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NAICS: 33-3315 Photographic and Photocopying Equipment Manufacturing

SIC: 3861 Photographic Equipment and Supplies

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 33-33153


Laborious, Awkward Beginnings

Before the first copying machine was introduced by 3M Corporation in 1950—the Thermo-Fax™ machine—documents were routinely duplicated as their originals were typed. Two to three thin sheets of so-called onion-skin or tissue paper, each faced with carbon paper, were placed behind the original. The keystrokes transferred the letter image to the copies by impact. To this day some people ask for a cc of a document, meaning a carbon copy.

When more copies were desired than could be reasonably produced in this way, people typed text on special ditto masters. The masters consisted of two overlaid sheets. The upper sheet was used to type on, the backing sheet was covered by a layer of tinted wax, usually colored blue. Typing on the master caused wax from the second sheet to adhere to the reverse side of the front sheet, the wax mirroring the shape of the letters typed. The front sheet, with its reverse marked with wax, was then placed on a printing drum face down exposing the wax images on its back. As the drum turned, an alcoholic solution dissolved just enough of the wax images so that the master, contacted with another sheet—the copy—would transfer the image to the other sheet. Dittoing was limited because the wax wore off after a while. The alcoholic solution could also soften both master and copy and cause the machine to jam.

A more robust method of duplication was by stencil and was known as mimeographing. Stencils were made of thin, waxed paper—more wax than paper but visibly fibrous. Typewriters used without a ribbon could cut a stencil, as the phraseology of the time had it. Held up to light, a stencil looked like a photonegative, the print bright. Stencils had stiff backing sheets to permit their easy handling in typewriters. The stencil itself, with the backing sheet removed, was laid over a perforated printing drum, the inside of the drum generously rubbed down with ink. The drum was then turned, mechanically or by hand, to print the stenciled image to sheets of paper fed mechanically. Many more and sharper copies could be printed in this way, the drum re-inked from time to time. The process could go on until the stencil itself tore.

In organizations of some size, especially those producing a large amount of paper for internal distribution, small offset presses were used in-house to print documents and forms. Images to be printed were made by photographic methods using sensitized metal plates or specially manufactured stiff paper plates on which text was typed directly using electric typewriters. In the new century this technology is used principally by printing companies.

Thermofaxing involved specially manufactured paper sensitive to infrared energy. The original was laid on top of the sensitized sheet and inserted into a machine that applied heat to the original. In all those places where the original had carbon, or print, the carbon itself heated up and passed this heat on to the sensitized sheet. White areas did not heat up. The copy reproduced the image by darkening under the impulse of heat. The method was widely used because it was very handy, simple, and did not include solvents or inks. But nobody much liked the product. Thermofax paper had a tendency to curl, to grow dark, and to become brittle with time. Costs of the process were low, around 1 cent per copy or less, and the equipment was not expensive either. Thermofaxing was a half-step in early morning semi-darkness between labor intensive and/or messy methods of duplication and the brilliant sunrise that came with the invention of xerography.

The Birth of Copying

The discovery of electrophotography, as the art was initially called, is an extraordinary story of the persistence of one individual and of the deafness of large, rich institutions to the knock of opportunity. Chester Carlson, a patent attorney trained in physics, found the need to copy patent applications tiresome and tedious. The job involved not only retyping applications but re-doing their intricate drawings as well. He thought that some method of easy copying would be very beneficial and set to work in his spare time to see what approach might work.

As the story is told by David Owen in Copies in Seconds, a published paper by Paul Selenyi, a Hungarian physicist, who had experimented with inscribing images using a stream of ions, reminded Carlson of the much earlier work of the German professor, George Christopher Lichtenberg, who had used very fine powder to make visible patterns on charged pieces of amber in 1777. These two ideas eventually led to Xeroxing.

