How Does a Printer Work

Just how does a printer work? Turning computer documents into printed pages is a very impressive process, but its also quite simple.

Driving Your Prints
No matter what type of document you are printing, whether it is a letter, spreadsheet, PDF or photo, and no matter what type of printer you're using, there are some similarities in how printers work. Software is responsible for sending the data to the printer. This software is known as a driver. The job of the driver is to translate the data from the application into a format that the printer understands. The driver also checks to see if the printer is connected, turned on and functioning properly.

In most cases, the driver sends the data from the computer to the printer through a cable, either parallel or USB. Newer printers can receive data through wireless connections, or you can send data wirelessly to a network computer that sends it along to a computer connected by a cable.

When the data arrives at the printer, it is stored in the printer's buffer. The buffer allows the computer to send the complete document to the printer, instead of waiting for each individual sheet to print. When all the data is in the buffer, the printer powers up and activates its motors. This engages the rollers to bring the paper into the printer. From that point, the internal mechanisms move the paper along and the image is deposited on the paper.

Different Imaging Technologies
Depending on the style of printer you have, the image may be sprayed onto the paper with ink or fused onto the paper. There are two major types of printers: laser printers and inkjet printers.

How a Laser Printer Works
The basic principle behind a laser printer is static electricity. A revolving drum, known as a photoreceptor, made out of a conductive material sends out light photons as it revolves it receives an electrical current from a wire called the charge corona. While it spins, a tiny laser beam shines across its surface to discharge at various points, creating the images on the drum.

Once the image is set, the printer puts positively charged toner (the black or colored powder that makes up the final image) on the drum. The toner only sticks to the negatively charged areas.

After the toner is adhered to the image on the drum, the paper is moved into position inside the printer. The paper encounters the transfer corona wire and receives a negative charge. The negatively charged paper has a stronger pull then the static electric charge holding the toner to the drum, so the paper pulls the toner powder off the drum, transferring the image. After the image is transferred, a detac corona wire zaps the paper to remove it from the drum. 

The final stop for the paper is the fuser. The fuser permanently bonds the image into the paper. The paper passes through the fusers, which are just heated rollers. As the paper travels through the fuser, the heat from the rollers melts the toner powder and bonds it with the paper. The fuser then sends the paper out of the printer.

How an Inkjet Printer Works
An inkjet printer uses miniscule droplets of ink to create the image on the paper. The ink comes from ink cartridges located in the print head assembly. Inside the print head assembly is the actual print head, which has several nozzles that spray out the drops of ink. Ink cartridges can hold a single color of ink or several different colors.

An inkjet printer also contains a print head stepper motor, which is the mechanism that moves the print head assembly across the paper.

There are two types of inkjet printers: thermal bubble, also known as a bubble jet, and Piezoelectric.

In a bubble jet printer, resistors create heat, the heat vaporizes the ink inside the cartridge into a tiny little bubble and the bubble is pushed out onto the paper. The print head on a bubble jet printer can contain up to 600 nozzles, and all of them can fire a drop of ink simultaneously.

In a Piezoelectric printer, a piezo crystal, found at the back of the ink reservoir, vibrates when it receives an electric charge. The vibration from the crystal forces the ink out of the nozzle. 

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