Copy machines have been around in offices mostly since the late 1950s, and they're still, as of 2013, a crucial part of the workplace. With so many more options available, understanding the differences between an inkjet copier and a photocopier -- which are significant -- isn't just for intellectual stimulation. It could also be key information that helps you save your business some money.


At first glance, the terms "inkjet copier" and "photocopier" sound quite similar, perhaps making some think there are only superficial differences. However, the distinction between the two is pretty significant. For instance, before "photocopier" became the accepted term, these machines were often called Xerox machines, named after the corporation that first put the photocopier technology -- invented by Chester Carlson in 1938 -- on the market. Inkjet technology arrived on the market later, in the 1980s.


An inkjet copier is basically the "copier version" of an inkjet printer. Sometimes these copiers are standalone and other times they're incorporated into an inkjet printer as part of a multi-function machine. Inkjet copiers, like their inkjet printer relatives, draw liquid ink -- either black or color -- from cartridges and applies it to paper. One view, according to copy repair company Legend Business Group, is that inkjet machines are more for general consumer use but not so much for business use, because of the higher demand for copies in businesses -- and the higher per-page cost associated with inkjet copiers.


Photocopiers don't use liquid ink, they use what's called toner, which is a dry powder contained in a cartridge. While the process is pretty complex, it's basically a combination of light, heat and static electricity. In ultra-simple terms, photocopiers use light to illuminate the image or text be copied, then charges the toner with a positive charge, while the page itself carries a negative charge to attract the toner. The charged toner jumps to the page while heat fuses the toner to the paper.


While photocopiers generally cost more up front than inkjet copiers, the per-copy cost when running a photocopier is much less. For example, a single toner cartridge typically produces thousands of copies, while an ink cartridge only gets you to hundreds-of-copies range. However, the real cost to you and your business depends on how often you make copies. A good way to put everything in perspective is to determine how much it costs you to copy each page. To do this, determine how many copies you make regularly over a certain time period, such as per month. Then find out how much an ink cartridge costs as well as how many copies it yields per cartridge, on average. Do the same for a toner cartridge. Divide the cost of the cartridge and toner by their respective yield rates, and that's the per-copy cost. Multiply that by the number of regular copies you make to tell you how much you're spending.