From the October 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

We spend a lot of time in this column looking at small hardware like PDAs, cell phones and projectors. This month, we're going to tackle a bigger subject: copy machines. Not really the behemoths you see at Kinko's, but decent-size machines suited for growing businesses.

So how does a copier end up on an entrepreneur's shopping list? When your Kinko's bill starts to dwarf your other expenses, that's a good time to start shopping copiers. When employees are using inkjets (and expensive consumables) to run off lots of multiple pages, that's a sign you might need a copier. When your business gets big enough and your needs demand it, it's time to check into some new hardware. The ultimate goal is to reduce costs and gain productivity time by handling copying in-house.

Digital copiers have been slowly sweeping the old-fashioned analog copiers away. One side benefit of moving into the digital realm is that these copiers usually incorporate printing and scanning functions as well. That can help in situations where space is at a premium and those other functions are useful. Affordable pricing also puts these copiers in range of any business budget. The Brother DCP-8025D slides in at less than $600 (all prices street) but is still space-conscious enough to fit into tight offices.

In fact, you've got many copier sizes and prices from which to choose. Smaller models, like the color $299 HP Digital Copier Printer 410, are well-suited for home offices, small offices or workgroups. When you need a lot of horsepower to serve multiple employees, a model like the $2,875 Minolta DiALTA Di152 is up to the task. It's built with a heavy-duty cycle in mind to take a lot of punishment from frequent copying. Also in this range is the $2,295 Sharp AR-M205, with a hefty standard 600-page paper capacity. That means you won't have to reload constantly.

Copiers aimed at the growing business market really do look a lot like multifunction printers. Case in point: The $1,299 Xerox WorkCentre M15i is something of a Swiss Army knife when it comes to copying and printing. Faxing and scanning are thrown in for good measure without losing its low profile. Just want copying and printing? Xerox also offers a stripped-down version, dubbed the M15, for $899.

If all these extras don't excite you, you may want to check into straightforward analog copiers. They're generally pretty large machines but can handle a lot of copying work when that's the only duty you need done.

Networking capability and the amount of memory are features to look for when shopping for copiers. Some of the less-expensive digital copiers aren't network-ready but can be upgraded. As for memory, you don't want your machine to suffer a brain freeze in the middle of a big job. The 32MB in the Sharp and Brother copiers make sure that won't happen. But the standard memory shipped with most copiers is adequate for most tasks and can be upgraded to handle harder assignments. Also look into the wait time until the first copy. With the Xerox WorkCentre, for example, it takes just over nine seconds to warm up and get that initial page out.

Finally, consider the long-run costs of operating a copier. The Minolta literature, for example, estimates that it costs less than a penny per page to operate. New toner cartridge and component prices can vary from model to model. But if the equation works out to put your business on the plus side, you're good to go.

Shopping List
Want some sugar with your copy? We've checked out some sweet machines that can make your life a little easier.

MANUFACTURER/
MODEL
CONTACTPAGER PER/
MINUTES(PPM)
MEMORYFEATURESSTREET
PRICE
Brother
DCP-8025D
(888) 879-3232
www.brother.com
1732mb, up to 160mbprinter/copier/scanner, auto-duplexing, 50-page autofeeder, 50-page multipurpose tray$599
Hewlett-packard
HP digital copier printer 410
(800) 888-0262
www.hp.com
14 black and white, 9 color16mbPrinter/copier, 100-sheet input tray, 35-page autofeeder$299
Minolta
Dialta Di152
(800) 964-6658
www.minoltausa.com
1516mbprinter/copier, 275-sheet paper drawer, bypass tray, fax add-on available$2,875
Sharp
AR-M205
(800) be-sharp
www.sharpusa.com
2032mbPrinter/copier/scanner,600-sheet paper capacity$2,295
Xerox
Workcentre M15i
(800) ask-xerox
www.xerox.com
1516mbprinter/copier/scanner/fax,5,000-page monthly duty cycle$1,299