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How does a laser photocopier work?

How do photocopiers and printers work?

Laser photocopiers produce high resolution, sharp images at high speeds. When a page is inserted for copying, a scanner makes a digital image which is stored internally.  An electric current is then passed through an aluminium drum coated with a photoconductive material to charge it with static electricity. The scanned digital image is used as a template to guide a laser at the charged photoconductive material, creating a negative copy of the original. Very fine powdered ink coming from the ink toner is then sprayed over the photoconductive layer, which sticks to the charged areas via static electricity. The image is then permanently fused onto paper by heating it and pressing it.


The use of an internal scanner means that pages can be stored digitally on an internal memory, so it is a highly efficient, fast, precise and automated way of copying.


The following components are central to keep laser printers working flawlessly and need to be changed regularly:

-        The toner cartridge, which keeps the ink powder sprayed onto the drum,

-        The drum unit, which carries the static electricity and receives the ink powder – colour laser printers work with 4 drums for cyan, magenta, yellow and black,

-        The laser – which normally doesn’t need to be changed,

-        The transfer belt, which drives paper from the tray to the drum,

-        The fuser unit, which basically heats the ink particles so they can be melted onto the paper.


Multifunction printers using laser technology, which bring together a laser printer with a photocopier and a scanner basically work the same, except that operations will be usually piloted from a computer connected to that printer.


Laser multifunction printers with autonomous, standalone controls do exist though, and can be operated without a computer. Paper capacity and printing speed are then the only differences with proper laser photocopiers.


UK’s copier market seems to be more and more dominated by these small, multifunction laser photocopiers for small businesses, all the more so as the price of laser printers has come down significantly in the last few years.


So-called “A3 laser photocopiers” will be able to “scale” the A4 or smaller original so that it is expanded on the final A3 print.

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