In the crucial experiment that proved the concept, Carlson used a flat piece of zinc thinly coated with sulfur as a receptor of his image. The coated plate, rubbed in a dark room with a bit of fur, would take on a charge of static electricity. Carlson was using a piece of glass as the document to copy. On this glass he had written, in black India ink, the phrase 10.-22.-38 ASTORIA, the date of the experiment and the name where it was taking place, namely in Astoria, Brooklyn, New York. Still in darkness Carlson laid this glass on the charged zinc-sulfur plate and then exposed the two items to very bright light. Removing the document, Carlson saw nothing on the plate, but, expecting the image to be there, he next sprinkled lycopodium powder over it. This substance consists of the yellow spores of club moss, the same extremely fine powder Selenyi had also used in his ionic printing trials. Blowing on the plate to remove the powder, he saw the image of his message perfectly reproduced in yellow powder on the plate after the excess was easily blown away. The powerful light he had directed at the plate had caused all areas to lose their charge except those shielded by the dark India ink on his document; the light itself had removed the static charge on the plate everywhere else. The areas still charged held on to the powder very tightly. Carlson next laid a sheet of wax paper over this image and applied a hot iron to pick up the powder from the plate. The powder adhered to the heated wax. The waxed paper had become a perfect copy of the message on the document. The first Xerox copy had been made. It can still be viewed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

It took Carlson seven years of effort to find backers for the serious development necessary to turn this discovery into a copying machine—and then it took another fifteen years before the first effective copier came on the market. His invention protected by patents, Carlson contacted twenty companies trying to get them interested. He found no takers. In 1944 Battelle Memorial Institute, a not-for-profit research organization, agreed to help Carlson develop the technology. Battelle enlisted the help of Haloid Company, a small producer of photographic paper, to bring the product to market. Haloid introduced the first clumsy Model A in 1949. The breakthrough came in 1959 when the 914 copier, fully automated, went on sale and became an immediate success. Haloid changed its name to Xerox in 1961. The name itself, trademarked in 1948, was fashioned by joining the Greek word xeros meaning dry to the Greek, graphein, meaning to write.

In the commercial model Carlson's zinc plate is a drum whose surface can be charged. The document is laid print-side down on glass. Powerful light is directed at the document and reflected down on the drum as it turns. A precise reflection is ensured by using mirrors. Where light reaches the drum, thus where the document is white, the charges on the drum's surface are neutralized. The printed or other dark areas of the document remain charged on the drum. The drum, as it turns, passes a source of toner which corresponds to the yellow lycopodium spores. The toner is oppositely charged and adheres selectively to the drum. As the drum continues to turn, it touches the sheet that will hold the copy. The sheet itself is also given a charge but greater than that of the drum so that the toner transfers to the paper, also by electrostatic attraction. A strong source of heat is then applied to the paper to cause the toner to melt and fuse into the fibers of the sheet.

Digital Copying

Toner for copiers is made of tiny, spherical carbon and polymer particles in size between 5 and 7 microns. A micron is one millionth of a meter and thus is extremely tiny. Printer resolution is defined in dots per inch (dpi). A good quality printer will have a 600 dpi resolution meaning that a square inch will hold 600 dots—any one of which may be black or white (or some other color and white). A standard 8.5 × 11 inch sheet of paper at 600 dpi will accommodate 56,100 dots. In preparing documents on a computer, the machine can readily divide the page into many thousands of sequential dot-lines, known as rasters, and send these lines to a printer dot by dot and line by line. Similarly, a high-resolution scanner can look at a document raster by raster and capture what it sees as 56,100 separate bits of data, storing them in computer memory as 0s or as 1s depending on whether the tiny areas are white or dark. These modern capabilities in combination have produced both laser printers and digital copiers.

Laser printing was invented by Gary Starkweather in 1969; he was an optician working for Xerox. It occurred to him that he could user lasers, capable of producing very tiny beams of light, to inscribe a page on a xerographic drum. He could send light for every dot he wanted to be white and simply withhold the light from dots he wanted to be black. Spots refused the light would attract toner. All other areas would be neutral. A computer that had already divided a document in its memory into a matrix of dots could send the signals to the laser sequentially. Digital copying developed from laser printing. A digital copier first scans a document into a copier's memory and then laser-prints that digital image to paper by means of drum and toner.

