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In Living Color

Color copiers give customers one more reason to choose you over the competition.

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.

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This article was originally published in the October 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: In Living Color.

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