From the March 2001 issue of Entrepreneur

There may come a time when Kinko's just won't satisfy you anymore. Someday you'll get tired of leaving the office to get copies made. You'll also come to terms with the fact that running off multiple copies means using up your printer's ink cartridges. And you'll watch your employees twiddle their thumbs while waiting for 10 copies of a report to finish. That's when you know it's time to invest in a dedicated copier.

Personal copiers are tempting because they're cheap (less than $500) and small, but they don't have the muscle power to handle high-volume demands or an office full of employees. So we're going to look at work-group copiers that are sized for businesses and used by small workgroups of employees. These aren't the horse-sized copiers of yore, but compact, networkable machines for low- and mid-volume use. The price tags continue to clock in at well over $1,000, but that's small change compared to the bigger machines on the market.

Fit To Print

There are two basic types of workgroup copiers: analog and digital. Analog is the kind we're all familiar with. You place your book or paper on the platen glass, set the lid on top of it, push the button and wait as the light goes buzzing along underneath it, one pass for each copy you make. The Xerox 5818 Copier, at $3,060 (all prices street), is a good example of a relatively low-cost analog copier. Its reduce and enlarge ratios of 64 to 156 percent are typical of analog. (By comparison, some digital copiers can enlarge up to 800 percent.) The 5818's 20,000-page monthly volume is enough to handle most small work-group demands. The input tray holds 720 sheets with a 99-sheet maximum output. Compare this with the high-priced, high-volume Kyocera Mita DC-6500 Work-group Copier.

We've included the DC--6500 in our "Shopping List" for comparison's sake. This machine is $19,995 worth of free-standing, old-fashioned analog printing. It's way out of the budget reaches of some companies, but it's typical of what's left lingering in the analog product lines: large workhorse machines for companies that really have some serious copying to do. The DC-6500, for example, can crank out a whopping 65 copies per minute (CPM) and can be retro-fitted to hold a 6,300-sheet paper supply.

Not surprisingly, digital copiers have begun to outnumber analogs in the market-place. Analog prices and copy quality may be comparable to digital machines, but digital offers other advantages: For instance, you don't have to stand there and wait for the machine to scan the paper every time it makes a copy. It scans the paper once, remembers it and continues copying. You can snag the original and return to work while the copier stays busy.

And unlike analog machines, for which copying is the one and only duty, most digital copiers are designed as "document management systems." That's the long term for "multifunction." A network copier might also be your network printer, scanner or fax machine. Some systems come this way; others offer modules so you can add printer capabilities to your copier later if the need arises.

The Konica 7415 Workgroup Document System is a good example of the latter. The basic machine is just a copier, but you can add on a network card or a fax module. This sort of setup is ideal for making one machine operate as a networked multifunction device. It can also evolve as your business grows and your hardware needs increase.

If you already know you want it all, another option is to just buy all the features ready to rumble in one machine. The $2,799 Sharp DM2000 Network Laser Document System comes pre-equipped as a copier and network printer. A fax feature is optional. It isn't as cheap as running out and buying another inkjet, but you'll get all the advantages of a laser printer along with the convenience of a copier. And 20 pages per minute (ppm) output isn't too shabby, either.

The Choice Is Yours

For most business workgroup purposes, a sub-$3,000 copier will suffice. Narrowing down the options will require some thought. On the one hand, you don't want to spend more than you have to, but on the other hand, you don't want to invest in a machine that will be inadequate for your needs.

One of the first considerations is how many copies per month you'll be making. Make a generous estimate and pad it with room for growth if you see some business expansion in your future. If you figure you're going to run off about 200 copies per day, then you can figure about 6,000 per month. Next, match that up with the listed monthly duty cycle for copiers that interest you. Be aware that manufacturers are notorious for inflating duty-cycle numbers, so always aim for well over your estimate. Back to our example, you would minimally want a copier with a 10,000-page duty cycle. Working a copier harder than what it's designed to handle increases the chances of it breaking down and requiring service. Most digital multifunction copiers don't list duty cycles.

