How does a printer work?

Printers have existed for some time now and have become a regular part of office life. Although some businesses have sought to use more digital methods, traditional physical versions of documents and images are still quite popular. Print media and other forms of physical advertisement such as billboards are becoming increasingly digitised, but this is usually only popular in expensive cities like London or New York. Although, smaller scale digital advertisements can be seen in smaller cities or towns.

Typically, when the average person refers to a printer, they will likely be talking about either an inkjet printer or a laser printer. There are other techniques but these are the most popular in production today (other than 3D printers). In this article, we will look at the fundamentals of how a printer works and describe the key differences in how inkjet and laser printers function.

General – Printers fundamentally function by converting digital text or images into a physical version. This is done by using bespoke software or a driver, created for the purpose to translate the image or text into a format that the printer recognises. Once converted, the text or image is reconstructed onto paper, comprised of tiny dots. This an oversimplified description of how printers work. But the type of printer can be distinguished by how these dots are made.

Inkjet – These types of printers use a printer head that has thousands of miniscule holes that are used to rapidly drop ink on the page, recreating the information. The ink used is comprised of a solid pigment liquid or coloured dye. So, as the printer head moves back and forth across the page, each relevant hole drops a miniscule amount of ink onto the paper. The amount of ink is carefully calculated as sometimes, colours are mixed to create a desired colour. Because the process is so fast and the dots are so small, the final result will look like a complete solid image or text, because the individual dots on the page will be far too small to see.

Laser
– These types of printers can be comparable to inkjet printers, due to the fact that the text or image is also comprised of thousands of tiny dots to produce a solid and intelligible physical version. However, instead of creating these dots using ink, the laser printer uses a fine powder called toner to create these dots instead. The way a laser printer functions is significantly more complex than inkjet printers.

The laser printer uses a charging roller to apply a negative charge onto the surface a drum. Next a laser is emitted onto the drum surface, positively charging certain points to outline the desired text or image. A developer roller is now used to apply toner particles to the positively charged drum surface and a sponge roller is used to add toner to the developer roller and to prevent excess toner from attaching to the drum. Below the drum is the transfer roller, this is used to prevent the negatively charged toner from continuing the process and allows the positively charged toner to baked, usually using a combination of heat and pressure. Paper is rolled from the back to the front on the printer and passes through four toner colour layers, cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK). Once the paper has passed through each colour and has had heat and pressure applied, the process is complete and the paper reaches the end of the printer and the desired text or image is displayed on paper.

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