Tips on selecting your first color copier: color is in. Are you ready to begin?

Scott Cullen

Is your office ready for a color copier? Ready or not, it’s a good time to consider acquiring a color machine. Prices have come down, making color copying for general office applications within reach of more businesses than ever before. Indeed, what you can now get for your money at the low and middle ranges of the market is a bargain compared to what you could buy for the same amount of money a few years ago.


There are plenty of applications for color within the average office–presentations, reports, and brochures to name a few–that should make the addition of a color copier a worthy investment. Ultimately, it’s for you (with the help of your color copier dealer) to decide if your organization gets an ROI (Return On Investment) by adding color to your business documents and producing your color business documents in-house.

We’ve compiled some useful tips to help you get started in your search for your first color copier. Note: we’ll be focusing on devices that can be used for general office business color applications, rather than high-end systems designed for graphic arts professionals.

Know your applications. The type of work you produce in color is key. The more sophisticated your color output, the higher up the color copier food chain you’ll need to go. Your applications and the type of paper you use will help determine the type of color copier that is best for you.

Educate yourself. Graham Taylor with Boise Business Products in Boise, Idaho, states, “The most important thing for a consumer to do when buying a color system is to make sure they are educated on color technology and terminology.” He also recommends buyers work with a sales representative who is a color specialist. “If the dealer does not have someone who specializes in color, then you probably do not want to do business with them,” opines Taylor.

Talk to your copier technician. “Copier techs are pretty straight with you on what to look for when shopping for your first color copier,” explains Taylor. “A tech who fixes the problems and listens to customer complaints will usually be the first one to say, ‘No way. You can’t do this with that machine, no matter what the salesperson is telling you.'”

Consider output quality. “Understand the nature of the work you want to do in color,” recommends Jon Bees, editor of the Better Buys for Business Color Copier Guide. “If you need eye popping quality, you’ll spend more money. For general office applications, such as presentations, reports, and outputting pages from the Internet, a mid-range machine should do the trick. “You’ll find respectable output quality on machines costing from $11,000 to $16,000,” says Bees. For low-volume applications you’ll even find some excellent devices for less than $1,000 from the likes of Brother, Canon, Hewlett-Packard, and Lexmark, from which the copy quality is more than adequate.

Consider your copy volume. How many color copies (or color and black copies if looking for a dualpurpose device) do you make a month? In the color copier world, 10,000 color copies per month would place you in the high-volume arena. For general office applications, your output might be less than 1,000 copies per month. A target volume will also help you determine how fast a machine you’ll need. “Buy a system that can handle two to three times the volume you think you’ll have,” says Art Post, docusultant with Century Office Products in Middlesex, N.J. “Odds are, your color volume will grow and grow.”

Ask about cost of operation. Consider the cost of consumables such as toner and ink jet cartridges, service, and maintenance. Better Buys for Business suggests asking for these running costs in writing and basing them on your monthly volume. Expect to pay anywhere from six to 16 cents per color copy on an entry-level laser color copier and slightly more on an ink jet machine. Also, note operating costs depend on the type of material you’re copying. If your output is primarily photographs or graphic-intensive images, your operating costs are going to be on the high end of the spectrum. Typically, the more copies you make, the lower your operating costs, because service and maintenance costs are spread out over a large number of copies.

Understand your consumable yields and the average color coverage the manufacturer quotes. Find out how many pages your toner or ink jet cartridge will produce and what page coverage the manufacturer is basing those numbers on. Standard page coverage estimates range from 5 to 8 percent, but most documents produced in color will be much higher. Industry standard test pages allow dealers and/or users to make a comparison. The standard for page coverage is 6 percent, which is a brief two-paragraph business letter. Therefore, if your manufacturer is saying you’ll get so many pages from your toner cartridge at 6 percent coverage, and you’ll be producing materials where the average page coverage is 16 percent, your consumable yields are going to be much lower than the manufacturer says they’ll be.

Will you want your copier to handle both black & white and color output? Affordable machines that output black and white and color are now available, so you don’t need to purchase two separate devices. The caveat here is only a handful of devices fit this criteria. If you’re looking for a model that will also function as your black and white copier, make sure the cost of black and white copies is similar to those offered by traditional monochrome machines, because the cost of making a black print on most color copiers is much higher than on a black-only machine. That cost will vary, but should range from less than a penny to about three cents maximum to make a machine worth considering for handling both your color and black output.

Know your prices. A low-end color ink jet copier will cost you about $199 retail while mid-range machines that produce color copies at 8 to 11 ppm and black copies at 30 to 40 ppm are priced anywhere from $11,000 to $24,000. High-end machines have list prices in the low $50,000 range to more than $60,000 when sold as standalone color devices. Adding color-printing capability can add another $20,000 to $35,000 to the price. Note these prices are mostly manufacturer’s suggested retail prices, and prices offered by office equipment dealers can sometimes be as much as 30 percent less that the MSRP.

When printing photos, make sure you know the print speed in the 1200-dpi mode. The higher the resolution, the slower the output speed. When evaluating color copiers, don’t expect it to perform at its rated speed for every copy job.

Consider a machine with duplexing (two-sided copying). “If you can get a duplex option, get it right away,” says Post. “Nothing is finer than a two-sided proposal or quote in color.”

Beware of first-generation machines. There are exceptions to every general rule, but some dealers will warn buyers away from first-generation machines. One dealer told us, “By all means, do not buy the first generation of a newly introduced model.” While that may be valid advice because the manufacturer might not yet have corrected all the bugs on that particular machine, some first-generation devices have been known to perform remarkably well. Again, it all comes down to doing your homework.

Get a demonstration. Always make sure to get a demonstration of the unit’s output quality, speed, and performance using samples of the work you typically produce in color.

Acquiring any new and emerging technology can be intimidating, but with these tips and information in hand, you should be well prepared to purchase your first color copier.

RELATED ARTICLE: R.I.P. Black and White Copiers

The talk in office equipment circles is most copier manufacturers are looking to exit the black-only copier business. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. You’ll still be able to buy, lease, or rent monochrome copiers, but most of the new products coming to market will include color as a function much like duplexing. That trend was clearly evident at a recent Sharp product rollout where the company’s president, Ed McLaughlin, informed dealers this was the direction the company was heading. Other manufacturers such as Konica Minolta, Ricoh, and Toshiba have already introduced black and white machines with affordable color copying as a feature, and will also travel this path with future introductions. Expect the rest of the copier makers to take this route too.

RELATED ARTICLE: A Word of Caution

For all the good reasons to use color in your business, there are some things that might make you hesitate. For instance, Jon Bees of Better Buys for Business notes employees will find creative ways to use color for their own personal use. This may not be a big issue on a traditional black and white machine, but on color models with higher operating costs, it’s important that businesses monitor usage of their color devices to ensure employees aren’t misusing them.

Scott Cullen ( is the managing editor for OfficeSOLUTIONS.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Quality Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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