essential office tool for many businesses. Here's what you should know when purchasing one.

Even though many businesses are trying to reduce their paper usage and move toward a paperless office, copiers are often still vital to a company’s operational success. A business may need document copies for recordkeeping or tax planning, or to track purchases, mailings and meeting notes.  

When choosing a copier, it’s essential to get the best machine for your business’s needs and budget. We’ll explore general copier information, which features to consider, whether you should buy or lease a copier, and much more.

What are the types of copiers?

Businesses typically use one of two copier types: analog and digital. Here’s more information about each category. 

Analog system copiers

The first type of copier uses the analog system. This is an older system that uses an internal mirror to copy the original document’s image onto a drum inside the machine. Then, using static electricity, toner particles create the image mirrored on the drum. The machine then uses a heated element to dry and set the toner in place on a sheet of paper, creating a copy of the original document.

More modern systems are rapidly replacing this copier type, which lacks many of the features businesses expect today. However, you can still find analog copiers from established vendors at reasonable prices.

Digital system copiers

A more modern approach uses a digital system to copy the original document into memory. A laser imprints the information copied from the original document onto a drum inside the machine. The machine applies toner and prints the document copy. 

Since you can link a digital copier to different networks in an office, you can use digital document sharing to send an image to another network device. Digital document sharing is an extremely useful feature for many businesses.

Whether you have a home business, a small or midsize business, or a larger enterprise, you can find digital system copiers to serve your needs. 

  • Home business copiers: At the home business level, copiers cross over with printers. They’re compact and 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.
  • Small business copiers: At the small business level, copiers usually run the full gamut of functionality, including sorting, stapling and making multiple sets of documents. These copiers are either purchased or leased, and they usually come with maintenance plans. These machines generally have a useful life of five to 10 years. You can sell or trade in used machines for new copiers. Even with maintenance costs included, the CPP for these machines is usually excellent.
  • Commercial-grade copiers: Commercial-grade machines are designed for use in copy and print establishments, coffee shops, office buildings, post offices, and busy offices – anywhere people need to make many copies of various shapes and sizes with different papers and bindings. Commercial machines usually have sophisticated touchscreens that allow 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 small-business-grade machines, they’re designed to be run at high volume, day and night.

Did you know?Did you know? Industrial 3D printers are the next level of printing, providing commercial-quality prototypes and end-user products.

Which copier features do I need?

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.

  • General multifunction features: A multifunction (or all-in-one) copier will serve most companies well. Multifunction copiers can copy, print, scan, email and fax documents. You’ll usually select options on a touchscreen to initiate the various functions.
  • Automatic document feeder: Most copiers feature an automatic document feeder. Instead of placing the original document on the copier’s glass surface, an automatic document feeder grabs the next original from the feeder automatically. Document feeders can usually handle up to 50 original pages that will be fed into the copier without an operator having to position each original. You can program everything at the start of the copying process and then leave it to run, saving time and labor.
  • Size options: Another helpful feature is a copier’s ability to reduce or enlarge a document’s size. For example, you might want to copy legal-size documents onto letter-size paper. Many copiers can enlarge a document by up to 600%, so you can customize the document sizes you need.
  • Nonstandard paper sizes: A business may need to copy a document on a larger or smaller paper size than a standard letter-size sheet (8.5 x 11 inches). Some machines allow printing onto paper and envelopes as small as 3 inches wide or 3 inches long. Others will allow printing on legal paper (8.5  x 14 inches), oversized paper and many standard paper sizes between the minimum and maximum settings.
  • Large paper drawer capacity: Copiers work by taking paper from one or more paper drawers. Businesses with high-volume copying needs will want a machine with a significant paper-drawer capacity. Companies that frequently need different paper sizes should look for multiple paper drawers that accommodate various paper stock sizes.
  • Automatic sorting: 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 to staple or otherwise bind copies of collated documents. The way to measure the performance of feeders, sorters, collators and binders is to determine how long the original document can be and how many copies can be made, collated and bound in a single batch.
  • Two-sided copying: A money-saving feature appearing in even entry-level copiers is the ability to perform two-sided copying, which reduces paper costs significantly.

FYIFYI: Your business may also need a document scanner to digitize recordkeeping, boost the security of sensitive documents and create a digital archive of your files.

Comparison of copier costs and general features 

Here’s a look at the costs and general features of the three main copier tiers: home business, small business and commercial. 

  • Copier costs
    • Home business: $100-$500
    • Small business: $500-$5,000
    • Commercial: $5,000-$25,000
  • Page-per-minute (PPM) speed (B&W)
    • Home business: Fast
    • Small business: Very fast
    • Commercial: Incredibly fast
  • PPM speed (color)
    • Home business: Slow
    • Small business: Average
    • Commercial: Fast
  • Collating
    • Home business: Yes
    • Small business: Yes
    • Commercial: Yes
  • Number 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
    • Home business: High
    • Small business: Medium
    • Commercial: Low

Should I buy or lease a copier?

When choosing an office copier, you can buy it outright or lease it from a provider. The decision will depend on your business’s financial situation, current needs and future plans. Refurbished equipment with a good service contract is often available at a bargain price.

