Copier Vs. Laser

A common desktop printer
A common desktop printer (Image: Image by, courtesy of Sir Adavis)

With so many options and varieties available, trying to decide between a series of printers or one networked digital copier can be a nightmare for today’s office manager or equipment logistics person. Both copiers and printers produce a relatively similar paper print product for most office needs. That said, however, there are differences, and regardless of each product line’s offerings and promises, each office’s needs should be met on a case-by-case basis.


Printers really came into their own with the personal laser printer. However, because they weren’t the half-gibberish scribbles of dot matrix or the smeared, wet mess of inkjet anymore, laser printers started off very expensive in unit price. Only high-level managers had them for a long time. Most office staff were relegated to a shared laser printer and then had to run to a copier to make multiple prints.

Today, laser printers come in compact, affordable units and can print multiple pages just about as quickly as copiers. That said, while printers are a great convenience, they do require more in the form of different toner cartridges, and they have to be set up to specific computers. Larger laser printers can be networked, but they need sufficient memory to spool everyone’s orders until printing.

Digital Copiers

The modern copier today is light years ahead of the copier of 10 years ago. This is because of the mainstream push of digital copying. Whether scanned at the machine or sent as a computer file, digital copiers standardize all formats and can print them at high capacity quickly. Almost all digital copiers are set up in a network structure in an office to maximize printing efficiency, routing everyone’s business to one machine that can handle it all.

Why Use Printers at All?

Printers still offer significant personal convenience that cannot be achieved with a copier (well, it could, but the modern copiers would take up your entire office). Given their small size and convenience, printers provide great confidential printing unavailable with the networked copier. Unless you're always sprinting from the computer to the copier to pick up every print, your confidential information is going to be available to be read by anyone who picks up a hard copy off the copier output.

Printers also provide redundancy. If all your eggs are parked in a networked copier, and it breaks down, you’re out of luck. With a dedicated printer, you can still get your projects produced into clean hard copy on time, while the copier repairman is busy unbending the copier window screen that was sat on overnight (again).


Vendors of both will say either product is cheaper overall than the other. Both are true or incorrect, depending what point is being discussed. Printers are cheaper up front, hands down. However, printer companies make their money on the expensive toner for printers, which can cost as much as $30 to $40 per cartridge, printing only a few hundred pages at best.

Copiers have a significant up-front cost due to their significant machinery, but their toner is inexpensive considering the thousands of pages that can be produced before replacement. And copiers can last for years, whereas printers seem to become obsolete within two to three.


If you’re primarily a small, digital office, printers are more than likely the way to go. They give you low-cost printing freedom to proof documents before sending them off electronically. However, if you’re a high-capacity hard copy office, such as a law firm, you’ll be better served in terms of cost by a shared copier.

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