Printer vs Copier vs Scanner

A printer, a copier, and a scanner. Which of these three is worth buying for your business? Let’s find out in this comparison guide!

Technological advancement is happening rapidly just as product features are also changing quickly. Printers, scanners, and copiers are no exceptions. The features of these three devices are already overlapping. This makes it harder to differentiate which could serve your business’s needs best.

If you are not sure which one you should buy for your small business, you’re at the right place! Here, we will have a detailed comparison between these three devices to help you decide which would be the most ideal device for you. We will do this by answering the most frequently asked questions by users. So keep on reading to know more!


Copier vs Printer

Let us start with copiers and printers. 

What’s the difference between a printer and a copier?

First of all, how do printers and copiers differ? Let’s compare them based on cost, speed, maintenance, and others:

(a) Description

  • A device that is used to create solid copies of digital data (photographs, text documents, etc) by connecting it to a computer wirelessly or via USB
  • Newer printers support scanners, copiers, faxing capabilities, digital cameras, and memory cards (multifunction printers would be the best examples)
  • Various types include solid ink, liquid inkjet, toner-based, dye-sublimation, and inkless printers to cater to the needs of different industries
  • Its main function is to create duplicate copies of images or documents faster and more cost-effectively compared to printing them
  • It uses xerography technology (similar to the ones used by laser printers)
  • A cheaper option to a printer
  • Modern copiers can support printing, stapling, hole punching, faxing, and others
  • It is usually huge so it takes up a lot of space but it can duplicate multiple document and paper types

(b) Cost

  • You can usually get multifunction printers at $100 to $1,000 but there are single-function printers that are worth below $100
  • Though printers are cheaper upfront, toner printers use expensive cartridges
  • Stand-alone copiers for offices typically cost thousands of dollars
  • Since copiers are expensive, most businesses lease them rather than buying one
  • Leasing can cost between $100 and $1,500 a month
  • Copiers use lesser toner compared to printers

Although a lot of people say that photocopying a document is cheaper compared to printing multiple copies, it actually depends on how many pages and copies you need to print. If you will be producing many copies, using a copier would be much cheaper.

But if you are only going to print a few pages, you can save more by using a printer. Nonetheless, owning a copier can be significantly cheaper compared to the overall cost of owning a printer.

(c) Speed

  • It offers faster functionality but copiers can offer better productivity
  • It is an efficient device that is designed for heavy-duty photocopying tasks
  • It is generally faster compared to printers (it can create more copies per minute compared to a printer)

(d) Quality

  • It usually produces higher quality images, especially if it is an inkjet printer
  • It provides low-resolution images

(e) Maintenance

  • It is generally less complicated compared to a copier so less maintenance is required which leads to lower maintenance costs
  • It only encounters simple issues that you can fix yourself like depleted cartridges and paper jams
  • Since they are cheaper, replacing them would be more cost-efficient than fixing major issues that can affect your operations
  • It is more complex compared to printers so it is not easy to repair
  • If your lease agreement includes maintenance services, your lessor might send you an expert to fix the issue
  • The main problem is when issues arise and the repair specialist is not able to fix the issue soon enough, all of your operations might get delayed

Which function uses more ink: printing or copying?

Printing can use more toner or ink to be able to produce rich images. On the other hand, copiers use less toner but they produce less vibrant images. Copiers will only use more toner or ink when you do custom adjustments like the brightness or contrast of the resulting copy.

However, if you are using a multifunction printer with a printing and copying feature, the ink used shouldn’t have any difference. The only difference is the effect because printed documents are clearer compared to distorted copies.

You can read more about the Benefits That Multifunction Printers Offer Small Businesses in the link provided.

Epson T-220 XL Ink Cartridges
HP 950XL 951XL Ink Cartridges

Is it better to print or copy?

When it comes to quality, of course, a printer would surely win. Copying will not give you the same quality as printing would. In fact, not even close. Also, printing allows you to choose from different paper types but copying only supports limited paper types. However, the downside of printing is expensive supplies, especially ink or toner cartridges.

Should your office have a printer or copier?

The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors like your available budget and your needs. For you to decide which is right for your business, consider the factors below:

#1 Your Budget

This would be among the top factors that you need to consider. Keep in mind that average 40-PPM digital copiers that can print, copy, scan, and fax can cost around $8,000. A printer with the same features can be 75% cheaper compared to its copier counterpart.

#2 Your Need for Scan, Copy, and Fax Capabilities

Most modern business printers and copiers have multifunction versions. This means that they can both have printing, copying, scanning, and faxing features. But if you want to cut on your costs and only need to print or copy, just buy a single-function machine to control your costs and reduce required service calls too.

#3 The Available Space in Your Office

A 30-40 page copier usually takes up about 15-20 square feet of space which is pretty big. This is because copiers need space for the following:

    • When the paper tray is opened
    • To access jam-clearance areas
    • To perform services

Printers have a smaller footprint compared to copiers. You can even place them on top of a small desk or cabinet.

