Graphic of a Computer Printer

A computer printer is one of the most common output devices. A file, such as a Word document, that has been printed is commonly referred to as a hard copy.

In this post:

  1. CMYK
  2. Printer specifications
  3. Dot-matrix
  4. Thermal
  5. Inkjet
  6. Laser
  7. Inktank
  8. 3D
  9. Multifunction
  10. Printer management
    1. Installing a printer
    2. Default printer
    3. Software settings & Utilities
  11. Printer queues
  12. Common Questions
    1. Inkjet vs laser
The output segment of the Information Processing Cycle.
Information Processing Cycle
Hardware output diagram.
Hardware output diagram.


Printers use a CMYK colour scheme, that is Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (Key). A colour printer uses these four colours of ink and creates all other colours by blending them. This is carefully explained in the Inkjet Printers video below.

2. Printer specifications

When purchasing a printer, the following should be considered:

  • Initial purchase price
  • Monthly duty cycle
  • Printing speed – pages per minute (“ppm”)
  • Resolution – dpi (“dots per inch”)
  • Colour vs black
  • Compatibility with system
  • Connectivity – wireless, USB, LAN

3. Dot-Matrix

A dot-matrix printer has a print head with a set of pins. The print head moves back and forth across the page while the pins are pressed against an inked ribbon to make dots on the page. The pattern of dots on the page forms the characters.

Dot-matrix printers are unable to print in high resolution and are noisy and prone to mechanical breakdown.

4. Thermal

Thermal printers print very fast and are very quiet. They can only print in monochrome. The printer uses heat to imprint characters on specialised heat-sensitive paper. The printing fades and becomes illegible (unsuitable for keeping records, and legal documents). They are often used as receipt printers for POS systems.

5. Inkjet

An inkjet printer has a print head that moves back and forth across the page while “spraying” fine ink droplets onto the page. Ink is contained in ink cartridges that have different chambers for the different colours of ink. More recently printers sometimes have separate cartridges for each colour; this avoids the wasteful situation where an entire cartridge is replaced when only one of the colours is finished.

Quality inkjet printers are capable of printing photorealistic images when used with photographic paper.

An in-depth video explaining how Inkjet Printers work.

6. Laser

Laser printers use toner (powdered ink) cartridges similar to that of a photocopying machine. The toner cartridges are much larger than inkjet cartridges, however, they tend to last longer. A laser creates a pattern on a drum; the toner is then attracted to the pattern on the drum. The toner is then transferred to the paper and melted to create the print.

Colour laser printers are available. They are generally better for printing simple colour requirements, such as printing text in a specific colour, or underlining text in a specific colour.

More recently, refillable toner cartridges have become available.


7. Inktank

An inkjet printer that has refillable in tanks instead of small disposable ink-filled cartridges. This reduces waste (empty ink cartridges are generally thrown away) and reduces cost as ink is available in bulk quantity.

8. 3D

3D printers are capable of printing three-dimensional solid objects using a variety of materials (mostly plastic, and metal). The printing process is very slow. 3D printers are currently very expensive. 3D printers vary in size and there are now printers large enough to print houses.

Negative aspects:

  • Expensive to purchase
  • Noisy
  • Slow
  • Strong odour

Negative implications:

  • Can be used to print dangerous objects
  • Creation of objects (mostly plastic) which increases pollution
  • Copyright infringement due to the ease of reproducing items
  • Disruption of the manufacturing sector causing loss of jobs

9. Multifunction printers

One device which has the capability to perform multiple functions in addition to printing: copy, scan, fax and e-mail.

10. Printer Management

10.1 Installing a printer

The printer driver must be installed on the PC (most modern printers are Plug’n’Play, which means the driver is already available). Printers usually come with additional software that allows the user to use the printer’s full capabilities. An installation wizard usually assists the user in performing the task of installing a printer.

Most modern printers connect to a PC using a USB cable. Other connectivity options are to connect directly to a LAN using a network cable, and to a Wi-Fi network.

10.2 Default printer

You can connect multiple printers to one device. The default printer is the printer that will be printed to without changing any settings. The default printer setting is a setting of the Operating System.

10.3 Software settings & Utilities

Printers can offer a range of options that can be controlled via software settings:

  • Duplex (2-sided) printing
  • Stapling
  • Grayscale printing
  • Draft quality
  • Paper size
  • Paper type – envelope, photographic
  • Printer head alignment
  • Print head cleaning

11. Printer queues

For a full description as well as a video demonstration, see the post Printer Queues.

12. Common Questions

Questions about printers often revolve around a comparison between Inkjet printers and Laser printers:

12.1 Inkjet vs Laser

Inkjet PrinterLaser Printer
Initial Purchase cost of printerCheaperMore expensive
Running costsMore expensiveLess expensive (especially at high volume)
Printing speedSlightly slowerSlightly faster
ReliabilityNozzles can clog / ink dries outCannot clog
Ease of maintenanceMore difficultEasier
CartridgesFilled with ink (liquid)Filled with toner (powder)
Colour capabilitiesBetter for photo-quality prints when used with the correct paperGenerally better for b/w & general colour printing

By MisterFoxOnline

CAT Educator

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