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  • John Bell

Tech Sense March 2024: Printers part 2

Updated: Apr 2

Printers – Part 2

This month we continue with our discussions of printers. As I mentioned last month I am in the market for a new printer. At the end of this month’s column, I will share what I purchased and how I made my decision. Now continuing…

All in One Printers

We mentioned the “All-in one” printer last month. This type of printer combines multiple functions into the same device. The common functions include printing, scanning, and copying. Some also include faxing as well. Printers typically have a microprocessor built in to control the printing mechanisms and processes. For example, at one time Apple used to say their LaserWriter printer was the most powerful computer they made, due the internal microprocessor used within it. After combining the printing capability with the scanning capability, adding copy and fax was rather easy. Today the all-in-one printer seems to be the most common for in-home use.

How do Inkjet Printers Work?

In general, an inkjet printer has a storage mechanism for the ink. This may be a tank or replaceable cartridge. The printer then feeds Ink to the print head. This is often a gravity feed directly from the ink cartridge to the head. The print head either applies pressure to spray ink through very small nozzles or causes bubbles to form until they pop onto the paper. These tiny nozzles are arranged in a grid and the ink dots are applied several rows and columns at a time as the head is moved back and forth across the page.

Print heads are organized so that each head handles a single color. On some printers (Hewlett Packard for example) the heads are built-in to the ink cartridge. Others like Canon normally have the heads as a separate component and the ink cartridge simply holds ink.

Printing Colors

Most printers use at least four colors to print a full color image. These are black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. These are different than the colors used on a color TV or monitor. When using light, the primary colors are red, green, and blue (RGB). When combining light to generate an image these primary colors generate all of the colors of the spectrum. In this case, black is the absence of color, created by using no color at all.

A printer generates a page of paper viewed using the reflection of light on ink-covered paper. This uses the printer primary colors, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black often references as CYMK. Higher end printers may provide additional ink colors for more vibrant colors when photo printing. For example, my Canon printer had a grey color and an additional darker black color. I have seen variants like photo cyan, photo magenta, red, and multiple shades of gray and black, all with the goal of printing more realistic, photographic images. One typically does not find these in tank printers.

Most inkjet printers use dye-based inks. Dye is soluble, the color dissolves into a liquid. Higher end printers may use pigment-based ink. Pigments use particles suspended within the liquid or medium. Pigment ink offers a better appearance when printing text and makes business documents look better when used for black ink.

How do Lasers Printers Work?

As we said last month, laser printers use toner instead of ink. Toner is a dust made from a material mixed with wax or plastic that melts at a certain temperature and is stored in a “toner cartridge”. The cartridge is typically a tube-shaped device that runs the length of the paper. Rollers in the printer pull the paper across a “drum”, another “tube shaped device”. A laser flashes across the drum causing an electrical charge to form where the toner needs to stick to the paper. When the paper passes over the toner, the charge pulls the toner onto the paper where the toner sticks only where needed. Then the printer applies just enough heat to the paper to melt the toner onto the page and permanently fix the printing to it.

This process is repeated four times for color printing, once for black, and again for each of the printing primary colors, cyan, magenta, and yellow. The reason why color laser printers are not the best for photo printing is that the colors do not blend like the dyes and pigments of inkjet printers.

Impact Printers

Rarely used today in homes but still occasionally found in businesses or in point of sales systems impact printers are an older technology. Also called dot-matrix printers these printers were popular in the 1980’s when microcomputers were young. The print head on an impact printer fires small flat pins to strike a ribbon against the paper and leave an ink mark. Today, they are useful when there is a need to print on multiple part forms. These printers are still manufactured and still useful. If you are using an old MS-DOS machine, this may be the way to go.

Thermal Printers

Thermal printers work by using heat to print on thermal sensitive paper. Often used for specialty applications like Point-of-Sale systems (cash registers), or to print mail labels, bar codes, and fun instant photo stickers. Purchase prices for under $50 or hundreds for industrial uses. No ink costs here, the cost driver is the special thermal paper needed to print. Still 20 rolls of sticky thermal paper for stickers might cost $20. Not too bad for a little family fun. Apparently, these are popular for printing postage stickers. The biggest issue is that heat can make the printing disappear.

Wrap Up

This will wrap up our discussion of printers other than my reveal. Over the years, I have had many printers. Originally, I started out with an Epson MX-80 dot-matrix printer. That served well for several years.

Eventually I purchased an HP LaserJet IIP. This was a good printer, but I grew out of it. I replaced it with a small Brother Network ready Laser printer. I have since bought three of these and they are all still working as far as I know. My current primary laser printer is also a Brother purchase on sale at our local Costco. I didn’t need it when I bought it, but it turned out to be a great purchase. It has been reliable and has features that I find I use all of the time like duplex printing, and easy printing of envelopes. I have printed close to 20,000 pages and I am on the original drum and the third toner cartridge.

I also needed a color printer, so I bought a Canon Pixma. I have purchased five Canon printers over the years, one plain color printer and the rest all-in-ones. The Canons have probably had an average lifespan of 5 years. The failure has always been print heads.

For this reason, I have decided to try an Epson Tank Printer, the ET-2850, found on-sale at Costco for $200. This is an all-in-one network printer and includes 1 year of ink. It has duplex printing.

I will not consider an HP printer because of their practice of breaking their printers if the consumer decides to use non-HP ink. I didn’t choose Brother simply because Brother ink for their all-in-one printers has been hard to get this year. I will update my readers on how this new printer goes. Have a great March!

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