#4 The Amount of Downtime You Can Handle

Copiers may require three times more service calls compared to printers. This means that copiers are not able to run the minimum volume requirement set by the manufacturers. So unless you are going to make 15,000 copies a month, printers would be more convenient since they require fewer maintenance services.

#5 The Paper Capacity You Need

If your office is printing over 10,000 pages a month, buying a copier that can handle this volume would be more practical. On one hand, the majority of printers can support up to a maximum of 500 sheets. You would typically encounter fewer jams with smaller trays because paper feeding tends to be smoother.

Printer vs Scanner

Next, let us also compare printers and scanners.

What is the difference between a printer and a scanner?

Let’s start with the differences between the two based on the following criteria:

(a) Description

  • It produces hard copies from soft copies
  • It comes in different prices, size, quality, speed, and output quality
  • The higher the output quality, the higher the price is
  • It generates identical images from a source document that you can process afterward
  • It can scan documents like text pages and photographs and converts them into digital formats

(b) Key Features

  • Print Quality – Minimum: 600 x 600 DPI for black-and-white pages and 1200 x 1200 DPI for color
  • Print Speed – Printers with at least a 10 PPM speed for color pages and 20 PPM for black-and-white pages are considered good
  • Copy Speed – For multifunction printers, it is the speed at which the scanner produces copies after it creates a digital copy of the document
  • Duty Cycle – this is the maximum recommended number of pages that your printer should produce per month
  • Ink Replacement Costs – The expected yield from the toner or ink cartridge
  • Scanning Method – Scanners use either of these two scanning methods: contact image sensors (CIS) or charge-coupled devices (CCDs)
  • Resolution – This is the quality that a scanner can support
  • Scanning Speed – The higher the resolution that a scanner can produce, the longer it will take for it to scan the document
  • Scanning Area – This is the size of the document that the scanner can handle
  • Compatibility – A scanner’s ability to work with computer parts and software

(c) Types

  • Impact Printer – Printers like daisy wheel, line, and dot-matrix printers are impact printers that produce images over papers through an electromechanical impact device just like mechanical typewriters
  • Non-Impact Printer – Laser and inkjet printers are in this category which do not use the hammering effect when printing characters over a paper
  • Flatbed Scanner – It uses a glass bed where you place the document you want to scan
  • Sheet-Fed Scanner – You insert the document you want to scan into a roller
  • Handheld Scanner – You need to operate it manually to scan a document
  • Drum Scanner – Used for scanning highly detailed documents and uses a photomultiplier tube for scanning

Summary of Differences

Below is a summarized comparison table between printers and scanners:

General Description

Acquires input from a computer or mobile devices to generate hard copies

Takes input from documents and converts them into digital formats

Device Type



File Compatibility

Any format or file extension

Some can only handle printed documents and certain page dimensions

Working Mechanism

It renders a digital document over a paper through the creation of charges on photosensitive materials

The scan head uses an illuminating lamp to reflect light onto the lens which is focused over a light sensor array


You can edit and alter the document before you print it

You can only alter the generated image after scanning a document

Can a scanner be used as a printer?

If you have a printer that comes with a scanner, just use the scanner like how you would use a copier device. You can also do some adjustments first before scanning the document like the following:

    • Enlarge or reduce the image
    • Adjust image contrast and brightness
    • Enhance text
    • Remove dust
    • Restore faded colors

How does a scanner on a printer work?

Although scanners are constantly improving, all of them perform similar steps once documents are placed on the scanner glass:

  1. A light sensor array inside the machine will pass under the document while it is being illuminated.
  2. Many lenses and mirrors will reflect the light from the document back to the light sensor array.
  3. A lens will split the light’s colors and the scanner measures the produced electrical charge.
  4. The measurements taken will be converted to something that can be read by your computer so it can interpret it as an image.
  5. The scanner prints the image through the attached printer. It can also upload it to your computer.

Scanners always come with lids that are equipped with pads that help in reflecting light over the scanned document. This makes sure that every detail in the image or text is captured.

Should I buy a printer and scanner separately?

To help you decide whether to buy a scanner and a printer separately or not, let’s compare multifunction (all-in-one) printers and scanners below:


Multifunction Printer
  • It can scan, copy, print, and fax documents
  • A cheaper option for applications that do not require quality scans
  • Some multifunction printers are worth the same as mid to high-end scanners
  • It takes up much less space compared to standalone scanners
  • Since it is designed for one function which is to scan documents, it is better than multifunction printers that can do multiple tasks.
  • It can produce scans with a higher resolution (photo scanner for photographs and document scanner for bulk, duplex document scanning)
  • Faster scanning speeds
  • Ideal for specialized tasks like portable scanning and scanning books, business cards, etc.


Multifunction Printer
  • Since it is not a specialized device, scan quality and speed is not as good and as fast as dedicated scanners
  • Flatbed scanners are bulky so they take up a lot of space
  • It is more expensive compared to all-in-one printers
The Verdict

So should you buy a standalone scanner or an all-in-one printer? Overall, your choice will always depend on your office’s needs. Will you be scanning film products and books? Buy a photo scanner. Will you be scanning only a few pictures or documents? Then a multifunction printer would be more practical.

