Digital Duplicators: The Technology That Just Keeps on Going



Lynn Nannariello

The expression “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is particularly true when it comes to digital duplicators, a tried-and-true technology that has been around for decades. When BLI asked RISO Marketing Manager Suzanne Farley what has changed most over the previous generation of the company’s duplicator products, she said that the devices have become more environmentally friendly, offering such features as ECO mode. According to the company, ECO mode reduces power consumption without compromising quality. When BLI recently tested a group of RISO’s current line of digital duplicators, it, in fact, found no visible difference in the image quality output produced by the RISO EZ391U with ECO Mode turned on and that produced with ECO Mode turned off.

In addition to ink-save mode, which the company says can reduce ink usage by up to 20 percent, these RISO devices use soy ink, natural-fiber masters and a mercury-free LCD panel. Duplo and Ricoh, the other two major players in the digital duplicator market, also offer “green” features on their devices. For example, the Ricoh Priport DX 4640PD offers automatic duplexing—the only digital duplicator currently on the market to offer this feature—which helps to reduce paper usage. The Ricoh Priport DX 3343offers Instant Start Up Technology, which eliminates warm up time, thereby reducing energy consumption, and Automatic Shut-Off, which completely shuts down the device after a user-specified period of inactivity, which the company says makes it even more energy efficient than units with energy-save mode. The Quality Start feature offered by the Ricoh Priport HQ7000 has the device carry out a few idle spins of the drum before printing in the event that the device has not been used for a while or a color drum that hasn’t been used recently is installed in the device, both of which can affect image quality, resulting in wasted ink and paper.  Ricoh and Duplo models also offer an ink-save mode.

How Digital Duplicators Work

A digital duplicator works like a stencil, with ink pushed through series of holes cut into a non-porous material to form images. In this case, the stencil is called a master, which is in essence a porous, tissue-like layer covered with a coated film. Tiny holes are digitally cut through the film, and then ink is forced through the film to create the impression on the page. Because digital duplicators can produce many copies from a single master at high speeds, they are extremely economical compared to copiers when producing many copies from an original. And the more copies that are run off a single master, the more cost efficient the process. For example, when producing 100 impressions, the RISO EZ221U, which won a Summer 2013 “Pick” award for “Outstanding Digital Duplicator,” had a cost per page of 0.422¢, but when producing 5,000 impressions, cost per page dropped to 0.074¢. Conversely, digital duplicators are not well suited to producing sets of multiple-page originals in smaller quantities.

And because the digital duplicator process doesn’t require any heat, users can feed media that would be damaged by a copier’s hot fusing unit. Digital duplicators also require less service overall. Furthermore, users can create output faster (up to 180 ppm) than is currently available with low- to mid-range copiers.


Traditionally the primary market for digital duplicators has been religious organizations, educational institutions and government agencies and that still holds true today, according to Farley. Digital duplicators appeal to these organizations because they need to make large numbers of copies (standardized tests and worksheets at schools and newsletters and fundraising letters at churches, for example) on a regular basis and these devices allow them to do so at a low cost. Print-for-pay organizations and non-profit organizations are also major markets.

About 80 percent of jobs produced on digital duplicators are printed in black and about 20 percent are printed with color, said Farley. A typical job run is about 1,000 impressions and average monthly volume is about 25,000 impressions.


Pricing for currently available digital duplicators ranges from $1,995 for the Duplo-A120 Digital Printing System, which has speeds of up 90 ppm, 300-x-360-dpi print resolution and a 500-sheet paper capacity, to $26,995, for the RISO MZ1090 Printer Duplicator, which offers speeds of up to 150 ppm, 600-x-600-dpi resolution and a 1,000-sheet paper capacity, as well as the ability to print two colors in a single pass (see below). About half of these models are priced under $14,000. Note these prices are down from 2006 when they started at $5,420 and topped out at $36,995.

Other features offered by current digital duplicators include:
  • Speed: At 180 ppm, the RISO RZ1090 Printer-Duplicator offers the top speed currently available for digital duplicators. Most models offer a maximum speed of 130 or 135 ppm. A small group of devices offer speeds up to 150 ppm.
  • Touch screen. Half of available models offer a touch screen, which makes it easier to access functions.
  • Two-color, single-pass printing: Only four models—the RISO MZ1090 and Ricoh Priport DX 4640PD, HQ7000 and HQ9000—offer the ability to print two colors in a single pass. In order to print multi-color output with most other duplicators, users have to produce a job in one color, replace the drum and ink with a second color, and run all the pages of the job through the device a second time.
  • Print resolution: Half of the models offer 600-x-600-dpi print resolution. All of the other models have a lower resolution.
  • Print capability: Printing—whether network or local—is optional on most devices. Only a small group of models offer standard network connectivity; most devices offer it as an option.
  • Paper capacity: Most models offer a paper capacity of about 1,000 sheets that’s not upgradable. A few models offer higher paper capacities of 1,280 or 3,000 sheets.
  • Paper weights: All but a few models accommodate paper weights up to 110-lb. index.
  • Paper sizes: The majority of devices support up to ledger-size paper and range in price from $4,395 to $26,995. Models that support only up to legal-size paper range in price from $1,995 to $19,995.