Copiers vs. Duplicators: What's Your Best Bet?
Color copiers and digital duplicators have come a long way in the past decade. But which one is right for your in-plant?
Those in the color copier camp point to the superior color reproduction, inline finishing and powerful digital capabilities of their machines; others find tremendous value in the low cost, high speeds and product versatility inherent in digital duplicators.
Choosing between the technologies first requires an understanding of the benefits and limitations of each machine, as well as an examination of the product mix and business focus of your in-plant operation.
Digital duplicators look similar to copiers; they have a glass surface from which originals are scanned for duplication, or they can take a file directly from a computer. Duplicators work like mimeograph machines and actually stencil the master image onto the paper using ink, rollers and a plate material.
The original image is burned into a wax master, creating tiny holes for the imaged areas. The master is wrapped around a spinning drum containing ink. As the drum rotates, the ink is squeezed through the holes in the master to create the image on the paper. Color is determined by the operator, who inserts the appropriate color drum into the device.
Conversely, color copiers reproduce color by mixing from the four toner colors of cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK).
When it comes to deciding which type of printing system to purchase, Fred Simone, national sales manager with Duplo USA, advises in-plants to first decide on a couple of key factors including, what size machine they want (depending on physical space and cost) and what type of applications they will be running.
"If they want to do their applications in full color, then they must get a color copier, which uses four colors," he explains, adding, "If they are doing black-and-white or spot coloring then they will want to consider a duplicator."
Short Or Long Runs?
A color copier is good for short runs of less than 20 copies per job and full-color jobs, and many have the added advantage of allowing for inline finishing, which duplicators typically do not have.
"Duplicators are good for long runs of 25 or more copies per job, and for jobs that involve using a wide array of paper stocks and sizes, including heavy card stock, NCR, envelopes, and more," says Simone.
Dan Desmond, marketing manager at Standard Duplicating Machines, agrees that this kind of versatility is a big selling feature for digital duplicators.
"Color copiers are great for flat sheets of paper, but for applications like envelope printing and other such materials that you want color on, a digital duplicator is more versatile," says Desmond. "In-plants that might be sending out business cards and envelopes because they've converted to copiers can save a ton of money and gain control over their job with a digital duplicator."
Desmond explains that digital duplicators don't produce satisfactory results on process color work since it would require four passes and pose registration and handling issues.
"When you get into spot color, however, the speed is good and you can produce two-color work at 120 sheets per minute economically, regardless of size."
In addition to stock versatility and spot color benefits, Kevin Hunter, director of sales support for RISO, points to the high print speeds (up to 130 cpm, he says) and the economy of duplicators. Hunter estimates that duplicators print for as little as $.003 per copy per color, compared to $.07 to $.10 per copy for color copiers.
Ink is also significantly cheaper than toner, Hunter says, making the cost of supplies much less on a duplicator.
"There are inks and masters for printer-duplicators—very similar to press technology," he explains. "The full-color copiers require four different toners and often developer. To produce 15,000 two-color flyers, a printer-duplicator would require less than $65 in supplies, whereas costs for the full-color copier could be as high as $600."
Richard Reamer, product marketing manager at Canon USA, suggests that copiers' tremendous color abilities are still what makes them attractive. The rise in desktop color printing has boosted demand for full-color work. Toner technology within production color copiers has improved in leaps and bounds, offering near-offset quality work in a digital environment, Reamer explains.
"Our copiers operate in a large color space, and the makeup of toner and the size of the particles allows our machines to produce a very good quality print that comes closer to matching offset," he says. "Canon's CLC machines operate at 400 dpi, and through color management and interpolation, we can get razor-sharp images and good detail at 800x400 dpi. We can even come close to reproducing many of the Pantone colors."
Finishing It Up
On the finishing end, virtually all color copiers offer stapler and sorter abilities. Some offer stackers to make offline finishing more convenient, as well as add-on inline booklet makers with folding, stitching and trimming.
Xerox's Larry Zusman believes that the network capabilities of copiers and production digital printers give them tremendous benefits in an in-plant environment.
"If you look at any corporate environment today, you will find boxes of offset material that will be thrown out. Companies realize this a very ineffective way to produce manuals and brochures, which quickly become out of date," he says, pointing to the effectiveness of networked devices to not only produce short run color, but also to print on demand.
"And when you think of the whole idea of Web-to-print and personalized communications, you really can't do these things with any other non-networked technology," he adds.
As the distinction between color copiers and high-end production digital printers continues to diminish, Zusman believes duplicators will lose their niche appeal versus the more versatile digital/toner technology.
According to Duplo's Simone, however, duplicator technology is moving towards more automation, better connectivity, lower cost per copy, multiple colors in a single pass and air-fed systems in order to secure their place in an increasingly toner-based world.
"Vendors are working on technologies that will allow the machines to do online finishing, duplexing and a four-color process in one pass," he says.
Riso's Hunter adds, "One distinct advantage of today's printer-duplicators is the built-in system controllers." These controllers allow for direct connection to computers. This increases the output quality and allows the end user to have more control over output. Hunter points to RISO's new V8000, which allows the end user to print two colors in one pass.
"The V8000 has been useful for many of our current in-plant placements, and we expect more growth in the coming months," he says.
A Quality Product
The image quality of duplicators has also been enhanced through the development of higher-quality master materials and more refinements on the ink products themselves, making copies clearer, sharper and faster to dry. According to Desmond, Standard has also been developing an ultraviolet system for the end of the duplicator to further broaden its stock capabilities and improve the curing capabilities of the ink.
"We don't see duplicators as a replacement to the color printers or copiers," Desmond concludes, "but an augmentation that allows a user to control costs by determining where a certain type of work is done best."
Related story: Managed Print Services: Document Solution or Cash Cow?