by Nelson Mussagy on March 14th, 2004

Nelson Mussagy

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What types of printers are there, and what are their advantages and disadvantages?

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  • by Christopher Woods on March 15th, 2004

    Christopher Woods

    When it comes to printers, there's only 4 common variations of printer around nowadays: dot matrix, inkjet, laserjet and plotters.

    Dot matrix printers have been around since time itself began (or at least that's how it feels!), and they involve small pins in the printer head that physically stamp the ink onto the page. Checkout tills have them, ATM machines have them - they're cheap and fairly reliable, just slow and pretty noisy. And very old technology nowadays. VERY old.


    Inkjet printers are the ones that are most viable financially to the home user - you have a cartridge (the amount of cartridges depends on if your printer's just black & white, or colour and black & white - and some colour inkjects have separate cartridges for each colour too) full of ink. The nozzle in the printer head is fed ink from the cartridge(s) and sprays a fine mist of said ink onto the page. Some early inkjet printers printed the entire page once in colour (sometimes doing it three times for each colour) then taking the semi-printed page back into the printer and printing over the top in black to complete the print, but just about all colour inkjets nowadays just spray all four colours simultaneously onto the page (lightest colour first, then merely highlighting the image with the other colours to get the right combination to produce the final image). There's also two types of colour inkjet printers, some using the Red Green Blue combination of raw colours in the cartridge(s), and others use the Cyan Magenta Yellow combination, and the black is the Key colour (this is the CMYK combination, as used in commercial printing).


    Inkjets are pretty cost-effective for small to medium print runs, and if you're not after professiona reprographic quality they're the type of printer to go for. However, buying ink for the printers can sometimes cost almost as much as the printers themselves (!) as the technology is so cheap while the ink remains comparatively expensive. However, the quality attainable by some high-resolution printers from HP and Canon to name a couple of big brands comes close to true photo quality, with good quality paper and high-resolution original digital images. However, if you're after that really crisp, professional look to your prints, you're best going with a laserjet printer.


    Laserjet printers are the most expensive type of printer in terms of running costs, due to the cost of the toner rolls. This is essentially the same type of toner as used in photocopiers - laserjet printers emulate the final stage of what a photocopier does, complete with statically charged drum and of course, the toner. No liquid ink is used - the powder toner is statically stuck to the paper when it passes over the rollers, and is then very quickly heated to fuse it to the page. The laserjet market is predominantly black and white, as nearly all businesses use the technology to produce cost-effective, large amounts of printer - its crisp, exact quality for text makes it the best choice for printing corporate documents, for example. Many laserjet printers are now quite intelligent in the way they print graphics as well nowadays, but you have to remember that laserjet usually means black and white. Colour laserjet printers are available, but they're HUGELY expensive compared to a colour inkjet - unless you've either got a fair bit of money knocking about to pay for all the replacement toner cartridges, and are not afraid of solving things like paper jams (something that seems to happen to me nearly always when I'm printing through laserjets, though perhaps that's just my bad luck), then laserjets are perhaps an option to consider. The main market for colour laserjets remains corporate companies who are looking to stand out from the crowd with sharp colour text and graphics (the quality of a well-done colour laserjet printout is really something to behold), and professional reprographics companies.


    The fourth type of printer mentioned, a plotter, isn't exactly a printer like the others are, in that you can't print graphics (viably) - plotters are employed solely by graphic designers and architects, the sort of companies that produce large amounts of minutely precise line drawings. Plotters use a custom-designed pen (or set of interchangable pens/drawing attachments) attached to an arm that can move side to side, and in turn which as attached to it a holder that can rotate smoothly through 360 degrees, to draw line art onto a page. This is something that would be incredibly expensive (or even impossible!) to achieve with even a top quality inkjet, and can be done so much more inexpensively on a plotter. However, they are bulky machines, and as the size of paper used in commercial plotters quite often comes to A1 or A0, the actual plotter device has to be mounted on quite a tall stand, and be physically quite wide to hold the lengthy bar for the drawing head to move up and down. This makes them quite expensive, along with the fact that the market who are after this kind of printer hardware is quite a select group. However, if you're looking for a printer to plot something like architectural drawings, plotters are your only choice.


    I'm neglecting to mention that you can also buy colour plotters for printing things such as ultraprofessional-grade artwork or posters on a medium to large scale, but they come into the price bracket of ridiculously expensive (though the quality is uber). A couple of examples of "DesignJets" (as HP has christened the device) can be found on HP's DesignJet site ( http://www.designjet.hp.com ) and a larger image of a designjet in action can be found at http://www.sign-viscom.com/modules/materialgrafico/images/plotter.jpg .


    I hope that goes at least someway to answering your questions. :)

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  • by david askari on August 4th, 2005

    david askari

    Again I see a example of technology advanced far in a specific area (printers) and still a dinosaur ( dot-matrix ) is still here. It also is here for the "long haul" since non of the new technology can match the speed of dot-matrix when it comes printing the widely used paper used for making carbon copies of 2 or more. In fact nothing can print like that. I have seen banks go through so many upgrades and they use flat slim monitors and other new tech stuff, but that dot-matrix is still there (shaking the making loud noise randomly and taking your print job out involved a ripping of paper. They are insulated with asphalt sound proofing material!
    Although not printer related, This second example supports the idea that the job is more important that getting the best that technology can offer. This was a good question to answer.
    The other "dinosaur is the car battery "lead acid, invented by a Frenchman in another century". Batteries have advanced in leaps and bounds, but the old car battery is here to stay. It keeps making itself use-full and cheap.

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