Since the development of digital copying, ordinary copiers are called analog, which reflect light from the entire page to be copied or digital, which send light in dot-sized increments. The advantage of digital copying is that in making many copies less energy is used; less light is used. The scanned image can also be faxed, permitting functions to be combined. The digital copier can thus be used as a fax machine, a scanner, and as a printer. Such devices are often referred to as multi-function printers or MFPs. In the first decade of the twenty-first century digital printers were rapidly displacing analog machines. Furthermore the two categories, copiers and printers, were converging into a common imaging technology.

Categories, Segments, and Pricing

In addition to the digital/analog divide, copiers are classed as personal and business copiers, monochrome and color, single- or multi-function, and are divided into segments by speed, the speed expressed as pages per minute or ppm. There are seven speed segments with the following ppm ratings:

  • PC—1 to 10 ppm
  • Segment 1—11 to 20 ppm
  • Segment 2—21 to 30 ppm
  • Segment 3—31 to 40 ppm
  • Segment 4—41 to 69 ppm
  • Segment 5—70 to 90 ppm
  • Segment 6—91 ppm or higher

The first segment is referred to a PC instead of by number and stands for personal copier. Resolutions associated with digital copying begin at 300 dpi and reach 2,400 dpi at the highest end delivering quality equivalent to professionally printed, glossy magazines.

Personal copiers cost around $300-500; inkjet copiers can be cheaper. Inkjets work like digital copiers but, instead of toner, tiny bubbles of ink are released for each dot in place of toner, essentially boiled to a burst. Digital copiers for business start around $1,500 per unit for 15 ppm production rates increasing in prices as speed advances. High-end copying systems will cost around $40,000, according to Business Week's Buying Guide, but mass copying systems, used in printing businesses and major corporate centers, producing at rates of 100 ppm and greater and monthly volumes of 600,000 to 800,000 pages, will cost $100,000 and more. Color systems cost 20 to 30 percent more than comparable black and white printers. Special, optional features can raise the price of acquisition further. Among these are networking features and automatic document feeders (ADFs) capable, for instance, of copying bound documents without human assistance. Copying requires toner. Toner is purchased separately and, in the industry, represents a larger market than the hardware itself for copier companies with a sufficiently large product placement in the market. A reasonable ratio, based on separate reporting by corporations suggests that for every dollar spent on hardware, an average of $1.35 is spent on toner.


Data on domestic production of copiers from the U.S. Census Bureau are available only for the year 2002. In that year domestic manufacturers shipped goods valued at $615.2 million. Data collected for the 1997 Economic Census five years earlier suppressed all data. The Census Bureau does that when revealing shipment data would disclose the sales of one or two producers. The value in 1997 was greater by inference because the total industry category of which copiers are a part (Photographic and Photocopying Equipment) had total shipments more than four times greater in 1997 than 2002—$4.5 billion in 1997 versus $1.1 billion in 2002. As part of the domestic manufacturing economy, this sector was in sharp decline during the period 2000 to 2006 with most of domestic demand satisfied by imports. Exactly the same patterns also characterize the computer and peripherals categories.

With Census Bureau reporting covering only a tiny fraction of total activity, market research organizations have filled the vacuum by aggregating data on the industry and publishing it for stiff fees to subscribers only at costs of thousands of dollars per report. Two organizations prominently follow this industry: InfoTrends, Inc., and Lyra Research, Inc. These companies occasionally release data on unit placements but do not release dollar valuations. Dollar estimates on the market occasionally appear. Thus M2 Communications Ltd., put the market in 2003 at $24 billion, a number also echoed by Business Week and mentioned by Hewlett-Packard spokespeople.

