A printer is a hardware output device that generates a hardcopy from electronic data stored in a computer or any other device. The most common printers are used to print text and images. However, there are several types of printers, which are generally categorized into two broad categories.
- Impact printers
- Non-impact printers
1. Impact Printers
Impact printers work mechanically by pressing an inked ribbon against the page. Hence depositing the ink on the page in the desired shape. These printers are loud, but they are still in use today. Some of the printers in this category include; dot matrix printers, drum printers, Daisy wheel printers, chain printers, etc.
i. Dot Matrix Printer
IBM first created the Dot-matrix printer was first created in 1957 by IBM, but it was first introduced in 1970 by Centronics. This printer’s head, which contains pins, rests over an ink ribbon to print texts and images. Then the ribbon rests above the printing paper.
The print head moves across the ribbon horizontally, and the pins imprint ink on the page by pressing on the ribbon as a typewriter does. Hence the pins print a series of dots, as its name suggests.
- Less expensive compared to most printers.
- The printer is available on the market
- Low printing costs
- Low maintenance costs
- Slow printing speed compared to non-impact printers
- Noisy while printing
ii. Daisy Wheel Printer
The second type of impact printer is the Daisy wheel. This printer has wheels with several arms attached to it. Whereby each arm has many characters in it. As the wheel spins, the required character is put on the paper.
The spin rotation movement is regulated by a motor that is rotated at high speed. As the wheel rotates, a hammer strikes suddenly, and the characters put on the wheel’s arms are transferred to the paper with the hammer impact.
- Cheap to buy and maintain
- Better print quality compared to dot-matrix printers.
- More reliable than the dot matrix printer
- Can print on heavy grade papers
- Slow printing speed
- Cannot print graphics
iii. Drum Printer
A drum printer is also referred to as a line printer. As the name suggests, this printer consists of a cylindrical-shaped drum. The characters are put on the drum in circular form, whereby each line consists of 132 lines and approximately 96 lines row-wise.
When you multiply these characters’ numbers, the printer has about 12680-character printing capacity of drum matrix. Again, the drum has several hammers in different sizes. These hammers are rotated at high speed and print up to 60 characters at a time.
- Can print more precise lines
- Noisy and a bit low quality
- Fast printing speed compared to dot matrix and Daisy wheel
- You can hook it up to any computer
- Cannot print graphics
- It is a bit costly
iv. Chain Printer
A chain printer has a set of a continuous loop of metal characters and numbers resembling a chainsaw blade. There is a row of hammers behind the paper to strike the characters as they come around on the chain.
This chain printing mechanism speeds up to several hundred lines per minute. The printer is faster than the dot matrix printers. Again compared to dot matrix printers, chain printers are mechanically complicated, and it’s also more expensive.
However, this printer is limited to what is in the chain. This printer is also noisy, just like other impact printers.
- Faster compared to the others in the same category
- You can change the type of chain
- Requires care and maintenance
These printers do not come into contact with or impact a ribbon to print. These printers use laser, inkjet, chemical, electrostatic, and xerographic technologies. Again, these printers are more quiet compared to impact printers. Also, these printers have low maintenance and repairs compared to impact printers.
i. Ink Jet Printers
Inkjet printers are the most popular printer with high performance. This repetition is making them become more affordable day by day. To print, inkjet printers place tiny ink droplets onto the paper to create an image.
However, these ink dots are tiny. They are tinier than human air diameter, which is about 70 microns. The dots are precisely positioned with a resolution of 1440 x 720 dots per inch. The ink dots can combine different colors to create quality images and texts.
- Your software application sends the data to be printed to your printer driver.
- The data is translated into a format that the printer can understand. Then proceeds to check if the printer is available to print
- The driver sends data from the computer to the printer via the connection interface (USB, parallel, etc.).
- After the printer receives the data from the computer, some information is stored in a buffer. Depending on your printer model, the buffer can vary in random access memory from 512KB to 16MB.
- However, if your printer has been idle for some time, normally, it will go through a short cycle to ensure the print heads are clean. This ensures the printer is ready for the print job.
