Types of Printers and Uses

By Jason Artman

Although computers have made modern business increasingly paperless, many computer setups continue to incorporate printers. At its most basic level, a printer is any device that transfers the contents of a computer file to a sheet of paper. Several types of printers are in common use, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Inkjet Printers

Inkjet printers are the most common in homes today. An inkjet printer prints by spraying paper with microscopic droplets of ink. Inkjet printers range from basic models that do nothing but print to all-in-one office devices that include scanners and fax machines. Photo printers often use inkjet technology. Manufacturers tend to sell Inkjet printers using the razor-and-blades business model: the printers are often quite inexpensive, while replacing all of the ink cartridges can cost nearly as much as the printer itself did. However, ink cartridges tend to be less expensive than the toner cartridges required for laser printers.

Laser Printers

Laser printers work by electrically adhering a fine powder called toner to paper. Traditionally, businesses have prized laser printers because of the extremely high text quality they produce. However, inkjet printers have improved in quality to the point where it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. Laser printers can print at extremely fast rates, and the toner cartridges they require—though expensive—can last for thousands of pages.

Thermal Printers

Thermal printers work by applying heat to reactive paper. When heated, the paper changes color. Thermal printers are typically low-resolution and monochrome, making them unsuitable for photo printing. Additionally, paper for thermal printers is expensive. However, thermal printers require no ink and print nearly instantly. Thermal printers typically print stick-on labels for bar codes or mailing, as the labels do not bleed or run when they encounter water, and can last for years.

Dot Matrix Printers

Dot matrix printers were the most common printers in homes until the mid-to-late 1990s. The print head for a dot matrix printer contains a bank of small pins, and pushes pins out in the shape of the letter that needs to be printed. The pins meet an ink ribbon, which meets a sheet of paper, leaving an impression in the shape of the letter. Although dot matrix printers can print simple images, the dot-based system is far more suitable for plain text. Inkjet printers began replacing dot matrix printers as they became more affordable in the 1990s.