What Is A Printer?

A printer is a machine that produces a permanent representation of text or graphics on paper or other materials. Bar code printers are an example of printers that have expanded use beyond human-readable output. There are various types of printers available, including 3D printers, inkjet printers, laser printers, and thermal printers.

The first printer designed for a computer was created by Charles Babbage in the 19th century, although it was not built until 2000. The first patented printing mechanism for applying ink to a receiving medium was created in 1962 by C.R. Winston of Teletype Corporation. The first compact digital printer was the EP-101, invented by Epson and released in 1968.

Commercial printers initially used mechanisms from electric typewriters and Teletype machines. As demand for higher speed increased, new systems were developed specifically for computer use, such as daisy wheel systems, line printers, and dot-matrix systems. The introduction of the low-cost laser printer in 1984, along with the addition of PostScript in the following year’s Apple LaserWriter, revolutionized printing and led to the rise of desktop publishing.

By the 1990s, simple printing tasks such as fliers and brochures were commonly created on personal computers and laser printed. Inkjet systems rapidly displaced dot-matrix and daisy-wheel printers from the market. With the rapid improvement of internet email, printing became less necessary for document transmission, and reliable storage systems made physical backup less beneficial.

In recent years, 3D printing has become an area of intense interest, with the most common process being Fused deposition modeling. Cheap 3D printer kits have made 3D printing a widespread hobby as of the 2020s.

Types Of Personal Printers

There are different types of personal printers available in the market to suit various needs. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Inkjet printers: These printers are affordable and popular among home users and small businesses. They work by using ink cartridges to print images and text onto paper. They can print in either color or black and white.
  • Laser printers: These printers are known for their speed and high-quality text printing. They work by using toner cartridges to print onto paper and are best suited for printing large volumes of black and white documents.
  • All-in-one printers: These printers are designed to offer multiple functionalities such as printing, scanning, copying, and sometimes faxing capabilities all in one device. They can be either inkjet or laser printers.
  • Portable printers: These printers are compact and easy to transport. They are ideal for printing documents and photos while on the go and can connect to mobile devices via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
  • Photo printers: These printers are designed specifically for printing high-quality images. They use special ink and paper to produce vivid, long-lasting prints.
  • Three-dimensional printers: These printers use a process called additive fabrication to create objects from digital designs. They are typically used for prototyping, product development, and small-scale manufacturing.

Modern Printing Technology

Printers have come a long way since their inception, with several printing technologies available in the market today, each with its unique features and benefits. Below are some of the most commonly used printing technologies:

  • Toner-based printers: These printers produce high-quality text and graphics quickly. They work by using a laser beam to scan the printer’s photoreceptor, producing an electrostatic image that attracts toner particles.
  • Liquid inkjet printers: These printers propel tiny droplets of liquid ink onto paper to create text and images. They are the most widely used printers by consumers.
  • Solid ink printers: These printers use solid ink materials, such as crayons or pearls, that are melted and fed into a print-head to produce high-quality prints. They are known for their excellent results on non-porous media like transparencies.
  • Dye-sublimation printers: These printers use heat to transfer dye onto a medium, such as paper or canvas, producing high-quality, vibrant prints.
  • Thermal printers: These printers selectively heat regions of heat-sensitive paper to create monochrome prints. They are commonly used in cash registers, ATMs, and gasoline dispensers.

Choosing the right printing technology depends on your specific requirements. Whether you need high-quality text and graphics, vibrant color prints, or quick and simple monochrome prints, there is a printer available that can meet your needs.

Printer Attributes

Printers have a range of features that cater to different user needs. Some of the most notable attributes include:

  • Connectivity: Printers can connect to computers using dedicated data cables like USB or wireless options such as Bluetooth, Ethernet, or WiFi. Some printers even function independently by supporting memory cards or other portable storage devices. Despite more than half of all printers sold in the US in 2010 having wireless capabilities, most consumers did not use this feature.
  • Printer Control Languages: Most printers accept control characters or unique character sequences to manage various printer functions. In the past, printer controls lacked standardization. However, most printers now support one or more page description languages (PDLs) such as Printer Command Language (PCL) or PostScript.
  • Printing Speed: The speed of printers is measured in pages per minute (ppm), which usually apply to A4 paper in most countries and letter paper size in North America.
  • Printing Mode: Printers can process four types of data: string of characters, bitmapped image, vector image, or a computer program written in a page description language.
  • Monochrome, Color, and Photo Printers: Monochrome printers produce only monochrome images, whereas color printers produce images of multiple colors. A photo printer is a color printer that can mimic the color range and resolution of photographic film.
  • Page Yield: The page yield is the number of pages that can be printed from a toner or ink cartridge before it needs to be refilled.
  • Printer Steganography: Printer steganography is a technique that adds tiny yellow dots to each page. This contains printer serial numbers, date, and time stamps.


Printers are machines used for producing a permanent representation of text or graphics on various materials. They come in different types and selecting the right printing technology depends on the needed quality.

In addition, printers offer several features to cater to different user needs. The printing technology has evolved significantly over time, offering unique features and benefits to users.

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