Rainbows for your office color copiers and printers; forget black-and-white copiers and printers, the wave of the future is color

Scott Cullen

“They’re expensive, they’re slow, and I just don’t print out enough pages in color to justify the expense.” That was the old argument against purchasing a color copier or printer for the office. Well, those old arguments don’t fly anymore, especially in the printer arena where color printers are becoming increasingly affordable, efficient, and common within the general office.

As for color copiers, prices are coming down while speeds are on the rise. Granted, many users can still make a legitimate case for not having the volume to justify the expense of investing in a color copier. A whole new breed of copier, however, is on the horizon–a copier that can economically copy and print in color or black and white–and may be just the ticket for changing the minds of those who have been cautious about color technology.

Monochrome fading away?

The signs in the market are pointing toward a color future. While monochrome laser printers remain a healthy product category, monochrome ink jet printers are ancient history, replaced by a generation of inexpensive (at least the hardware component) models that print in both color and black and white. Could the same thing be happening in various segments of the traditional copier market?

Maybe it’s a form of natural selection, but the monochrome (aka black-and-white) copier market is in the doldrums and will likely continue to decline through 2006, according to a report from the market research firm CAP Ventures (www.capv.com) of Norwell, Mass. In its United States 2001-2006 Copier Market Analysis, CAP presents a dim forecast for the monochrome copier market while predicting strong growth for convenience color copiers and production color copiers during this same time frame.

The CAP survey finds most segments of the monochrome copier business are in trouble, particularly those operating at less than 70 cpm. The exceptions are Segment 2 models (21-30 cpm), which CAP sees growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.8 percent through 2006, and the speedier Segments 5 and 6 where growth is expected to continue during the forecast period.

CAP forecasts a revenue freefall within Segment 3 (31-45 cpm) arena. While the research company expects growth to remain flat through 2006, Segment 3 revenues are expected to decline at a CAGR of -3.6 percent over this time. The culprit for this decline is the rise of color MFP technologies, which are expected to be more competitive with prices for comparable black-and-white copiers. Similarly, Segment 4 (46-69 cpm) looks to decline at a CAGR of -1.75 percent through 2006.

Convenience color in store

As the monochrome copier business falters, the color copier business is poised for growth. CAP predicts convenience color copiers (a segment including color digital printer/copiers with four color toners that print or copy 8 1/2 X 11-inch pages at speeds from 3 to 23 ppm) will have a CAGR of 7.3 percent through 2006. Basing its numbers on 40,900 placements in 2001 (2002 numbers haven’t been reported at press time), CAP says this was a 10-percent increase over the previous year. CAP expects the growth rate to slow over time, however, because of increased competition from low-end color laser printers and customers looking to purchase higher-speed products.

While the CAGR for convenience color devices will continue to be respectable, CAP notes the average equipment price is dropping, resulting in a CAGR decline of -1.6 percent in annual equipment revenue. That’s good news for buyers who will reap the benefits of lower prices. Currently, devices aimed at office users are spurring most activity within the convenience color segment. These models typically offer lower output quality than traditional color copiers, have low hardware and operating costs, and come with an embedded controller (the device that allows them to also function as a printer).

Production color rolls on

Similarly, the production color segment, which includes process-color digital printer/copiers with four color toners that print or copy 8 1/2 X 11-inch pages at 24 ppm and faster, is another category on the upswing. While Canon is the dominant player in this segment, CAP expects more products to enter this segment, including more single-function printers and hybrid printers that can print mixed black-and-white and color pages. Here, CAP predicts a CAGR of 10.5 percent through 2006 with the average installed base forecasted to grow at a CAGR of 16.4 percent.

As noted earlier, CAP expects most of the growth in the production arena to result from the displacement of products in the 3- to 23-ppm segment. CAP also expects some of these higher-end devices to compete in the workgroup market, based on an attractive feature set, including copying, printing, and finishing for black-and-white and color documents. These capabilities will make these devices attractive to customers looking to replace their existing 3- to 23-ppm machines.

