How do photocopiers and printers work?

Discover the most frequently asked Copiers and printers questions

How does an inkjet printer work?

Contrary to laser printers, which toners contain ink powder, inkjet printers print ink in its liquid form.

And contrary to older printing technologies using liquid ink like dot-matrix or character printing, inkjet is a “non-impact” technology, meaning no mechanical parts actually hit the paper to print something.

Ink is actually sprayed onto the paper in very, very thin droplets (thinner than human hair), in very precise points, so as to design the desired image.

How precise are these points or dots is expressed in the maximum number of dots per inch or “dpi” – that’s the printer resolution.

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Colour printing involves blending dots of different primary colours (usually cyan, yellow, magenta and black).

Inkjet printing can take two forms:

Bubble jet printing, whereby the ink is heated so it becomes bubbles, thrown onto the paper through super small nozzles – this is the technology used by Canon and HP,

Piezoelectric printing, whereby fine vibrations of electrically charged piezo crystals are controlled to release the ink onto the paper – this technology is used by Epson.

These operations involve the following parts:

Paper tray and feeder to stock paper,

-  Paper feed stepper motor and rollers to drive the paper from the tray to the printing area,

-  Print head, which contains hundreds of nozzles through which ink is sprayed,

Ink cartridges,

Print head stepper motor, which moves the print head and cartridges along the paper,

-  A belt to connect the print head and cartridges assembly and the motor,

-  A stabilizer bar.

Consequences of this technology and operating mode fuel the laser printer VS inkjet printer ever ongoing debate:

Prices of inkjet printers  are relatively low, because this technology is now very mature and widely distributed, but the price of ink cartridges remains high relatively to the number of pages a single cartridge can print. When one compares inkjet printer cartridges with laser printer toners, the former can only contain a limited amount of liquid ink, while the ink powder in the latter takes far less footprint.

-  Even if the best inkjet printers can print faster than low-price printers using laser technology, medium-range and top-range laser printers are still much faster,

-  The precision of ink spraying, especially with coloured inks, still makes photo printing results using inkjet printers in 2019 more satisfying than using laser printers.

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