- The control circuitry activates the paper feed stepper motor to engage the rollers. To feed paper from the paper sheet tray/feeder into the printer.
- After the paper is fed into the printer, it is then positioned at the start of the page. Using the belt, the print head stepper motor moves the print head assembly across the page. Every time the print head sprays ink dots, the motor poses for a second. Then moves again before stopping.
- At each stop, multiple dots are made. The print head sprays CYMA colors to make any imaginable colors.
- The paper feed stepper motor advances at the end of each complete pass for a fraction of an inch
- This process is repeated until the page is printed. However, the time to print a page will vary from one printer to another. Again, the complexity of the page and available image size will also determine the time taken to print.
- After the printer is done printing, the printer head is packed. And the paper stepper motor spins the rollers to push the completed page into the output tray. You can pick up the paper immediately for most of the printers since the paper is smudge-free immediately from the printer.
- Produce high-quality prints
- Printers are affordable to get
- Lightweight and compact
- Easy to set up and use
- Slow printing speed compared to laser printers
- Costly ink refills
ii. Laser Printer
The first laser printer was made available in 1976 for commercial use. Since then, laser printing has been a reliable and effective printing solution. For high precision output, the printers have incorporated laser beam technology.
Laser printers are more common in offices and busy workspaces than inkjet printers. To print, laser printers work using a heated wire to charge a drum positively. The drum is then passed over by a laser that reverses the charge in the areas it hits. The negatively charged drum areas represent the text or image to be printed.
A toner roller is passed over the drum, and the toner particles stick to the drum’s negatively charged areas. Then a sheet of paper is passed underneath the toner coated drum, and the toner is passed on to its surface. They are creating a printed copy of a digital image or document.
Laser Printing Process
Laser printing technology is different from inkjet. The printing process involves;
- Start by transferring the data you want to print to the laser printer from the computer. Usually via Ethernet, wireless, or any other compatible means
- The printer proceeds to heat the Corona wire to the required temperature. Once the heating process is completed, the wire passes a static electric charge to the drum unit.
- The positively charged drum unit is then ready to receive the laser beam and begin the data transfer process onto the drum directly.
- The beam reflects off a moving mirror unit, which directs the beam directly onto the drum unit once the laser is activated.
- The charge changes from negative to positive in the areas where the beam hits the drum. The negatively charged areas represent where the toner particles will adhere to the drum for transfer onto the paper.
- The ink toner starts to coat the drum with toner, which contains microscopic ink particles which are positively charged. The positively charged particles adhere to the negatively charged areas on the drum unit.
- A paper sheet that is positively charged passes close to the drum, attracting the negatively charged toner particles onto the page.
- To fuss the toner particles into the paper, the paper containing the ink content is forwarded to the fuser unit. The rollers then fuse the paper and the toner particles
- After fussing, the paper passes through the copier side, and there you have your printed paper.
- Faster compared to inkjet printers
- Stable running
- More reliable
- High-quality prints
- High initial cost
- Color toner cartridges are expensive
iii. 3D Printers
3D printers use computer-aided design (CAD) to create 3D objects from various materials like powders or molten plastic. These printers use a layering method to create the desired object. They work from the ground up, pilling layer after layer until the object looks like the envisioned object.
These printers are very flexible in printing—using either plastic to print rigid materials like sunglasses. Also, the printers can create flexible objects like bike handles phone cases using plastic power or hybrid rubber.
In addition, some 3D printers can create strong industrial products using carbon fiber and metallic powders.
How Does a 3D Printer Work?
3D printing is part of additive manufacturing and uses a similar method to traditional inkjet printers. To print, it takes powder-like material, a combination of top-of-the-line software, and precision tools to develop a three-dimensional object from scratch.
- The first step of any 3D printing is modeling. You have to design what you want to make with the 3D printer using 3D modeling software. In modeling, you get a chance to fine-tune your designs to the tiniest detail.
- After creating the model, it’s now ready for slicing. However, 3D printers cannot comprehend three-dimensional printing like humans. You need to slice the model into layers for the printer to create the final product.
- The slicing software scans each layer of the model and directs the printer on how to move to recreate the layer. Also, they tell the model where to fill a model.
