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Digital Duplicator Guide

Digital duplicators are an inexpensive alternative to copy machines. Digital duplicators work like risograph or mimeograph machines, using a spinning drum to duplicate documents.

We offer digital duplicators and digital duplicator supplies for high-volume duplicating. We carry several brands including Standard digital duplicators and Riso digital duplicators.

Is digital duplicating less expensive than photo copying?
Digital duplicators are cheaper than copy machines if you are duplicating more than 25 documents at a time. In fact, the higher the volume you duplicate, the more you save. This is why organizations that copy large quantities find digital duplicators an inexpensive alternative to photocopiers. If you copy less than 25 documents, digital duplicating is more expensive than photocopying because of the wax master cost.

Why are digital duplicators less expensive than copy machines? Because digital duplicators use ink, which is significantly cheaper than the toner that copy machines use, to print documents.

Color Printing Comparison - Copier vs. Digital Duplicator
    In order for us to demonstrate why a digital duplicator is more economically fit to print a spot color job, we will use the document shown below as a reference of how color printing works on a color copier and a digital duplicator.
    2-Color Print Sample

    As you can see, the document above is two colors. One being black and the other being hunter green. A simple yet effective use of color within a newsletter type document. This rendition is what the final output would look like.

    Color copiers produce color copies by mixing from the four toner colors available; cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). What that means is that to create a color, different amounts of some or all of the colors of toner are overlaid on the photoconductive surface (the drum) to create the shade desired. In our case of printing the black and hunter green, black is black but the green is comprised of varying parts of cyan, magenta and yellow toners. See portions of each image below:
    Cyan Plate

    Yellow Plate

    Black Plate

    As you can see, to create the hunter green output, there is a mix of cyan, yellow and black. The amounts of each colors coverage varies with the color tone selected. If we were to produce a basic red, the red would be comprised of magenta and yellow. Each color that is produced by a color copier or printer will have different mixes of some or all the colors to make the color tone desired.

    The quality and tone that is printed is dependent on the calibration of the copier and where it lies within its maintenance cycle. The same holds true for color laser printers and bubble jet printers.

    The digital duplicator quite simply images blindly. The operator determines the color of print by selecting the color drum that is installed in the machine. So even if an original was created on the screen as red and black, the operator could select to print it in green and blue by inserting the green drum when imaging the red portion of the document and inserting the blue drum when imaging the black portion of the document. But for our purposes of comparison we'll stick with the hunter green and black document as in our prior examples. Masters for this type of printing are generated as below:
    Green Image (1st master)

    Black Image (2nd master)

    It's fairly obvious that because of the digital duplicator technology, you will use less ink than compared to toner by actually only creating 2 images as opposed to 3 for this document. This does not even take into account the drastic cost differences and yields of ink versus toner or production speeds, which we will discuss in later frames.

    The digital duplicator is able to maintain color integrity because the ink is color matched to a specific shade and is not dependent on maintenance cycles or wear and tear of components.

    In our example we used an all inclusive example to show that a consumer cost for the 11 x 17 copy would be $0.12 each for single sided copy, $0.24 for duplexed. In this example we are going to use that same document and call the coverage area 6% for the black image and 6% as well for the color portions. Remember in the copier world as this 11 x 17 image counts as two clicks. In the template we are using, the copier toner cartridges cost $66 each and can produce about 12,000 letter-sized copies for this coverage. The black toner has the same yield and costs $24.

    Copier Costs
    Cyan Toner Cost per Copy (letter-size)
    Yellow Toner Cost Per Copy (letter-size)
    Black Toner Cost Per Copy (letter-size)
    Sub-Total Toner Cost Per Copy (letter-size)
    Double Click Factor
    x 2
    Actual Toner Cost (11 x 17)

    Now because this is a copier, there are other consumables to consider:
    Color Imaging Unit (x2) 50k yield cost per copy (letter-size)
    Black Imaging Unit (includes drum) cost per copy (letter-size)
    Sub-Total Other Consumables (letter-size)
    Double Click Factor
    x 2
    Total Other Consumables (11 x 17)

    This brings the cost per copy to a whopping $0.072 for just one side of this newsletter, over 14 cents each for duplex which is what most newsletter applications are. Service costs are also not factored in but the going rate for color copiers is running at $0.015 per click, remember that's multiplied by 4 in our example, so we are looking at $0.20 per sheet here.