The market in units from 2001 through 2006 is shown in Figure 69, the numbers shown based on unit placements reported by InfoTrends. The data show an essentially flat market during this period. From the peak in 2001 to 2006 unit placements declined at an annual rate of 1.7 percent, monochrome copiers at the rate of 3.8 percent, but color copiers showed very healthy growth of 22.4 percent per year.

Although dollar valuations are difficult to get, a general feel can be obtained by looking at user group subdivisions provided by InfoTrends for 2002. In that year personal copiers represented 12.1 percent and business copiers 87.9 percent of units. If we assume an average price of $500 per unit for personal copiers, a mid-level average of $5,000 per unit for 85 percent of the market, and a $100,000 per system expenditure for 2.75 percent of top end buyers, the calculation produces an average unit price of $7,073. This would suggest that the $24 billion market in 2003 was put together from hardware valued at $10.3 billion and toner supplies of $13.7 billion. Applying the same ratios to 2006 unit placements, the market in that year would have been $24.9 billion, $10.6 in hardware and $14.3 billion in toner. To be sure, these are very approximate numbers but provide an interesting assessment of the hardware to toner relationship. These values compare to data for computer printers, based on much better statistical information available from the government's Current Industrial Reports showing hardware sales in 2005 of $8.7 billion and toner/ink cartridge sales of minimally $11.8 billion.


Participants in the U.S. market are Brother, Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, Konica Minolta, Kyocera, Muratec, NEC Corporation, Océ, Olivetti, Matsushita, Ricoh, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, and Xerox. Of these companies eleven are Japanese, one is Korean, one is Dutch, one Italian, and two are U.S. corporations.

Brother Industries, Ltd.

This Japanese company began as a sewing machine manufacturer. Brother later added typewriters. That experience helped it enter the computer printer market. The company entered the copier market by way of laser printers and hence by the digital copying route.

Canon Inc.

This company is the leading copier manufacturer in the world with U.S. market share of approximately 37 percent. The company is well known as a camera producer as well and came into the market by developing its own copier technology. Canon, in effect, invented copying for a second time by developing an alternative technology, known as New Process and abbreviated as NP. It introduced the product in 1970. Notably, the NP series did not violate any of the Xerox patents. Canon initially under-priced Xerox in the business market and then introduced desktop copiers aimed at the small office and home market. Canon's leadership opened the market widely to competition. Canon's sales in 2006 were ¥4,157 billion, or $33.8 billion.

Hewlett-Packard (HP)

This company is the world's top-ranked producer of laser printers. The strong convergence between printers and copiers led HP to announce its entry into the copier business in 2003.

Hitachi Ltd.

This company is a major producer of electrical equipment, originating in 1910 as an electrical repair shop. Hitachi became an electronics company and, by this route, also began offering a wide range of electronic products, including printers and copiers made by Hitachi Koki Imaging Solutions, Inc. Hitachi also responded to the shift from analog to digital copying by establishing a major reseller support activity in the United States in 2000.

Konica Minolta Holdings, Inc. (KMH)

KMH is the result of the merger of Konica and Minolta in 2003. Both companies began in the camera field. KMH subsequently sold off its camera business but remains an important participant in the printing and copying industries.

Kyocera Corporation

Kyocera is a diversified global corporation selling telephones, cameras, solar generating systems, wireless network systems—and printers and copiers. Kyocera's origins were in ceramics. The company operates under the Copystar name in the United States.

Muratec America, Inc.

This company is the subsidiary of Murata Machinery, Ltd. Muratec illustrates trends in technological convergence in another way. The company began operations in the United States as a seller of fax machines and later built its comprehensive product line of copiers around this expertise.

NEC Corporation

NEC is a global electrical/electronics company with substantial U.S. based manufacturing operations. The company was originally called Nippon Electric Company but changed its name in English to NEC in 1983. The company's products extend across the entire spectrum of computing, including imagining systems.

Océ N.V.

