See the Buyer's Guide Table for product features and prices.
Most small-business owners have three concerns when they're thinking about buying a black-and-white copier: cost, performance and production capabilities. What many don't think about until the last minute is size. When your growing company finds that a small, lightweight personal copier can no longer handle the increased load that expansion demands, you must consider the space an office copier requires, whether it's a desktop model or a stand-alone unit that sits atop its own cabinet or pedestal.
Because copiers are highly specialized machines, they carry a pretty hefty price tag. Even when you're buying a standard black-and-white copier, you should be prepared to spend anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000. The ideal model for a small business is a low-volume copier capable of making 5,000 to 10,000 copies a month.
Choosing black-and-white instead of color isn't the only technology decision you'll have to make when selecting the best copier for your business. To stay in step with the computer age, copier manufacturers are turning to digital technology, rather than continuing with traditional analog, for many new machines. Digital copiers produce clearer text and images; they also hold images in a data chip so copies can be made from memory without the copier having to scan the original each time as analog machines must do. Xerox, with its 212 model priced at $2,095, is among the manufacturers leading the low-volume market in digital copiers.
Another advantage of digital copiers is their ability to connect to a network computer for double use as a printer. Their sharp, high-toned reproduction of photos and other graphics that require varying shades of halftones is also a plus.
But don't discount analog copiers just yet. Analogs have their own adjustable halftone and gray-scale ranges and can produce relatively good copies of photos. Analog models produce high-quality, crisp images, and many, such as the Toshiba 2060, are faster than digital copiers. But while the Toshiba 2060 pumps out 20 copies per minute, compared to 12 from the digital Xerox 212, shoppers should ask for a demonstration to compare line quality, detail, solid images and shades of gray before deciding.
Maintenance costs, such as how frequently the toner and drum must be replaced, should also be a consideration when buying a copier. Most digital copiers use cartridges that contain all the imaging components in one case: toner, developer and photoreceptor. Analog copiers usually require separate toner and drum units. Minolta's toner costs $72 per case (two bottles), and a drum replacement costs $205. Panasonic's replacement toner costs $42 per bottle. Xerox's digital copier sells its all-in-one replaceable cartridge for toner, photoreceptor and developer for $336, but Xerox estimates that you can make 14,000 copies before needing a replacement. Analog copy machines average 5,000 to 7,000 copies before needing toner replacement.
In addition to maintenance costs, be sure to factor in the cost of extra features you may want to add. These include accessories such as a stapler, a sorter, a storage cabinet, drawers, extra paper trays and an extra automatic document feeder.
A new feature to look for is the automatic shut-off switch, which decreases wear on a copier by turning the machine off if it hasn't been used for 15 to 20 minutes. The automatic sizing function on Minolta's EP2010 is also an innovative feature, with the ability to "see" the size of an original document and adjust itself using preset reduction/enlargement settings, even with a different-sized copy paper. The most commonly used settings are 65 percent, 78 percent and 129 percent, but many models enlarge up to 141 percent.
Here are some other features to look for when shopping for a black-and-white copier:
Auto image density: Scans the original to be copied, determines how dense the color needs to be and automatically adjusts the amount of toner released.
Bypass: A separate slot for feeding in extra copy paper, single sheets of heavy bond paper or card media (index cards, postcards, etc.).
Duplexing: Copies both sides of a page, which saves money and paper. Some manufacturers sell duplexing units as an optional accessory.
Paper tray: Holds blank sheets of paper for copies. The average cassette holds 250 sheets. Additional trays can be added.
Preset reduction/enlargement: Automatically calculates and sets the best percentage of reduction or enlargement based on the size of the original.
Skyshot mode: Eliminates the black background that normally results from making copies of small originals, such as bank checks, with the cover open. Panasonic's FP-7715, an upgrade of the FP-7713 listed in our chart, has this feature.
Jill Amadio is a freelance writer in Newport Beach, California, who has covered technology for eight years.