- This gives the 3D model internal lattices and columns to shape and strengthen the object. After slicing, the model is sent off to the 3D printer for printing.
- After completing modeling and slicing, it’s time for printing. The printer works the same as traditional inkjet printers, whereby a nozzle moves back and forth, dispensing wax or plastic-like polymer layer by layer. Before adding another layer, the printer waits for the previous layer to dry.
- Generally, these printers work by adding hundreds or thousands of 2D prints on top of one another to make a 3D printer finally.
- It gives you increased productivity and constant prototyping
- Provides infinite shape and geometry
- You can print any design, despite its complexity
- 3D printers use an environmentally friendly technology
- 3D printers are expensive
- Slow with limitless customization
iv. LED Printers
Several types of printers are LED printers, which several people may not know about. LED printers are very similar to laser printers, using toner, drum, and fuser systems to apply colored or black toner on the paper. However, the main difference is that laser printers use a laser and a mirror to create a toner-attracting static charge on the printing drum. On the other hand, LED printers use strips of LEDs.
LED printers were first invented in 1989 by the manufacturer OKI. With time, other manufacturers have embraced the technology over time. LED printers are not as popular as inkjet and laser printers, but they continue to gain popularity for their benefits.
How Does a LED Printer Work?
- Like laser printers, led printers to have a photoreceptive drum with a surface highly charged with static electricity by the high voltage wire. Unlike laser printers, LED printers produce negative static charge LEDs located on either the top or below the drum.
- The light strikes the positively charged drum, erasing the drum charge to produce a negative electrostatic charge.
- The negative charge attracts the positively charged toner particles, which then stick to the negatively charged surface created by the LEDs.
- After the printer enters the printer mechanism, it is positively charged. All this with the help of high voltage wire to draw the toner from the negatively charged parts. The paper then moves between two heated rollers and carries the toner as it comes out of the printer.
- Quieter while functioning since they don’t have moving parts
- Mostly these printers are more compact compared to others
- More reliable for use
- Faster printing speed
- Low printing quality compared to laser printers
- Reduced drum life when used frequently for short tasks
v. Solid Ink Printers
A solid printer is also called a multifunctional printer. This printer uses solid sticks or blocks, which are mess-free and non-toxic compared to inkjet cartridges or toner. Solid ink is easy to use and produces high color print quality. Again, the ink is cost-effective and environmentally safe.
However, it’s important to note that solid ink can only be used with solid ink printers. Don’t force them to work with inkjets and laser printers. For now, XEROX is only the major manufacturer of solid ink printers.
Again, the solid ink fits into the printer the same way as standard ink cartridges while replacing the ink. The solid ink nature means it doesn’t have to be encased in protective packaging. Also, the sticks are safe to handle and non-toxic.
How Solid Ink Works?
- The solid ink sticks are available in cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Following the traditional CYMK traditional model
- To print, the solid ink printer will heat up to melt the ink sticks
- The intelligent CPU system will determine each tone amount required for the job to ensure no ink is wasted.
- The print head nozzles apply the ink on the paper in the requested pattern, as the inkjet does.
- As soon as the ink hits the paper, it freezes to reduce the chances of flowing or smudging while printing.
- The ink is then bound to the paper surface perfectly atop all paper layers
- Vibrant and bright colors
- Less ink waste
- Able to print on a variety of materials
- Easy to store
- Requires more time to heat the ink to melt
- Solid printers are expensive to buy
vi. Multifunction Printers
A multifunction printer is a piece of office equipment that acts as a centralized hub where all scanning, printing, copying, and faxing occurs. Some multifunction printers may also offer finishing options like folding, stapling, hole punching, and booklet making.
Also, some advanced multifunction printers can browse the internet and print straight from an intuitive, user-friendly display panel.
Due to technological advancement, multifunctional printers have additional features to enhance workplace productivity, efficiency and security. Some of these features include;
- Easy to customize the interface
- Proactive service notification
- Automatic duplexing
- Safe pull printing
- Password protection
- Automatic data clean up
- Hard drive encryption
- Temporary image removal
- Google cloud connectivity
However, there are three main types of multifunctional printers
Color Multifunction Printer
In addition to the mentioned benefits above, these printers provide an in-house printing department and high-volume print office with an added capability to print in high color resolution. With the ability to handle different output needs—printing color-intensive documents like graphs, financial reports, and marketing materials.