This is a Dutch company which, in the United States, is the inheritor of the copying business originally developed by Pitney Bowes. That company spun off its imaging activities in 2001 to an independent entity known as Imagistics. Océ acquired Imagistics in 2003.

Olivetti SpA

This Italian typewriter company offers a full line of printers and copiers, including multi-function devices incorporating faxing. The company is most active in the United States through Royal Consumer Information Products, Inc., the one-time Royal Typewriter Company. Royal sells an extensive line of toners for printers and copiers, with products offered for all major brands.

Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, Ltd.

This company is better known in the United States as Panasonic and operates as Panasonic Corporation of North America. The company offers a complete line of office systems ranging from color scanners to complete document management systems at the high end.

Ricoh Company Ltd.

Ricoh is one of the top four copier producers in the world. Like Canon, Konica, and Minolta, Ricoh began as a camera company. Ricoh introduced its first copier in the 1950s and the first digital fax machine in the early 1970s. In addition to growing its business from within, Ricoh has also expanded by acquisitions. In the United States it sells under the Lanier and Savin names. It also owns the German firm Gestetner. Ricoh's sales in 2006 were $16.8 billion. Three-quarters of Ricoh's revenues are associated with its imaging products, thus printers and copiers.

Samsung Electronics

Samsung is a global conglomerate based in South Korea. It grew from a company trading in agricultural products and foods into an electronics giant. In the United States Samsung sells mobile phones, TV sets, computers and peripherals, home appliances, semiconductors, telephone systems, and professional equipment. The company's copier lines are part of its computer/peripherals business.

Sharp Electronics Corporation

This company is ranked second overall in the copier business with market share in the United States of approximately 13 percent. Sharp's 2006 revenues were ¥2,797 billion ($24.1 billion). The company's copier activities are part of its Information Equipment segment, 15 percent of its sales, thus $3.6 billion. That segment, however, includes computers, monitors, printers, calculators, and other related product categories. Sharp's largest segment is Audio-Visual and Communications Equipment, thus television sets and DVD players, accounting for 39 percent of its sales. The company also sells electronics components.

Toshiba Corporation

Toshiba celebrated its 125th birthday in 2000; the company began as a manufacturer of electrical products and components and evolved into a global electronics company. Toshiba divides its product offerings into four groupings: color copiers and copiers for small, medium, and large work groups. The company offers products across the line in the electronics category as a whole, including laptops, printers, and hard drives.

Xerox Corporation

This pioneer in the product category is the third-ranking producer with a market share of 10 percent in the United States. From the introduction of the 914 copier in 1959 until 1970 Xerox dominated copying because its invention was well protected by 600 patents. Canon's ability to circumvent these patents in 1970 heralded a more competitive era. That competition was further stimulated by a 1975 ruling by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission requiring Xerox to freely license its technology of dry copying to others. The company thus lost market share steadily as, above all, Japanese companies entered the market. Xerox, however, remains the dominant provider of high-end systems across the world. Company sales in 2006 were $15.9 billion.


The flow of components which finally results in a finished copier is very much the same as the flow of components across the entire electronics industry. In effect this means that components are predominantly manufactured in Asia with some production in Europe as well. Most assembly and testing operations are also conducted outside the United States in areas with relatively low labor costs. In the latter years of the twentieth century manufacturing first began to move away from industrialized countries toward countries in which labor coast were lower.

This movement continues in the twenty-first century and much of manufacturing and assembly work in moving from the developed Asian economies like Japan's and South Korea's to China and elsewhere. The inherent characteristics of copiers, as of other electronic products, favor this logistical dispersal of functions: componentry is light in weight but high in value thus able to bear freight charges. Most products reaching U.S. customers arrive in the United States at sea ports.


Distribution of personal copiers takes place through office supply chains, mass merchandisers, electronics retailers, and computer stores. Most of the volume, however, passes through business-to-business equipment dealers. Such dealers often specialize in a single major brand of copier or carry two brands that do not directly compete for the same market. Dealers are often active in computer distribution, systems integration, and service activities as well. The dealer networks, thus, have comprehensive technical capabilities to serve larger operations effectively. They typically service equipment after installation and may sell supplies.