    We should all understand by now how a digital duplicator becomes more economical as the run length increases. Due to the cost of a master, there becomes a point in which that cost is amortized down to where the duplicator is more cost effective to run than a copier. In most cases versus black and white copiers, that break point is in a 25 copies per original range. The same holds true in our spot color application that we are running here.

    In a newsletter application (considering duplexed printing) the run length would typically be in a much longer area, so let's use 500 copies as our example. We'll be making 2 masters for each side (one in each of the two colors). We'll target our most expensive 11 x 17 digital duplicator the SD650 to draw out our worst case scenario as below:
    Green Ink Cost per Copy
    Black Ink Cost per Copy
    Master Cost per Copy (x2)
    Total Consumables Cost per Copy

    We've already factored in that this is an 11 x 17 document and the digital duplicator does not double-click for the larger size copies. As this is one side of the document we double it for our newsletter and end up with $0.0098 per copy. No matter how you slice it, this job is 90% more cost effective on the digital duplicator than it is on the color copier.

How does a digital duplicator work?
The original document is placed on glass plate, like on a photocopier, or is sent to the digital duplicator from a computer. Then, the image is burned on a wax master in a pattern of tiny dots. The more dots per square inch, or dpi, the better the resolution of the final copy. Digital duplicators burn images consisting of up to 600 dpi.

Once the image is burned into the wax master, the master is wrapped around a drum that contains ink. As the drum spins, the ink is pushed through the tiny holes in the master onto the paper.

Who needs a digital duplicator?
  • Churches use digital duplicators to print literature, worship programs, letterhead, envelopes, business cards and more. Churches save the trouble and expense of outsourcing their printing by purchasing a digital duplicator.
  • Schools print hundreds of copies per day, so printing with duplicator ink instead of photocopy toner saves money for more important funds. See our Digital Duplicator School Guide for more information.
  • Businesses that plan to send out mass mailers or print large volumes of fliers use digital duplicators to save the money spent on printers or traditional photocopiers.

What supplies do I need for my digital duplicator?
  • Wax masters to burn the image on
  • Ink cartridges to put in the ink drums
  • Different colored ink drums to match the color of ink you print with

What accessories are available with my digital duplicator?
  • Many users buy a cabinet to set their digital duplicator on. The space underneath the duplicator is used for storing ink and wax masters.
  • If you duplicate thousands of copies at a time, a high-volume automatic document feeder, or ADF, automatically feeds large stacks of paper into the machine.
  • An editing board allows you to electronically make the appearance of the documents you reproduce different from your original document.
  • A PC interface attaches to your computer, allowing you to send documents saved on your computer directly to your digital duplicator.


Automatic Document Feeder (ADF): An automatic document feeder feeds paper into the digital duplicator, automatically rising to meet the feed slot as the stack of paper diminishes. Digital duplicators come with an automatic document feeder, but some companies need an ADF that holds higher volumes of paper.

DPI: Dots per inch is the number of dots per square inch that are burned into a wax master.

Drum: The drum contains the ink. When the wax master wraps around it, the drum spins and pushes the ink through the tiny holes in the wax master onto the paper.

Editing Board: An editing board is an accessory that attaches to the digital duplicator and allows you to edit the master electronically.

Ink Cartridge: An ink cartridge is a disposable container full of ink that slides into the drum on a tray.

PC Interface: A PC Interface is a computer program that allows you to send documents from your computer directly to the digital duplicator for printing.

Wax Master: The wax master is a small sheet that has hundreds of dots burned in it before it wraps around the drum. When ink from the drum is pushed through the holes, an image is printed on the paper.

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