Copiers and printers are vital parts of the equipment of any business small or large. Very often, a printer is the first piece of hardware purchased after the PC. But copiers for a long time have been a much more distant goal for many, as the price of these machines represented a significant investment.
Things have changed now, not only because copiers can be leased, and their price spread over monthly instalments, but also because a new, much more affordable form of copiers has surfaced. What could sound like good news also means that it’s more difficult than ever to choose the right copier for one’s needs.
At a time when the lines are blurring between copiers and printers, how can each type of machine be defined? And as prices have fallen so much, is it better to rent, lease of buy a copier or printer? Which brands are catching up the fastest and can be recommended on this always changing market?
Identifying business copiers and printers: the lines are blurring
With the latest technological advances and marketing efforts, distinguishing copiers and printers has become a pretty difficult affair. Many different types of machines are now available, serving different purposes... or serving the same purposes differently.
Defining copiers and printers
Copiers used to be only the big and bulky, free-standing office machine used solely for the purpose of copying documents. These machines could originally only be operated from their own control panels.
Pretty quickly, they got connected with computers so they could also be used as printers, and then also as scanners. This also meant that, at least to some extent, they could be controlled from computers as well.
Printers continued to exist on their side, with special models for special purposes, for printing photos, for printing special formats like A3 paper, for printing on the go with battery-powered portable printers...
Then scanners and printers were merged, and multifunction printers were introduced. These small printers can be used as copiers and are small enough to sit on a table. They now can even be operated independently from a computer for nearly every operation.
Types of copiers and printers
Two opposite trends are actually developing at the same time: on the one hand, new niche markets keep appearing with devices catering for more and more specific needs, and on the other hand, single devices become more and more versatile, combining more and more functions.
As a result, today’s market for copiers and printers now features:
- Traditional free-standing office copiers,
- Desktop multifunction printers, 3-in-1 multifunction printers putting together a printer with a scanner and a copier, while 4-in-1 machines combine the convenience of printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines,
- Portable printers which can be battery-powered, and in some cases even be used as portable copiers,
- Photo printers for photo-quality printing,
- Special format printers like A3 printers.
Each of these categories can work based on either laser printing technology or inkjet printing technology (LED technology being a variation of laser technology)
How to get the equipment: renting, leasing and buying
B2B customers with heavy document management needs have three options to get their desired equipment in their office: buying it, renting or leasing it. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages and choosing between these is really is a question of precisely defining one’s needs.
Simple printers, except for special, advanced models used for very specific needs such as huge A2 printers have been cheap enough to be purchased outright for many years now.
But the introduction of multifunction printers has definitely also made copiers affordable for most small businesses.
Capable inkjet multifunction, combining wireless printers and scanners as copiers can be purchased for under £100, and more productive laser models can be bought for under £200 – or even just under £250 for colour laser multifunction printers.
Advantages of buying a printer include total freedom of choice of the model and its supplies (which often means cheaper supplies) and escaping long-term contracts with provisions which may cause some unpleasant surprises.
Rental has the immediate advantage of making even the most advanced and expensive copiers accessible to most small businesses.
Rental contracts often come with a full-service contract including maintenance and supplies, so that the user only has to pay the monthly bills.
Short-term contracts are available, in order to rent a machine for just a few days if needed, and it’s possible to change to a newer, more advanced machine very easily.
However, rental plans often include tiered usage plans based on the number of prints per month... but with a minimum monthly fee.
Supplies are also often more expensive when purchased from the service provider within the scope of the service contract, rather than bought independently.
Also, potentially huge deposits required minimise the advantage on the reduced initial investment.
Leasing plans try to combine the advantages of buying and of renting.
Initial investment is cut, service is included, and at the end of the lease plan the machine can be completely purchased by the customer at a discounted price.
However, monthly rates tend to be higher than in rental plans, and it’s often more difficult to change the machine for another model.
Penalties for contract termination can be very punishing.
Major manufacturers or business printers and copiers
In a much-crowded market, several manufacturers are renowned for the quality of their products. And even though almost all of them try to offer all types of copiers and printers, each one of these still has his fortes.
Scanners, copiers, portable printers, photo printers, A3 printers, multifunction printers, faxes, large office copiers... Canon manufactures them all. Covering all the range of imaging products, Canon is not only a household name for domestic electronic appliances. It is also one of the most dedicated enterprise solutions providers, with many large office copiers as well as small multifunction printers. Another sign of their dedication to the B2B market is that they are one of the only copier manufacturers in the UK to directly offer leasing services for its products.
HP is simply the largest manufacturer of printers in the world. Hewlett-Packard started it all in the Silicon Valley, as the company was launched in Palo Alto in 1939. Together with Canon, HP produces the largest range of printers, both for home and office use. Their inkjet printers offer some of the best performance-to-cost ratio on the market, and for enterprise customers, they offer a very comprehensive list of managed print services.
Epson has always been one of the most innovative companies in the printer business, as they invented the piezo-electric crystal inkjet printing technology and also ink tank printers. Epson printers are very highly regarded for the quality of their photo prints.
Epson is remarkable for producing most of the only large office copiers using inkjet printing technology, reaching speeds normally only associated with laser copiers.
This is the company which started it all. Xerox simply invented modern copiers, and also invented laser copiers, and therefore laser printers too. The American company is still very much a force in the market, producing a very big range of models, including a long list of surprisingly affordable laser multifunction printers.
Contrary to what the name suggests, Brother is, and has always been a Japanese company. Created in 1908, the company started as a repair shop for sewing machines. It is now one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of these products. The connection with printers and copiers is easily understood, as dot matrix printing, the oldest electronic printing technology for business use, works with needles... Brother is completely focused on the enterprise market, with a strong specialisation on small, productive yet cheap multifunction printers.
As long as copiers and printers are concerned and in the UK, Sharp is only present in the enterprise market, and only for large copiers. Sharp produces some of the most productive and specialised heavy-duty printers and cater for many different specific industry needs in terms of copying and document management.
Another Japanese company, Ricoh is specialised in high-end copiers, either as multifunction printers or as large office copiers. Among Japanese copier manufacturers, they are those who have the biggest footprint in the UK to serve B2B customers and propose a long list of enterprise services.
Konica Minolta entered the market of printers and copiers through its specialisation in imaging products. Konica used to be specialised in printers, and Minolta in copiers, so the merger between the two companies allowed for a very complete range of products.
Yet another Japanese brand, Oki is originally a telecoms company, which produced the first telephone made in Japan at the end of the 19th century. Printers and copiers have been the other strong business for Oki since even before the Second World War. Oki is known for its wide range of LED printers and copiers, as efficient as laser machines, yet much more affordable.
Kyocera was founded in Kyoto, Japan, 1959 and is originally a specialist of ceramics. These origins explain the name of Kyocera which is a portmanteau for Kyoto Ceramics... and an initial specialisation in semi-conductors. Kyocera manufacture a very comprehensive range of advanced multifunction printers and of large office copiers at very affordable prices.