Copiers are communications tools in that they imply distribution of the same information to many. Copiers are purchased by businesses or institutions and by individuals operating in similar contexts, thus the self-employed, the researcher, the freelance writer or analyst. Most high-end systems serve institutional or corporate bodies for internal communications. Some systems, however, are purchased by professional printing organizations to be used side-by-side with offset and other printing operations for high-volume jobs.


For those who use single-function analog copiers adjacent markets are printers, fax machines, and scanners. With multi-function copiers—more often referred to as multi-function printers (MFPs)—scanning, printing, faxing, and copying are built-in features requiring only a certain amount of employee training in their use. MFPs, to the uninitiated, may at first appear daunting. Operating such machines, however, rapidly becomes habitual, even if the user must first key in a password.

In that modern copiers have scanning capabilities, thus the ability to digitize the image of document pages, an alternative market is optical character recognition (OCR) software. A scanned image can be viewed by the user but cannot be manipulated. OCR software is designed to analyze graphic images line by line and to recognize the shapes of letters and other symbols. These are then stored sequentially as numbers as defined by the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII). In other words, the images in black and white become characters that can be edited as text.

Dealers in this field participate in a substantial services market in which networking computers, MFPs, and Internet connections is job one. Networking of computers, printing from remote stations, balancing the load between multiple MFPs, and similar systems-integration work is not considered part of the copier business but at least in part creates a demand for it.

Alternatives to the copier technology are offset and letterpress printing services. These traditional technologies, however, are actually being eroded by copiers rather than offering genuine alternatives to it.


Major thrusts in R&D in this industry are driven by the universally-perceived transition from analog to digital copying. Opportunities in this area are offered by miniaturization of large business systems, particularly the use of laser printer. MFPs based on inkjet technology are available fairly widely at desktop size. The future of copying is multi-colored. Research is devoted to making color-lasers better by improving toners and reducing the time it takes to put down four colors instead of one, thus increasing copying speeds. Resolution is important and is still receiving development dollars with the industry foreseeing the ultimate replacement of offset printing with very high performance color copiers.


Perhaps the most visible trend in this industry is the fusion of copying and printing. It is already virtually impossible to tease apart the two segments when looking at the reports of corporations engaged in selling both kinds of machines. Hewlett-Packard's entry into copiers as late as 2003 is an indicator of trends; copier producers have made the move in the other direction; as they adopted digital copying, they also entered the printer markets. In the developed world both industries are mature and are growing slowly. The ability to cluster functions such as scanning, faxing, copying, and printing gives producers opportunities to tempt its customers to upgrade.

The second major trend is from black and white to color copying. As shown earlier, color copiers are growing in the United States and elsewhere; monochrome machines are losing ground. The process is relatively slow, explained by Lyra Research, Inc., because corporations, while adding color capabilities here and there, are not willing to upgrade up-and-running systems until these must be replaced.


Copier products, by their very nature, are produced beginning from design to final shipment with a particular user in mind, that user defined by his or her throughput requirements, thus maximum page production in a month or, for home users, in a minute. As already noted earlier, the industry uses a PC (personal copier) and six other segments, each defined by output per minute. Personal copiers form a distinct segment moving through conventional retail channels. Choice of machine to purchase is negotiated in the stores as buyers decide what kind of speed will suit them. In the business channel where specialized dealers represent the interface between producers and users, machine or system selection takes place in the course of surveying requirements. Marketing approaches are typically based on promoting technical features and cost efficiencies achievable by the user.


Association for Computing Machinery,

Business Technology Association,

Computer & Communications Industry Association,

Consumer Electronics Association,

Electronic Industries Alliance,

IEEE Computer Society,

National Electrical Manufacturers Association,

Portable Computer and Communications Association,


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see also Copy & Printer Paper, Optical Goods, Printers