Black and White Multifunction Printers
These printers are also called monochrome printers. They provide businesses with an affordable way to print high-resolution black and white documents. Generally, these printers are usually cheaper than multifunctional color printers since they use one black ink cartridge. However, these printers are best suitable for text and data-intensive applications.
Compact Multifunction Printers
These printers are the best for small to medium-sized businesses. Making it possible to print high color quality, boost their productivity, and save time with a fast printing speed. In short, these printers help businesses save on space and still get the same benefits as traditional multifunction printers.
However, you need to choose the printer with the best capabilities to meet your printing needs. Some compact printers are monochrome, while others support both color and black & white.
- Boosts convenience
- Energy saving
- Can work on several tasks
- Have low specialization
- User crowing to use the machine
vii. Thermal Printers
Thermal printers use a digital printing process to produce an image by passing a thermochromic coating, commonly referred to as thermal paper. The paper is passed over a print head with tiny electrically heated elements. To produce an image, the paper turns black in the heated areas.
How Does a Thermal Printer Work?
A thermal printer uses heat to produce an image on paper.
The paper is heated in the thermal printing process with a special dye coating that turns black once it is heated. This printing style is mostly used for airline tickets, banking transactions, retail receipts, healthcare uses, bar codes, and school records.
Thermal transfer and direct thermal printers allow you to print high-quality receipts, labels, and other media conveniently and quickly. Again, these printers are designed for mobility, should you need to use them remotely.
However, there are two major types of thermal printers; direct thermal printers and thermal transfer printers.
Direct Thermal Printers
Both types of thermal printers have a heated print head. However, direct thermal printers have no ribbon involved in printing; rather, the print head prints directly on the surface of the printing material. In this case, the printing paper is made to react to the printer heat, changing color to display what is printed once it gets heated.
Again, this process has no toner or ink used, making their maintenance cost low compared to other printers. However, your printed item may fade with time. Then you can only print in one color at a time since the material determines the color.
Thermal Transfer Printers
This printer works slightly differently. The print head presses a wax-coated ribbon onto the printing material surface to print rather than printing directly. Wax is melted, then transferred to the printing material, and dries there to expose the ink.
However, these prints are a bit long-lasting compared to direct thermal printers. Again, it Is possible to print in different colors at once. Besides, this printer is expensive since you need to replace the ribbons over time. Also, this printer is prone to operational issues since it has more moving parts.
- High printing speed
- More long-lasting compared to other printers
- No ink or toner cost
- Long-lasting with few moving parts
- Image printed is low quality
- Print paper is expensive
viii. Plotter Printers
Plotter printers are also referred to as roll feeder printers. This device draws images on paper or any other material after receiving a command from the computer. This printer uses paper in a continuous roll to print large graphics like vehicle wraps, trade show graphics, and signs. These printers are ideal for large line printing art and graphic printing.
How Does a Plotter Printer Work?
There are two types of plotter printing; drum plotters and flatbed plotters. To draw the expected marks on the paper, the flatbed plotters use a system whereby the paper is fixed while the plotter moves the pen up and down, left and right.
On the other hand, drum plotter printers move the pen up and down, and the paper is moved left and right, left and right by rotating the drum. This makes the drum plotter smaller than the final paper print size.
You can print more than one color since plotters can draw different colors with more than one pen.
Plotter Printer and Standard Printer Main Differences
A standard printer uses ink or toner to print several ink dots onto the paper or material being used to print. This can make lines unclear or not very straight as needed. Besides, a plotter printer uses a precise tool, then printing in lines is more accurate.
Again, a plotter printer can print on various materials, not just paper. Depending on your need, a plotter printer can print on plastics, plywood, cardboard, aluminum, etc.
For this reason, plotter printers are larger compared to standard printers. You need to consider your space to accommodate a plotter printer.
- They can work on large sheets of paper and maintain high resolution.