Don’t worry because scanners and all-in-one printers come in various features so you will surely find one that satisfies your needs.

Why are all-in-one printers cheaper than scanners?

Multifunction printers usually cost significantly less compared to dedicated scanners with document feeders. It might not make sense at first that scanners with built-in print systems cost less compared to scanners without print systems. However, if you are the manufacturer, you would want to generate continuous revenue.

Manufacturers can’t do that with scanners because scanners don’t require many supplies. On the other hand, printers have expensive ink or toner cartridge replacements which can be more expensive than the printer itself. So even if manufacturers sell printers at cheaper prices, they can get more revenue on the cartridges.

If you are looking for affordable compatible and remanufactured cartridges for your printers, you can check out YoyoInk’s products. We offer our ink and toner cartridges at a fraction of our competitors’ prices to make sure that you get the best value for your money.

Canon CRG-126 CRG-128 Black Compatible Toner Cartridge
Brother TN660 TN630 Black Compatible Toner Cartridge

Scanner vs Copier

Lastly, let us take a look at the comparison between scanners and photocopiers here. With the increasing number of multifunction printers for small office or home use, some are overlooking the potential of stand-alone scanners and copiers in ensuring a business’s success.

What is the difference between a scanner and a copier?

Multifunction printers are not always cheaper, especially if you are doing bulk copying and scanning tasks. But when deciding between a stand-alone scanner or a copies, which should you choose? Check out the differences between scanners and copiers below:

(a) Definition

  • Its primary function is to create digital document copies through a flat glass or a reader space
  • It stores the digital copies on your computer
  • Its main function is to make a physical copy of documents onto paper in bulk quantities
  • It uses a flat glass or an automatic document feeder to take in input
  • It records images of a document and then prints a duplicate of it

(b) Key Differences

  • Most will cost more than $100 but some models like portable ones can cost less
  • They are worth much less compared to leasing a copier
  • Leasing them will be cheaper but the cost of leases is also not that cheap
  • It often needs DIY repairs
  • You may need to repeatedly troubleshoot maintenance problems
  • There are times that replacing a malfunctioning scanner would be cheaper compared to repairing it
  • Leasing a copier may include free repairs and a warranty
  • It is more compact compared to copiers but most will require you to connect to your computer or a USB before you can scan
  • It is more effective when you partner it with a computer if you want to edit, email, print, or save the scanned documents to a disk
  • It is larger compared to scanners but you don’t need to connect it to a computer before you can make document copies
  • Fax machines, multifunction printers, and dedicated copiers are the three popular types of copying machines
Required Skill
  • Users need to learn how to use a computer to manage the scanned images like storing and printing
  • Using it is simpler because you only need to push one or two buttons to generate copies
  • When scanning, you will often receive a prompt asking you what to do next with the scanned document
  • The copier directly outputs a duplicate of your document without any additional step

(c) Pros and Cons

  • It is cheaper
  • You can set the input settings as well as choose the output resolution
  • It automatically creates copies in color
  • Ideal for producing high-resolution soft copies
  • You can edit and share the scanned copies over your network
  • It is smaller compared to copiers
  • It allows you to easily store digital copies of your documents in remote areas
  • It can support different paper sizes as well as black-and-white and color prints
  • It can create multiple copies faster and more efficiently
  • High-end versions can collate your documents as well as staple them
  • It is much simpler to operate
  • It cannot output physical copies, only digital files
  • It is slower compared to copiers
  • You need to manually collate the scanned documents
  • Limited functionalities
  • Bulky so they take up a lot of space
  • They are expensive

Can you use a copier as a scanner?

There are multifunction copiers that can also work as scanners and they allow you to scan images and documents into your computer like dedicated scanners. To scan a document or image using your copier, follow the steps below:

1. Place Your Document on the Copier

  • Place your document on the flatbed copier and then close the lid. For large objects like books, close the lid gently and do not force it.
  • For copiers with sheet feeders, you can load the document into the copier’s feed tray.

2. Start the Scanning Process

  • For copiers with controls, just push the scan button to start scanning your document.
  • For copiers without controls, start the scanning process on your computer using scanning software that will automatically save your document or send it through email.
  • If your copier didn’t come with a scanning program, use any graphics editing program that has the feature to scan documents.

So should you buy a scanner or a copier?

In general, buy a copier if your choice for record-keeping and document transmission is paper. Otherwise, choose a scanner if you want a paperless system. But if you are not sure which one you should buy, you can consider a multifunction printer which can do both.

Wrapping Up

Printers, scanners, and copiers have their own dedicated purpose and the choice on which to buy for your small business will always depend on your needs. But hopefully, our guide was able to help you understand their differences to make sure that you get the ideal machine for your business. You might also want to find out which printer is best for small businesses below:

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