With a lot of options out there, it’s really hard to decide which copier or multifunction printer to choose. Don’t get sold into a device you don’t need or worse, accidentally skip a feature that is necessary for your office. Here are some points to consider when buying a new copier or printer.
Colour vs. Mono (black & white)
As prices for colour multifunction copiers and printers have come down significantly over the last few years, as well as the cost per page (click charge) for service agreements. Most models sold nowadays are either colour capable or full colour machines. The choice in mono printers is not as big as it used to be, as most users prefer full colour printers.
Whilst basic editing functions are enough for most users, some of the more high-end colour multifunction devices have advanced colour management capabilities. They either come or have the option to come with a special editor and controller for colour management. Although these advanced editing techniques can be impressive, they tend to be difficult and more time-consuming to master.
A well-known and often used editor/controller in high-end multifunction printers is the Fiery® controller or RIP made by EFI. A controller such as the Fiery can come built into the machine, or as an external controller and basically looks like a PC. They deliver high quality colour output and have the latest innovative colour management features. It enables you to create, print, scan, and manage high quality images, meeting sophisticated graphic needs that are often used by print shops and anywhere accurate colour output is required, such as in graphic design companies or maybe marketing companies with graphic designers.
Please note that many manufacturers have their own built-in proprietary controllers & editors. When you set out to compare features across models, you may find the process frustrating. Most of these editing features are named differently from model to model, even though their functions may be the same. Your supplier can show you exactly how to use the editing features you want.
Reducing colour printing and costs.
With the cost per page of colour output being much more expensive than that of black & white output, it is a good idea for many offices to control the colour output.
This can be done through several features of modern multifunction devices. One way is setting a limit to the number of colour pages a particular user than copy/print per month. This can be done through the machine interface and setting up user ID codes.
Another good way of minimising colour output is ensuring that all print drivers installed are set to black & white as the default setting. This way you avoid users printing pages that may have a small colour component, such as a logo on letterhead or email to be printed and charged as a full colour page, where a black & white copy may have sufficed.
Be aware that it is most likely your responsibility to ensure this is set up, as most suppliers will want you to print in colour as much as possible, as they make a lot more money that way through the higher click charges.
Automatic Document Feeders
An office copier with an automatic document feeder (ADF) allows you to copy or scan multi-page documents without having to lift and lower the cover for every sheet you copy. Instead, you drop a stack of originals (up to 50 or 100 pages) into the feeder, press start, and the ADF automatically pulls each page through.
If you copy or scan lots of double-sided originals, you should invest in a recirculating (or reversing) automatic document feeder (RADF). An RADF can turn pages inside the machine for simplified and fast double-sided copying. Other ADF’s can scan both sides of the page, effectively doubling the scan speed.
Sorting and finishing
Digital copiers can sort copied or printed sets electronically without the use of sorter bins. Instead of separate bins, the prints are placed in a single tray at a right angle or offset from each other, allowing you to easily identify where one set ends and another begins. Bin-free sorting allows you to make unlimited sets at one time, rather than only as many sets as you have sorter bins.
You may want a finisher if you are frequently going to print many sets of multi-page documents. The most familiar type of finisher is the automatic stapler, which can be a huge time-saver. More advanced versions include three-hole punches, saddle stitch binding, folding, and more. Finishers are optional on many machines, and carry an additional cost. They may also require additional memory to be installed.
Each paper tray, cassette, pedestal, or paper feed unit is considered a separate paper source. The number of sources is important if you want to be able to copy onto different paper stocks, such as A4, A3, pre-printed letterhead, or transparencies, without reloading the machine. Universal paper trays typically hold a half-ream or full ream of paper (250 or 500 sheets) and the largest-capacity units can hold up to 4,000 sheets.
Typically, office copiers include at least one fixed-size and a couple of adjustable-size paper trays. Unfortunately, heavy paper stock often jams if you load it into a standard paper tray. To get around this problem, most copiers include a bypass tray, a special tray that provides a straight paper path for heavy paper and labels.
If you regularly need to print or copy onto heavy card stock, make sure your machine specifications indicate it can handle the thickness required, e.g., 200 or 300gsm, which is almost card stock thickness.
Multifunction devices scan every document being copied into memory before printing, so it’s natural that they can be used for creating electronic versions of your paper documents. A document feeder can be used as a sheet fed scanner, rapidly scanning multiple pages, while books and other thicker objects that can’t go through the feeder can be scanned directly on the glass.
Add-ons to scanning functionality can include OCR (optical character recognition) applications that turns your paper documents into editable electronic documents.
Most machines now have multiple scanning destination options, such as scan to email, scan to computer, scan to network etc.
When scanning, the choice of multiple file format output is also common, with typical formats being PDF, JPEG, TIFF and XPS file formats. And of course, you will be able to select to scan in either colour or mono and use various quality (resolution) settings.
Although not used a lot these days when emailing documents is the norm, a fax option is still available on many models. Incoming faxes can be printed as they’re received, sometimes into a separate output tray. Some users have a specific paper tray they fill with a different colour paper dedicated to printing incoming faxes. That way any faxes are clearly identifiable amongst other print jobs which may have completed and sitting on the output tray.
Duplex / Double sided printing
Not all printers can do automatic double-sided prints or copies. If this is a requirement, you need to ensure your printer has duplex printing capability.
Digital multifunction devices can edit your documents while duplication is happening. This can include automatic page numbering, adding watermarks such as “confidential” or “copy,” or adding date stamps. They can rotate scanned images to match the orientation of the available paper supply, saving on wasted time and paper from unanticipated errors.