- This printer can print on a variety of materials
- The printer is accurate and efficient
- The plotter can save patterns and templates on a disc for use
- Difficult to work in limited spaces
- The printer is expensive to buy
Some Other Types of Printers
i. Eco-Tank Printers
Eco tank printers are different from regular inkjet printers. They have unique refillable ink tank systems eliminating the need for ink cartridges. Eco tank printers have an ultra-high-capacity ink system to supply ink continuously.
So, instead of getting a new ink cartridge, you will only need to top up the tank when necessary to continue printing. Further, the ink tank holds enough ink to print up to thousands of pages, saving you money and time to replace the ink cartridges frequently.
In addition, eco tank printers are simple to set up and reliable with mess-free ink refilling and give you high-quality prints for each page you print. However, with eco tank printers, you should use them frequently, or else the ink in the tank, cartridge, and tubes will dry up and cause clogging.
- Low cost per page
- High-quality prints, especially photos
- The printer comes with a lot of ink
- Environmental friendly
- If not used frequently, the ink can dry up, causing clogging
- More expensive than inkjet printers
ii. Super Tank Printers
Super tank printers’ development is a game-changer in the printer world. However, these printers are ink tanks. The main difference is that their print head is connected via a tube system, which draws ink from high-capacity ink tanks.
Again, these ink tanks are filled and refilled with high-capacity ink bottles, eradicating the need for ink cartridges. Super tank printers have a significantly lower cost per page than standard cartridges due to replacement bottles having enough ink to print thousands of pages.
Further, super tank printers have two different configurations – disposable print heads and permanent print heads, whereby each has its disadvantages and advantages.
Disposable Print head
Disposable print head super tank printers have their print head as a replaceable ink cartridge. Each time you replace your printer cartridge, you also replace the print head. The disadvantage of this is that it adds to the cost of consumables and makes it challenging to make high-resolution heads at an affordable cost.
However, the advantage is print head clogging, or damage is not a significant problem; you can buy another one. This type of print head is popular with canon printers, but they are meant to last for the printer’s life, but in case of clogging, you can replace it.
Permanent Print Heads
Permanent print heads should last for the life of the printer. You don’t need to replace the print head every time it distinguishes its ink supply. The advantage of this type of print head is; that it’s more precise than a disposable one and can also lower the cost of ink.
On the downside, in case of damage, replacing a permanent print head is expensive, and removing the print head is not always possible. You will need to replace a printer if the print head is not removable. Mainly, permanent print heads are popular with Epson.
- Efficient on ink
- Cartridge free printing
- Easy confirmation of ink levels
- You replace colors individually
- Low cost per page
- The high initial cost of buying
- It would help if you used the printer regularly to avoid clogging
iii. Continuous Inkjet Printers
Continuous inkjet printers are printers used in industries for accurate and consistent product coding and marking. These printers always offer cost-effective, accurate, and consistent valuable data, including barcodes, expiry dates, and batch codes on production lines. Also, the printouts comply with increasingly strict industry legislation and ensure traceability.
Continuous inkjet printers’ systems throw out electrically charged ink droplets from a print head nozzle to print. Then, the ink droplets are precisely directed onto products or packaging through an electric field.
How Continuous Inkjet Printers Work
A piezoelectric crystal pulse breaks continuous inkjet ink into drops in the chamber. Every second, up to 120,000 droplets are expelled, each measuring about half the diameter of human hair. An electrode charge droplets are required for printing as they break off from the inkjet. To avoid ink wastage, the printer re-circulates unused ink droplets.
The charged droplets pass through an electrostatic field between deflector plates. The correct position of the droplet on the substrate is determined by speed and charge. Meanwhile, this happens without contact with the print material.
Further, these printers can code on most materials regardless of their size, porosity, shape, and texture. Continuous inkjet printers print variable information on individual information such as specific text, date, batch code, product name, and logos.
