If you're willing to invest a serious portion of your office equipment budget in an all-out effort to edge out the competition, consider buying a color laser copier. While they cost several thousand dollars on average, over the long haul you'll save at least that much doing all your own color copying and printing and having control over content if you want to make last-minute changes. Some commercial copying centers charge as much as $1.50 for a single color copy, so if you need several hundred or a few thousand copies a month, buying your own machine will probably be justified.
"It's not necessary to pay an outside printer to handle a variety of color orders these days, when top-quality color copiers are now accessible to all sizes of businesses," says Rick Taylor, vice president of marketing for Toshiba's Electronic Imaging division, whose FC-70 state-of-the-art color copier is among the quietest on the market--a factor to consider if you have a small office.
The most sophisticated color copiers for small offices are highly versatile. They combine digital laser technology with network connectivity, can copy transparencies and photographs, can handle oversized and heavyweight paper, and have printing and copying capabilities. Most offer as close to original color and image perfection as possible and print at high speeds. Lanier Worldwide's 5603DC color copier, for example, can copy ledger-sized materials and has three photo modes: printed, glossy and copied. Minolta's CF900 can color-copy books and three-dimensional objects as well as full-bleed 11-by-17-inch sheets.
List prices for color copiers range from $846 to $29,995. You'll pay another $1,500 to $9,000 for the print controller, an optional link-up device that enables the color copier to also function as a color printer. Some units come equipped with this device as a built-in feature, like Canon's CLC320 color copier, the best-seller in the full-color market. Remember, though, street prices can be considerably lower, and many dealers offer substantial discounts whether you are buying or leasing.
Color copier options include extra paper trays, document feeders, sorter bins and staplers. While the units in our chart are the lowest-priced base models of manufacturers' lineups, there are usually upgraded versions as well. For example, Lanier's 5603DC is $15,495 in the chart, but two faster models, priced at $18,495 and $20,595, are also available. Savin's lineup of color copiers range from $14,995 to $33,995.
Most stand-alone color copiers are bulky, requiring several square feet of floor space, especially if they include three or four paper trays. Hewlett Packard, however, has just introduced the Series 100, 210 and 210LX desktop inkjet color copiers, which use a similar digital inkjet technology to that found in color printers. Besides taking up less room, these machines gobble up less of your budget--some cost less than $1,000. The main difference is in their slower printing speeds, but they also don't have printing or networking capabilities.
"Color now far outshines monochrome in the business environment. Look at the color [computer] monitors we use," says Raymond H. Brubaker, general manager of Hewlett Packard's office products division. "Color printing and copying are becoming standard."
Copiers are vulnerable pieces of office equipment because they have so many moving parts. Before buying, make sure you check service and support features, warranties and guarantees carefully. Warranties usually cover parts that malfunction or break down and the labor to repair or replace them; guarantees assure owners that their machines will operate as claimed by the manufacturer.
It's Your Choice
To help you determine your needs when shopping for a color copier, here's a glossary of features:
Bypass. This feature is useful for making a single-sheet copy that is a different paper size or type from those already loaded into the paper tray. The downside of bypassing, however, is that on some copiers, you must feed these documents in one page at a time.
Digital. This is an imaging process that takes a scan of the image being copied and translates it into data that can be edited prior to printing.
Manual duplex or auto duplex. Duplex means printing on both sides of a single sheet of paper, which saves both time and money.
Network connectivity. Most color laser copiers can hook up to one or more computers to input and share data, edit images, and be used as a printer as well as a copier.
Reduction/enlargement. Most color copiers resize images from 25 percent to 400 percent, usually in 1 percent increments, and from one paper size to another.
Resolution and dpi. Copiers "look" at an image and turn it into millions of minute dots. Dots per inch (dpi) is a measurement of the clarity, crispness and quality of the picture being reproduced. The greater the number of dots concentrated in a square inch of space, the clearer the image. Today's color laser copiers have an average resolution of 400 dpi, which is near-photographic.
Running costs. The cost of copying a page in full color can vary, depending on the number of colors involved and the density and quality required. The average cost is around 20 cents per copy for digital color laser copiers. Hewlett Packard's base Series 100 inkjet averages 3 cents a copy, one of the lowest per-copy prices of the copiers listed in our chart.
Speed. Most digital color laser copiers produce three to six color pages per minute, and black-and-white pages two or three times faster than that. Inkjets are a little slower but can produce up to three color pages per minute, depending on the color density and quality required, and up to 10 black-and-white pages per minute.
Touchscreen control panel. On Mita's Ci7500, for example, this panel allows you to fine-tune color images and quality by adjusting brightness, contrast, density, sharpness and saturation.
Copier Price and Features Table
Get the complete list of features, prices and web sites for all the copiers discussed above.
Jill Amadio is a writer in Newport Beach, California.