Before You Buy a Copier for Your Small or Home Office

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While the notion of a paperless office sounds great in principle, the reality is that many small or home office (SOHO) businesses still have a need to copy printed documents frequently enough to consider having an in-house copier.

The old-style standalone office copy machines have nearly disappeared in the digital age, replaced by multifunction printers that combine the functions of printing, copying, scanning, and optionally faxing into a single device. Technically a “copier” in today’s terms is normally a printer that has built-in scanning so that a document to be copied can be scanned and reproduced by the printer.

As with most electronics, copier/printer devices continue to decline in price yet come with more features than ever, and the convenience of copying in-house rather than driving to a print/copy shop can't be beaten.

Here are the key buying factors to help you choose a printer/copier for your SOHO.

Inkjet Versus Laser/Led

For high-speed copying of text documents, Laser/LED printers are generally the better choice. Inkjets are capable of printing at much higher resolutions making them more suitable for graphics, especially photographs.

Cost

While printer and ink/toner costs can be deducted from your taxes, you still have to foot the bill initially, and it can add up. When considering the cost of a printer/copier, factor in the expense of ink or toner, especially if you'll be printing/copying on a regular basis. Printer manufacturers sell the devices at or below cost and instead make their profits on selling ink and toner. To make sure they get their money's worth, many companies equip their units with ink/toner cartridges that have embedded microchips that prevent “unofficial” cartridges from being used or have “starter” toner cartridges that have half the normal capacity. That bargain inkjet or laser may not be as great of a deal as you thought when it comes time to replace the expensive ink or toner cartridge(s). 

Color printer/copiers are particularly expensive to run as they require 4 cartridges (black and white, cyan, magenta, and yellow). It is typical for the replacement cost of inkjet/toner cartridges to exceed the purchase price of an entire unit. 

With wifi and Internet connection, many printer companies can now monitor and automatically send you ink/toner when it detects you're getting low. This requires a subscription service, the cost of which is based on the number of pages you print per month. While a subscription service might save you time over ordering or driving to a store, you want to factor in the monthly cost versus your printing output.

Fortunately, most inkjet and some laser toner cartridges can be refilled at a much lower cost. Companies such as Costco offer one-hour inkjet refills. Refill kits are also available for the do-it-yourself types, but refilling inkjet or toner cartridges is messy and not for the mechanically-challenged. You can also reduce the amount of ink you use by using smaller fonts, previewing and proofing your document before printing, and using "Draft" or "Print in Grayscale" options. Also, note that you still have more ink in your cartridges even when you get the "low ink" warning.

To get an idea of how much the printer will cost on-going, check the manufacturer’s published cost per page.

Volume

Most small business-oriented printer/copiers aren't designed for heavy volume so check the unit's recommended usage (pages per month duty cycle). The number of pages that can be printed with a particular cartridge, referred to as ISO yield, will give you a rough idea of how often the cartridges will need replacement.

Note that even if you have an in-house printer/copier, it may still make sense to use local or online copy/print services for larger print/copy jobs or specialty printing such as brochures. With the price of ink and toner, it is simply not cost-effective to do large volume printing/copying on less expensive printers/copiers, particularly with color documents or photographs. Purchasing a lower-cost printer/copier for basic needs and outsourcing larger print/copy jobs is an ideal compromise for most small businesses.

Duplexing

Duplexing is the ability to print/copy on both sides of the page. While it might not be necessary for your needs, there are advantages to two-sided printing such as saving paper. Along with saving on paper costs and the environment, double-sided printing can make stapling packets of paper easier as well.

Connectivity

For a printer to work, it needs a way to be told what do do. When it comes to copying, simply putting the paper on the copy glass and poking the copy button will scan and print the page.

To use as a printer, you need to have the devices, such as your computer, connected to give the print command. Aside from direct USB connectivity to a PC, most printer/copiers come with network connectivity, wired, wi-fi, or both. The advantage of this is reduced cables as well as the ability to print from a variety of devices such as your tablet or phone.

Black and White or Color?

Color copying is slower and more expensive but might be a feature you want your printer/copier to have if you intend to produce promotional materials for your small business, such as brochures, or copy color photos. Note that if you need high-quality color printing, you'll want to make sure you use high-quality paper, which is often more expensive than regular printer paper.

Media Versatility 

Choose a copier that's able to handle a variety of paper sizes and weights and other media, such as transparencies and index cards. Look for copiers that offer flatbed copying if you're concerned about copying from books. Many have sheet feeders which are useful if you have to copy several papers at once.

Paper Handling

As a small business person, you have better things to do than refilling paper trays or feeding single sheets through a printer/copier. If you print/copy regularly look for a model with a paper capacity of at least 250 sheets or more. You'll also definitely want an automatic document feeder that holds at least 30 sheets. 

Response Time

Printer/copiers that have no warm-up time are ideal for small and home offices, where the machine may be sitting idle for hours or days. High print/copy speeds are great, but won't save you any time if you have to wait minutes for the unit to warm up every time it comes out of sleep mode. Some printer/copiers now offer a first copy time of fewer than 10 seconds.