Speed is another factor to consider. Warm-up time, time to first copy and CPM all come into play. The Sharp DM2000 Network Laser, for example, takes 7.2 seconds to spit out the first copy, while the analog Xerox 5818 takes 6 seconds. But the Xerox has a 100-second warm-up time-which doesn't sound too terrible until you find yourself standing around waiting for the machine to get ready. And despite the high-end Kyocera Mita DC-6500's 480-second warm-up time, the big analog machine only needs a scant 2.8 seconds to produce the first copy.

Once you and your copier are ready to go, you'll want to consider copy speed. If you're used to 6 or 8 ppm output from an inkjet printer or multi-function machine, you'll enjoy the minimum 20 CPM these copiers do. Those speed-demon statistics carry over if your copier doubles as a network printer.

Some other features to consider include duplexing capability, sorting options and memory. Duplexing is an advanced feature that's available as an option on some lower-end copiers, and it comes standard on the Kyocera Mita DC-6500. Most digital copiers come equipped with memory that can be upgraded. The Sharp DM2000 comes equipped with 8MB memory, expandable to 136MB.

Traditionally, copiers have been purchased from local office supply dealers through the normal sales-person format. Most of the smaller workgroup machines can now be found through online retailers and even at the occasional office super-store. One-on-one contact through a local seller still offers some advantages when it comes to such a major hardware purchase. The more complex machines typically are bought along with a service contract to handle any repair problems that arise. But many buyers are now relying entirely on the manufacturer's warranty. Read over the warranty terms to see how long you'll be without a copier if repairs are needed.

And don't forget paper, ink, drums and cartridges. Yum, consumables-parts that require refills or replacements. This is also where most of your operating expenses will come from. Always check the cost of supplies before you buy. One interesting purchasing option comes from the Ricoh online store. For $4,580, you can purchase the Aficio 180 in a package that includes one year of service and supplies. Other online stores may offer similar deals.

In Plain English

Automatic document feeder: allows multiple sheets to be copied without manually placing each one on the platen

Bypass tray: allows direct feeding of odd-sized paper, like card stock

CPM: copies per minute, a measure of a copier's output speed

Duplex copying: premium copier feature that automatically copies both sides of the paper

Duty cycle: also called monthly volume, estimated maximum number of copies per month a machine is designed to copy

Platen: flat glass area where the document is placed for copying

Shopping List

TYPE/DUTY CYCLE/PAGES PER MINUTE
SPECIAL FEATURESSTREET PRICE
KONICA
7415 Workgroup Document System
(800) 456-6422
www.konicabt.com
Digital
10,000 pages
15
30-second warm-up, modular system, optional fax kit, optional network interface card$1,895
KYOCERA MITA
DC-6500 Workgroup Copier
(800) 453-6482
www.kyoceramita.com
Analog
125,000 pages
65
First copy in 2.8 seconds, built-in duplexing capability, digital Time Lens computer interface available for networking

$19,995

RICOH
Aficio 180
(800) 63-RICOH
www.ricoh.com
Digital
20,000 pages
18
Can be expanded as a printer or fax, 350-sheet paper capacity, optional automatic document feeder available

$4,580

SHARP
DM2000 Network Laser
Document System
(800) BE-SHARP
www.dmseries.sharp-usa.com

Digital
3,000 pages
20
Also can act as a fax and Ethernet network printer, 8MB of memory, comes equipped with two 250-sheet paper cassettes

$2,799

TOSHIBA
2060
(800) GO-TOSHIBA
www.toshiba.com
Analog
25,000 pages
20
80-second warm-up time, 4 seconds to first copy, 600-sheet paper supply standard

$4,312

XEROX
J5818 Copier
(800) ASK-XEROX
www.xerox.com
Analog
20,000 pages
21
720-sheet standard paper capacity, 20-sheet bypass tray included, reduces and enlarges from 64 to 156 percent

$3,060