They can also combine images in creative ways, such as copying a two-sided original onto one page, or reducing and combining originals to put 2, 4, or 8 pages onto one.
Automatic shut-off / sleep / idle
Almost all devices now have an automatic shut-off or sleep modes – it saves energy and decreases wear on a printer by turning the machine off if it has not been used for a set period of time. Power consumption may drop to as low as 1W or less when a machine is in ‘sleep’ mode.
Copier / printer memory
Memory (RAM, the same memory used in computers) is essential for supporting printer features such as scan once/print many, automatic page numbering, faxing, and normal printing. Everything printed, copied or scanned is held in memory. Additional memory can sometimes be added as an option to boost productivity and enable more memory-intensive features. Insufficient memory will result in slower output and an inability to print or copy new or large documents. Modern multifunction printers generally provide plenty of standard RAM memory.
With network connected devices comes an increased sense of security. If you look at these machines as just copiers or printers, you might at first wonder if you really need security. Until you realise that conventional office equipment now forms an integrated part of your IT network, just like computers.
When you put printers on the network you’re essentially putting another computer on the network and IT departments want to know if and why they can trust it.
Many digital multifunction devices allow you, requiring that users enter a code before they can make copies or access mailbox features. This provides a level of security — preventing unauthorized usage — as well as allowing you to analyse current usage patterns by department. Most business-grade printers now support user codes that allow the printer to hold print jobs in memory until the user enters their code at the device to print their documents. This prevents confidential documents from being left in the output tray for anyone to see and can also be a cost saving feature, eliminating the use of a personal printer for some users, such as senior managers, HR managers and other users who may have to print sensitive documents.
Many manufacturers also offer network security capabilities and security kits as optional extras. These provide data overwrite protection which, when engaged properly, help safeguard device access and documents, aiding in the protection of your valuable information. Make sure you ask your supplier about these features if security is important to you, which it probably should if it is used by multiple users on a network. Check if the printer has ISO/IEC15408 certification. This is the international standard for IT security certification.
Wired and wireless connection options
Wireless devices such as laptops, mobiles and tablets have now become an everyday part of business. The take up of these devices has seen mobile printing gain huge momentum, especially with small businesses and home users who require flexibility.
If you’re purchasing for a larger business, the office is most likely networked and the device may be connected via cable, but for a smaller office or maybe a home office, wireless connectivity will be an important feature to consider when buying new equipment. Most printers now support it.
Environment (eco friendly)
Printers & copiers can be huge consumers of electricity and paper – and all that energy and paper has to come from somewhere. But despite this, modern printers are becoming more environmentally friendly all the time: energy efficiency is one of the prime concerns of manufacturers and consumers alike.
Most models have ‘energy save’ or ‘sleep’ modes that cause the machine to power down if it hasn’t been used for a certain period of time. Also look for “Energy Star” rated printers that save money while protecting the environment through intelligent power management.
Using specific features available in most modern MFD’s also reduce impact on the environment. The ‘Hold Print’ feature will not print a job until the user walks up to the machine and keys in a pin code or password, this can reduce unnecessary printing. Other features are ‘Omit Blank Page’, print ‘N in 1’, where N stands for say 2 or 4 prints. This means you can print 2 or 4 pages onto 1 page, handy when printing for example PowerPoint slides, with 2 or 4 slides printed on 1 page.
Setting the machine and print drivers to Duplex printing by default may be one of the best ways to not only save paper and the environment but also to reduce your paper cost by as much as half! It all helps make your office more efficient and environmentally responsible.
Are industry awards important?
When selecting new copiers, printers and MFPs, may want to consider any industry awards that the products have won? That will depend on who’s reviewed the machine. If the reviewer has based their decisions only on a device’s specifications without ever actually having tested the product, it may not be worth much. In some cases, awards may be based on a quick tour of the product in a manufacturer’s showroom or at a trade show; if an award is given, it should reflect how the machines really operate under real-world conditions.
There are independent testing companies where the only devices even considered for awards are those products that have been tested over the course of weeks or months, under a broad range of real-world conditions, meeting a large number of demands. These awards may then award a specific product that demonstrates outstanding overall performance in areas including high productivity, excellent ease of use, quality graphics reproduction and an excellent overall value equation. Keypoint Intelligence (Buyers Lab) is one of the main testing companies in the industry.
If a machine you are considering has won such an award by an independent testing firm, then all the better, however, if no award has been given for a particular machine, this does not mean it is not worth purchasing. It could mean it has not been tested yet. Another important thing to consider is the supplier and their servicing capability and reputation. As written elsewhere in this guide, it is better to have an average machine with outstanding service, than an ‘award winning machine’ with below average service.
You should also factor consumables, which will need to be replaced periodically, into the overall purchase of a colour copier. The major consumables copiers require are paper, toner and drums.
The cost of consumables will end up being significantly higher over the life of the equipment than the original purchase price.
And finally, what is my budget?
Decide which features are essential, and which aren’t. Expected average monthly print requirements, machine size, paper size and budget constraints must of course be considered when deciding which model copier / multifunction is right for you.
The type of photocopier that is best for your workplace must have the features you need but also be within your budget. More important than initial purchase price, but often not taken into account, is the actual ‘total cost of ownership’ (TCO). This is what it costs to operate the equipment through its life cycle, including consumables, servicing and parts and labour.
It is worthwhile to do a couple of simple calculations over the planned life cycle and to translate this to an effective net cost per copy. This is not always an exact science but can be an indicator of economic efficiencies between certain copier brands and models and may mean a cost saving overall.