The cost of renting a copier can be anywhere from $100 to $500 per month for a large multifunction copier. This may seem expensive; however, a maintenance contract is usually included. 

Renting allows businesses to upgrade or downgrade as needed. If you’re making the leasing decision, 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.

TipTip: If you decide to purchase a high-end copier, consider exploring a business equipment loan from a bank, credit union, online lender or equipment vendor.

How do I choose a copier vendor?

You’ll need to consider your business’s needs when choosing a copier vendor.  

  • Copy volume: Before settling on a copier, consider the copying volume it will need to fulfill within any given day or week. If the workload will be high, consider investing in a sizable multifunction copier with a high PPM rate and automatic feeder and sorting functions. If your expected copy volume is minimal now, do you anticipate it going up in the future? The more likely it is that your workload will increase, the more worthwhile it may be to invest in a more comprehensive system.
  • Finishing options: Finishing options are the finishing touches a copier can add to documents. One example is cover interposing, which automatically inserts cover sheets onto printed documents. There’s also a feature called the “mail bin,” which sorts copied or printed documents into different bins for various employees within an office.
  • Network features: Your copier may need to address technical considerations relevant to your business. For example, you may need network security features on your copier to regulate which employees can use the machine, how many copies they’re allowed to make or if they can print in color. Your copier may also need to send signals via the network to specific users if there’s a paper jam or the paper drawer needs refilling. This feature allows the copier to be serviced shortly after an issue arises.
  • Energy conservation: Many businesses are interested in conserving energy, and specific copiers can contribute to this goal. Some copiers include automatic sleep modes for when the copier isn’t in use. There are also toner-saving modes and dual-sided printing features that conserve energy and help the environment while reducing paper and toner waste. [Learn more ways your small business can conserve energy.]
  • Accessibility: Consider if any employees need accessibility accommodations when using a copier. Many copiers include accessibility handles, enlarged and tiltable displays, Braille label kits, and voice-recognition software to help users. It’s crucial to consider all your team members’ needs when choosing a copier.

Top copiers to consider

To help you make a copier purchase decision, we found some of the best multifunction printers and copiers that may be suitable for your business.

  • Xerox VersaLink C405: This copier is our favorite for small businesses. It has a highly dependable track record and quick job times. It’s also affordable and can work in the cloud.
  • Brother MFC-J654DW INKvestment Tank: This incredibly affordable machine offers high resolution and can handle large files. This model is another good choice for small businesses.
  • Sharp MX-C304W: This machine features hands-free functionality and Braille kit add-ons for the touchscreen. It is also highly customizable to suit a business’s unique needs. However, the additional customizability does affect the pricing.
  • Toshiba eSTUDIO8515A: This is a great choice for businesses that rely on fast and consistent document flow. This model has the highest print output and fastest printing speed among its competitors. There’s also a companion eConnect TouchFree mobile app, giving the machine a hands-free feature.

TipTip: If you regularly need to print large materials for your business, such as signs or banners, check out our list of the best wide-format printers.

Copier glossary

Here’s a quick-access guide to standard copier terms. 

  • Copier: A machine that creates an identical copy of a document or image
  • Copier drum: A component of the copier charged in certain areas with static electricity; 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 various employees
  • Multifunction: A copier that can perform more than one function; usually includes a copier, printer, fax machine and scanner all in one device
  • Paper jam: 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 are crucial factors in copier pricing)
  • Toner: A powder stored inside the copier; used to form the copied words or images of the original document on a clean sheet of paper

Copier FAQs

What is the difference between a copier and a printer?

A copier makes exact copies of documents, photographs, drawings and any paper documents you need. It is also a stand-alone piece of equipment. A printer prints text and images onto paper and is linked to a computer or device through a cable or a wireless connection. There are also multifunction printers that have the capabilities of a printer, copier, scanner and fax machine.

How much does it cost to lease a copier?

The cost of leasing a copier depends on the machine you choose, its features and your area. On average, prices range from $50 to $500 per month. The lease period is dictated by a contract with an equipment rental company and usually lasts anywhere from 38 to 60 months.

Should you buy or lease a copier for your business?

When considering getting a copier, it’s essential to evaluate your business’s needs. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is your current printing and copying volume? Is it expected to grow substantially in the future?
  • Do you typically use a single-purpose copier, or do you need an all-in-one solution?
  • Do you employ trained technicians, or are you planning to hire them in the future?
  • Would you prefer to outsource printing services to office equipment professionals?

Buying a copier may be a better option if your company has in-house technicians and large-scale printing needs that will likely increase. Leasing a copier is a good option if you don’t plan to hire technicians but still want high-quality equipment. Choosing to lease allows you to access the latest copier models once your next term begins.

Sean Peek contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks
business.com Staff
Chad Brooks is a writer and editor with more than 20 years of media of experience. He has been with Business News Daily and business.com for the past decade, having written and edited content focused specifically on small businesses and entrepreneurship. Chad spearheads coverage of small business communication services, including business phone systems, video conferencing services and conference call solutions. His work has appeared on The Huffington Post, CNBC.com, FoxBusiness.com, Live Science, IT Tech News Daily, Tech News Daily, Security News Daily and Laptop Mag. Chad's first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.