News, Culture & Society

Understanding Printing: How Does a Printer Work?

The printer is truly the unsung hero of any office. Its capabilities giving us the opportunity to bring a concept to life, demonstrate design impact, or can just make things a little more convenient around the office. In 2020, printers have gone far beyond a basic offering, with mobile printing, 3D printing and fine art printers now a permanent fixture in the office and at home. Simply put, a printer performs the tasks of bringing a digital image into life on a page without comprising design, colour or form. If you want a deeper insight into how a printer works and what role toner cartridges play, let’s find what takes place inside your printer when you hit CTRL + P.

Inkjet printers

Inkjet printing is one of the most common printing solutions on the market and in offices, with the unique print head eliciting tiny microscopic drops from the many holes that funnel the ink at a measured speed. These inks come in the form of liquid pigments, and this will determine the overall output and how they respond to water, light and wear. Like a quick typewriter, the printer print head moves horizontally across the page recreating a graphic on a computer screen with the available ink being mixed to concoct an exact colour match. The ink transfers to the page through heat generation and these thousand tiny holes bring a picture or text to life, with no sign that they came from tiny holes as the finished project is a seamless result. An inkjet printer is a fantastic option for a home office, or a small team not committing to large print output, with all the basic print needs covered in most inkjet models.

Laser/LED printers

Laser/LED printers are similar in part to the inkjet printer, with a few differences in the way the ink is dispensed and the technology overall. Laser printing uses powder ink that comes through tiny holes that encase the cylinder drum which it melts to create a picture. This is a much faster printer option than inkjet which makes it and its toner cartridges pricier outright, but overall less expensive when measuring the lifetime of the product. The solid ink melting function comes from the light source, or laser/LED, and is signalling the future of print technology. Laser printers produce pictures that are water-resistance unlike their counterpart, but the colours are not as vivid as inkjet, which is a key consideration for photographers and artists.

3D printers

The 3D printer is the newest kid on the block, and even those who have used this technology have a hard time trying to understand this mind-bending concept – so let’s get into it. 3D printing uses a CAD (computer-aided design) model, which is what architects and designers use to conceptualise a build, able to facilitate each conceivable angle and vantage point in 3D. The 3D printer produces and stacks layer by layer to create a solid 3D object, typically made from powder grains or liquid molecules fused together. This type of printing is ultimately not available to all, with the price varying from a few hundred to tens of thousands – depending on your purpose, the complexity of the print and the materials required. It’ll be interesting to see if 3D printing becomes more mainstream in the coming years, used for personal projects and recreations outside of the select industries currently leveraging the technology.

Covering off the three most important printer types here should give you a greater idea of how a printer works, and what they can be best used for. Take a look at the printer you are working with at home or in the office, and take note of what functions you like and don’t like when considering your future printer acquisitions.