Just two years ago colour photocopiers were considered too expensive and unreliable for general office duties, but today the devices are the darlings of the workgroup document production segment. Sales of single function colour photocopiers look set to remain fairly static around the 50,000 mark in Western Europe for the next four years, but InfoTrends/CAP Ventures predicts that copier based colour multi-function printers will exceed 650,000 unit placements by 2008.

In the UK total copier placements are expected to decline with a compound annual growth rate of minus 1.5 per cent between now and 2008, but colour toner copiers are forecast to grow at a rate of 19.3 per cent over the same period. Across the whole of Western Europe the CAGR of colour copiers is 13.7 per cent, with the strongest segment being 24+ppm which grew at 655 per cent during 2002/2003 and is expected to grow at 34.5 per year until 2008.

The catalyst for this rapid upswing in the acceptance of colour copying in the office has come from a handful of technological developments which have changed the landscape of copy and print functions in the workplace. A key development in this sector has been the displacement of conventional photocopiers by devices based on laser printer engines which are cheaper and more reliable. Improvements in document scanner technology have also helped, allowing manufacturers to equip laser printers with built in scanners to produce inexpensive multi-function devices which can replace the conventional office copier. The days of the stand-alone copier are numbered, and a growing number of businesses are looking for colour capability in the MFDs that are replacing them.

The UK office colour business manager said “What you are seeing is that instead if manufacturers building traditional console based copiers, they are now producing what are essentially printer engines with a scanner. The advantage of that is that printer engines are seen as being much more reliable than copier engines. So what manufacturers do is build their solution around that printer engine because new scanning technology means that adding a scanner is much easier to do.”

The colour copier market specifically has also benefited from the advancement of single pass technology. Older, four pass machines require the document to be run through the printing engine four times (once for each toner colour, cyan, magenta, yellow and black) which takes a long time and makes paper jams far more likely. Single pass machines run the document through just once, increasing the printer’s speed and reliability – the devices are also smaller and cheaper to produce. Since four pass technology has been established for longer manufacturers are still producing the machines in volume, but they are increasingly being pitched as low end budget options with single pass devices rapidly becoming the order of the day.

The most significant benefit of single pass print engines is that they have enabled vendors to offer their customers colour capable devices which do not add to the cost of their routine monochrome copying and printing. This has been an important milestone. While colour is becoming more widely used, black and white still accounts for the great bulk of office documents and it is imperative that the cost of those documents is tightly controlled. The current wave of colour MFDs allow businesses to obtain devices which have no overhead for the colour capability. For users leasing the devices the cost per click price of black and white pages should, in most cases, be comparable to that of a monochrome machine.

An analyst told us “If you think back to five years ago, the main issues with colour copiers were the reliability of the device, cost per print and providing appropriate finishing. From a technical point of view all of those issues went away about two years ago because of single pass technology. Once that was resolved it changed everything. The fact that customers are not penalised for producing black and white on a colour device meant that people could put these devices into an open office environment.”

The conventional colour copier market was once made up primarily of high end machines with professional quality graphics capability and colour reproduction, but the new breed of affordable machines offer what the manufacturers have dubbed “business colour”. This essentially means that the image quality offered by the devices is perfectly adequate for the likes of letterheads, presentation slides and spreadsheets but not really good enough for applications which demand high quality image reproduction. This said, it is worth remembering that most colour MFDs can produce pretty good quality colour images and while they may not be quite as good at photographic images as inkjet printers they are more than adequate for most purposes.

 

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