Color by numbers

Further evidence of the acceptance of color in corporate America can be found in another CAP study on work-group color copiers and printers. For those companies who have embraced color technology, the number of pages being printed in color is rising. The CAP survey of businesses using color devices reveals 24 percent are outputting 500-999 pages per month in color on their color copiers. Fully 20 percent are copying 5,000-7,499 pages per month in color, and another 20 percent are copying 10,000 or more per month in color. Of those pages printed or copied in color, 40.2 percent are from the scanner or copier platen and 59.8 percent are from electronic files. Similarly, a survey of color laser printer users found 33 percent are doing 1,000-2,499 pages per month in color, 22.7 percent are printing less than 500 pages per month in color, 15.2 percent have a color print volume of 2,500-4,999 pages, and 13.9 percent have a color print volume of 500-999 pages.

Embracing color

As industry analysts and manufacturers of color products have hawked color copying and printing technology ad nauseam for nearly a decade, the hype is beginning to dissipate and reality is setting in. As Dick Norton, president of the market research and consulting firm DocuTrends, says, “It’s not the same old, same old because we’re at a price and speed combination that seems to be attracting end users.”


Indeed, new color copier/printer introductions by the likes of Minolta, Canon, and Sharp are bringing to market an emerging class of products that offer color copying and printing at more affordable prices and faster speeds. Add to that a new generation of products recently debuted by Ricoh at its annual dealer meeting, where color is positioned as a feature on a black-and-white system, and there’s more of a reason for buyers to consider color devices than ever before. “Ricoh’s new Aficio 1224C and 1232C represent an entirely different spin on color copiers for the office,” observes Jon Bees, editor of the Better Buys for Business office equipment buying guides. “Rather than being positioned as low-cost color copiers, they are going to be sold as feature-rich, black-and-white copiers with color as an inexpensive feature.”

Fit to print in color

On the color printer front, single-function color ink jet and laser printers continue to proliferate. Affordable models are now available from a host of manufacturers including Brother, Canon, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lexmark, Minolta-QMS, Oki Data, Panasonic, Ricoh, Toshiba, and Xerox at a price and speed combination that’s beginning to remove them from the “luxury status” category.

While color ink jet printers still represent the most affordable option for color printing, color laser printers remain the top choice for graphics and design professionals. That said, color print quality on the latest generation of ink jets is excellent, and for most general color applications, such as presentations, these devices are on a par with many low-end color lasers. Still, buyers looking for a color ink jet for their office should avoid the lowest price models on the market since these are designed for consumers, are slow, and have a high cost per page.


Meanwhile, prices of single-function color laser printers have dropped to as low as $695 on a 5-ppm color laser although, at that price and speed, these devices are more suited for consumer use rather than business use. Still, not bad considering color laser printers were selling for more than 20 times that price a few years ago.

Last year, Xerox introduced a new line of color printers with output as fast as 30 ppm in color. Prices for these models range from $2,000 to $9,000. The company’s most recent release, the Phaser 7300 workgroup color printer, outputs at 30 ppm, uses single-pass color print technology, and has an estimated retail price of $3,499.

According to Jim Harrington, vice president of sales for Dictronics, a Needham, Massachusetts-based office equipment dealership, customers aren’t blinking at the price of these new color printers, especially those who remember when printers at similar speeds were selling for $20,000 to $30,000 each. Harrington predicts even lower prices for these higher-end color models. “I know these printers are going to come down in price even more and will be just as good as what we’ve been selling for $3,000 to $9,000.”

Applications critical

While speed, lower prices, and enhanced color image quality will certainly help spur the interest in color copiers and printers, the X factor remains applications. Without applications, it doesn’t matter how fast and how inexpensive these devices and their operating costs are. Applications seem to be growing more diverse within corporate environments. A CAP Ventures survey of business users of workgroup color products found the top jobs printed in color are presentations; brochures, fliers, or other marketing collateral; and proposals, letters, or other business correspondence (see the sidebar Top Color Applications).

With a wide choice of models that can cost-effectively print and copy in color and black and white, along with lower initial purchase prices, this is a fine time to add a color copier or printer to your office, provided you can justify the expense of a device that can print all of the colors of a rainbow.

RELATED ARTICLE: what to look for in a color laser printer WHAT IMAGE IS YOUR COMPANY PROJECTING?

