Color Printers and Copiers Begin to Morph

P> One of the key reasons the Department of Treasury redesigned U.S. currency was to counter the threat of reproduction using color copiers. However, that threat appears to be in the future. At present, the machines have limited market penetration and capabilities. Dataquest estimates there are approximately 43,000 in use - and those are being forced to adapt to meet stiff competition.

The basic principles of color copying have not changed since its introduction in 1987, but the quality of the images produced, as well as the technology used to store and print them, have improved. Prices, of course, have also fallen as the price of both memory and processing continues to plummet.

Unlike black-and-white copying machines, color copiers have four toner cartridges - magenta, cyan, yellow and black. Those colors can be combined in various percentages to produce just about any color in the spectrum. Some colors, however, reproduce better than others. The best colors to reproduce are bright reds and blues. The worst are flesh tones and pale colors -- which are precisely the colors most used in the paper of U.S. currency.

To copy a picture in color, a laser first scans the image four times to pick out elements of each color. That information is fed into a processor, which determines how much of each color to lay down on the paper. One pass lays down each color of toner.

Because each step is repeated four times, color copies take longer to print than black-and-white copies. The fastest black-and-white machines produce 40 to 50 copies per minute. The fastest color copiers produce eight to 10 copies per minute.

Today's copiers can be hooked to a computer network and also used as a color printer. In fact, the distinction between copiers and printers is increasingly disappearing.

Manufacturers will sell from 11,000 to 15,000 color copiers with printer connectivity in the coming year, said Susan Hayes, manager of U.S. printer research at market research firm International Data Corp., based in Framingham, Mass.

The machines are averaging a 15 percent to 20 percent price reduction annually, Hayes said.

A high-end color copier with printer connectivity averages $65,000. Without the printer driver, the cost is probably $40,000, she said.

Cheaper products will hit the market soon. Next month, Canon will debut its CLC 320 copier that will retail for $14,950. The machine replaces the CLC 350, which costs $24,200, and is equal to or better than the 350, said Chris Huling of Canon.

Stiff competition caused by the rise in color printers, as well as an increasing number of color copier manufacturers is behind the price decrease.

So far, Canon is the market leader. According to the latest figures available from Dataquest, Canon had a 63 percent share of the U.S. full-color copier market. Xerox follows with about 18 percent, while Kodak, Ricoh, Minolta and Konica make up the rest of the market.

However, there are newcomers to the color copier market. Panasonic is planning to unveil a line of color copiers next month, according to the market research firm IDC.

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