The Advantages and Disadvantages of Photocopiers

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Photocopiers go beyond document reproduction to become data-manipulation equipment.
Photocopiers go beyond document reproduction to become data-manipulation equipment. (Image: JaysonPhotography/iStock/Getty Images)

Technology has revolutionized office output processes, turning copiers into giant networkable printers. Just as any convenience offers the prospect of misuse, copiers' high-quality output can facilitate the misappropriation of intellectual property. When you consider what these machines can offer your school or business, their positives may outweigh their disadvantages, but their negatives should prompt you to plan carefully for their implementation and use.

Document Reproduction

Except for low-volume multifunction printers, copiers rely on toner similar to the supplies you buy for your laser printer. The more you spend on the equipment, the better its resolution, up to equipment that produces output virtually indistinguishable from original documents. Full color or monochrome -- black only -- these machines can pump out large volumes of copies in short order. The ease and faithfulness with which they reproduce source material can prompt concerns about information security, data theft, copyright infringement and counterfeiting. In a business setting, a medical or legal office, or any scenario that involves proprietary or confidential data, copiers can pose a threat to the control of information regulated by law or by custom.

Functional Convenience

Early copiers lacked automatic document feeders and couldn't collate multicopy runs. Modern equipment turns the act of duplicating a document into a casual act. Networked to home or office computers, one of these machines can replace multiple desktop printers with technology that automatically produces two-sided copies, collates and staples multipage documents, stores frequently reprinted forms for immediate duplication, faxes from the desktop or the copier glass and emails its output. That convenience can speed and simplify office operations, but the complexity of copier controls can prompt users to choose the wrong options, wasting paper and supplies on extraneous output.

Operating Costs

Because most copiers operate like laser printers, they fuse a powdered mixture of plastic and coloring agents onto the surface of sheets of paper. That fusing process relies on heat, which prompts an appetite for electricity, driving up office utility costs. Copiers also require consumables, including toner that can cost more than the equivalent supplies for laser printers. These high-yield cartridges may last longer than comparable desktop-printer supplies, but that performance carries a higher price tag. Especially in high-volume operation, copiers also can require periodic service to maintain their output performance. A service contract can cover both supplies and maintenance, but it adds another fixed cost to your bottom line.

Data Retention

A copier that stores document information for instant recall and output, and that faxes and emails what you duplicate, uses an internal hard drive to retain page scans for short- or long-term retrieval. That data storage spells convenience for office functions, but it can subject sensitive information to the risk of accidental or deliberate misuse. Like any hard drive, the storage mechanism in a copier can yield secrets long after you erase information and documents from it, and requires the same kind of security provisions you apply to computer hard drives when you sell or decommission a system.

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