Traditionally, businesses have not taken advantage of color printing in the workplace despite some obvious benefits, largely due to four assumed barriers: cost, performance, print quality and ease of use. Today, color printing is taking hold. As the barriers to entry become surpassable, businesses are recognizing the value of color printing in the office.

Presentations and printed pages are perceived as 60 percent better when they are in color, readers pay attention up to 82 percent longer when color is used, and brand identification increases 70 percent when color is added.

Therefore, the value of color in the workplace is obvious. Now what do you do? The printing experts at Lexmark suggest you look for the following features in a color laser printer.

* Resolution–For the most professional-looking documents, your color printer should print at a resolution of 1200 X 1200 dpi (dots per inch) for crisp text and graphics.

* Speed–Look for a unit that prints up to at least 20 ppm (pages per minute).

* Networkability–If your office PCs are connected to a network, it is important to purchase a color printer that can be networked via Ethernet.

* Quality–The way you present your work is the way you present yourself. The best presentation can be ruined if it is marred by poor print quality.

* Low acquisition price–Color laser printers have come down drastically in cost and can be purchased for as little as $2,000. Today, you can purchase a color printer with the same cost per page that is equal to a monochrome-only printer. In the past, manufacturers charged a premium for printing in monochrome on a color printer.

* Paper handling flexibility–Make sure as your business grows, your printer can grow with it. Options to add paper trays are a must.

* Easy to install, high-yield supplies–Color laser printers are available with as few as five supply items that you can install or change out. Choose a printer with easy-to-install supply items.

* Warranty–Make sure the product you purchase comes with a next-day replacement warranty. This means if the manufacturer cannot fix your unit over the telephone, they will send you a new unit as a replacement on the next business day.

RELATED ARTICLE: buying tips

With color printers, buying options include office equipment dealers, computer resellers, office and computer superstores, and direct from the manufacturer. Most color copiers are sold by the same dealers who sell black-and-white copiers. As with traditional copiers, color copiers are also service-intensive machines. Especially with those units connected to a network, the quality of the vendor’s service should be a critical component of the buying decision. Because printers are relatively uncomplicated pieces of machinery, service isn’t as big an issue as with color copiers. (See the sidebar on what to look for in a color printer.)

Even as prices of color copiers come down, they’re still expensive machines, and you don’t want to make this purchasing decision without some background information. The Color Copier Guide from Better Buys for Business offers the following buying tips:

* Get a clear indication of copying costs. Ask the vendor to provide you, in writing, with a list of running costs, and make sure those costs are based on a copy volume close to what you’re likely to produce. Better Buys notes the average cost per copy should be about 19-25 cents on a laser model, although competition may be pushing these numbers even lower. Note copying costs will vary depending on the complexity of the documents being reproduced. According to the CAP Ventures Workgroup Color Survey, 52.6 percent of respondents don’t know their cost per page (toner and service), while 14.4 percent noted it was less than 5 cents, and 9.3 percent said 5-9 cents and 10-14 cents. Another 8.2 percent noted their cost per page was 15-19 cents, and a modest number of respondents identified their cost per page as more than 25 cents.

* Check out the copy quality. Make sure you see how the machine handles samples of the work you typically produce.

* Get a discount. Discounts of 30-35 percent off list price are not unusual in this market.

* Ask about additional guarantees beyond the limited standard warranties typically offered with these machines. Better Buys reports Xerox and Lanier offer the best guarantees, promising to replace your machine if you’re not happy with it during the first three years.

RELATED ARTICLE: top color applications

According to a new survey by the market research firm CAP Ventures, these are the top jobs companies say they print in color. (Each respondent could list more than one use for color printing.)

Presentations–91.85 percent

Brochures, fliers, or other marketing collateral-75.3 percent

Proposals, letters, or other business correspondence-71.1 percent

Training material–51.5 percent

Spreadsheets, memos, or other office documents-49.5 percent

Newsletters–35.1 percent

Web pages–34.0 percent

Direct mail–30.9 percent

Proofs of jobs that will be printed on other devices–28.9 percent

Business cards, labels, or other utility documents–18.6 percent

Statements or invoices–10.3 percent

Other–11.3 percent

Scott Cullen (culcom@voicenet.com), a contributing editor for OfficeSolutions, writes frequently on office technologies and issues.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Quality Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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