Characteristics of Printers

By Anni Martin

Computers come with hardware and software. Software comprises the operating system and the application programs you work with, such as Microsoft Word. Hardware is the computer itself and its peripherals. One of the most commonly used peripherals is the printer. This device takes your computer data and produces a paper record. Printers vary in size, shape and speed, but they do have some things in common.

Talking to Each Other

Computers all tell the printer what to print through an interface. These interfaces can be a cable connected to your computer or a wireless connection. The printer does not print on its own. It has to be told what words, photos, graphics or illustrations you want to print.

Dots for You

You can find three basic types of printers on the market and they all use dots to make your words and images appear on your paper. Impact printers like the daisy-wheel and dot matrix printers use tiny pins to strike through an inked ribbon to form dots. Inkjet printers spray quick-drying ink dots on your paper, while laser printers use laser technology to fuse dots onto your paper.


If you tell your computer to print, the printer tries to produce the results of what you have on your monitor. Printers vary in the quality of dots per inch, or DPI, that they can print. More dots per square inch the printer is able to produce results in a better quality of printed output. A laser printer, such as the Hewlett-Packers LaserJet P1006, is capable of printing 600 by 600 DPI or 360,000 dots per square inch.

Hard Copy

All printers need something to print on to give you a physical copy of what you see on your monitor. Paper needs vary from printer to printer, and some printers are more flexible with what paper you can use in them. For example, a specialty photo printer, such as Canon’s PIXMA iP100 Mobile Photo Printer, requires special photo paper to print quality photos.


Some printers also contain memory hardware. Impact printers, such as the dot matrix printer, do not usually have memory, but inkjet and laser printers often do. Printer memory is used to store print jobs while the computer continues to work. A large buffer or memory in a printer allows you to continue your work without having to wait for something to print.