- High printing speed
- Ability to print in harsh environments
- Can print on a substrate at a distance
- Quick-drying ink
- Ink restrictions to only those that are chargeable
- The printer has a high maintenance cost
iv. A3 Printers
An A3 printer is a printer able to handle papers up to size A3. These large paper format measures 16.5” by 11.7”, commonly used for photographic prints, posters, and other projects. If you need to buy an A3 printer, they are stocked by many stores dealing with printing supplies and printers. You can also order the printer directly through the manufacturer or catalog that stocks printing equipment.
In addition, you can also consider leasing or renting an A3 printer for your office or similar work environment. Commonly, A3 printers make posters, report presentations, and other visual information. Also, these printers may come with fax and copier making hence taking up more space.
However, A3 printers are typically more extensive than conventional printers due to accommodating larger paper trays and print heads. The machines are not easy to carry, though they may be set on a wheeling cart for easy movement. Again, A3 printers are more expensive than printers of the same quality that do not accommodate A3 size.
- Improved power, unlike standard printers
- Enhance productivity
- Fast printing speed
- The printer can also accommodate smaller formats
- Long service life
- High cost of purchase
- Large in size
Buying Guide; Types of Printers
The market has all types of printers, from small to large format printers. However, purchasing a printer can be easy considering a few things like;
Your target market determines your image quality. To get image quality, you should consider:
A printer that can produce a minimum of 1200dpi print resolution for photography and fine art is a good choice. Most printers have several resolution modes, so it’s wise to get a printer with wide-range resolution capabilities.
Ink density contributes to deep, rich, and vibrant colors. Ink sets differ in ink densities, making it important to compare printed samples. To indicate which ink can produce higher densities, you can use a densitometer.
Ink droplet size:
Typically, an ink droplet is measured in picoliters. To get the best printer, go for one with a droplet size of about 4-12pl. The smaller the number, the smaller the ink droplet, which translates to a sharper image. You can use a large printed sample of high-resolution images to determine if the printer will be sharp enough.
Generally, printers have an ink configuration ranging from 4 colors, 6,8, and 12 color machines. The more color a printer uses, the wider the color gamut. The addition of green and orange inks to many printer models contributes to more attainable colors.
If need be, you need to consider available ICC profiles for the media you intend to use. If you use your color, will the printer be easy to profile? Again, does the printer reproduce the color accurately over time, or will it need re-profiling? You can look up product reviews that mention profiling capabilities.
Printer Size and Speed
The image size you wish to offer will determine the size of the printer to buy. Maybe you currently own a 17” wide printer and would like to upgrade to a 24″, but you are undecided. It’s good to consider your customer’s needs. Usually, wider printers can handle longer and heavier rolls.
Again, you should not overlook speed if you have a particular target to achieve daily or weekly. However, it is hard to achieve both speed and good printing quality. It is important to get a fast enough printer but still maintain print quality. But in some cases, it is allowed to compromise one over the other.
To get a printer with the right media handling capabilities, you need to list everything you print and add the media you plan to start using. Then find a printer that can handle everything you want to print about.
Again, you should consider the media thickness a printer can handle. If possible, try to find out how a printer handles various media once loaded.
Ease of Use
Sometimes it’s possible to get caught up in specifications and features that you forget the essence of usability. For less working frustrations and troubleshooting, get a printer that is easy to use. Especially for more than one user, the printer working can be easy with fewer settings and the printer usage guesswork.
People are often tempted to overlook the product support available when buying a printer. It can be quite frustrating to struggle to get a product working properly. Before you make your final purchase decision, it’s good to find out what is supported;
- Is email/phone support included?
- Do the technical staff get back quickly?
- Do you have access to experienced users/ experts?
- Are spare parts readily available?
- Availability of tutorials videos or instructional manuals?
- How long will it take to get back if the printer completely goes down?
- Don’t forget to consider the printer;
- Ink usage
- Ink cost
- Printer longevity
- Resale value
- RIP compatibility
Nowadays, the world is entirely online, but you will need something analog to hold in your hand or give to others from time to time. Meaning it’s hard to forego a printer either in your office or home completely. From this article, you have an overview of the different types of printers available.
Depending on your printing needs and budget, you can get something. You range from low-cost inkjet printers to high-quality full-color laser printers to multifunctional printers. Hopefully, you can now narrow down your choice from this article depending on what you want.