The two types of copiers on the market are light-lens and digital. Both use light to fuse toner to paper to duplicate documents. A light-lens copier must scan the original document each time it makes a copy. A digital copier scans the original once, then converts the image to numbers and stores the numbers in memory.

Digital copier users can control when, where and how their documents are copied, without having to stand over the copier. Software that connects digital copiers to computers has become sophisticated enough to enable users sitting at their desks to instruct their copier machines to produce and staple several sets of a document. Users can program digital copiers to execute low-priority copying jobs at night, or find out where their copy job is in the queue.

More agencies are embracing digital copier technology. The Agriculture Department, for example, now sends directives, regulations and maps directly to Kodak digital copiers in its 27 field offices. Field office employees then copy and distribute the documents.

Yet of all copiers sold last year, only 1.2 percent were digital machines. Most experts agree this is because they are so much more expensive than light-lens copiers. Still, most industry officials believe digital copiers are the wave of the future, and that offices will purchase them in greater numbers once the costs associated with memory and special scanners come down.

Whether shopping for a light-lens or digital copier, a purchasing manager's challenge is the same: "You want to avoid buying too much copier-or too little," says Steve Pearl, a product manager at Panasonic. Too much copier might be a machine that can copy full color when the office only produces documents that use color as a highlight. The cost per page of any copy-even black-and-white-made on a full-process color machine is higher than on machines that use limited color. Manufacturers now offer more choices in color copiers, such as machines that copy black-and-white plus one highlight color or copiers that print in "free form color" (black-and-white plus three colors.)

Too little a copier might be a machine with a single 250 sheet paper drawer that works fine until the office begins preparing for a conference, and employees find themselves refilling the paper drawer repeatedly in the middle of copy jobs. Pearl suggests that managers look for copiers with optional, add-on paper drawers. "It's cheaper than buying a second copier."

Copier speeds range from 7 to more than 100 copies per minute. Color copiers and compact copiers are the slowest machines. Typically, the faster the machine, the higher its ticket price.

Machines that make more than 100 copies per minute technically are not copiers at all, but digital duplicators, which use digitizers to transform images into small perforations on master copies. Duplicators from companies such as Oce and Riso require users to roll master copies around ink cylinders. During printing, ink passes from the center of the cylinder through the perforations and onto the paper. For high-volume, black-and-white copying, duplicators boast the cheapest cost per page-about one-third of a cent versus about three cents on a copier. Copy quality of duplicators is inferior to that of copiers, however. On all machines, cost per page drops as the number of copies goes up.

This year's copiers offer features that can free up staff to do other work. Finishing features, for example, are more sophisticated than ever, ranging from automatic stapling to saddle-stitching pamphlets and newsletters. Kodak's ImageSource 70 can copy both 8.5-by-11-inch and 11-by-17-inch documents in the same job, fold the larger pages and then insert them into the document set. Panasonic's FP-7181 inserts plain paper between each transparency in a set of transparencies (a process called "overhead projector interleaving").

Many copier manufacturers are introducing problem-monitoring systems to minimize paper jam and breakdowns. Panasonic, for instance, installed an artificial intelligence system that detects and compensates for changes in temperature and humidity inside the machines.

For managers wanting to keep costs down, environmentally friendly options abound. The General Services Administration allows agencies to purchase "newly manufactured" copiers, which are used copiers that once would have been thrown into landfills. Now they are gutted and have new components inserted into their shells. These machines are cheaper than new copiers, but work just as well.

Other environmentally responsible options include copiers that accept recycled paper; copiers that internally recycle toner; copiers and toner bottles made from recycled plastic; and toner cartridges that fit into community recycling programs. Copiers that meet European Blue Angel Standard requirements emit low levels of hazardous toner dust, ozone and noise.

-Samantha Stainburn

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