How Do Printers Work? The Ultimate Guide


What causes annoying printer paper jams?

Usually, it’s just poorly aligned paper. That simple. By loading your paper smoothly and keeping it flush with the tray, you’ll be able to avoid paper jams altogether!

If printers have always intimidated you, you need to read this guide. Let us show you how printers work, along with the different types of printing technology. We’ll even give you some of the best tips for troubleshooting an unresponsive printer.

How do printers work? Dive into this article and find out.

Inkjet Printing Technology

From the start of the printing press in 1439, the print process has come a long way. Now there are multiple types of printers, each with its own list of pros and cons.

One of the most popular types of printers today is the inkjet printer. Inkjet printers have been around a while and they’re an affordable option.

Any printer that uses tiny droplets of ink to produce an image is an inkjet printer. If you’ve ever looked closely at a freshly printed piece of paper, you’ll be able to see the tiny dots that create the image.

The dots are usually so small that they’re not larger than 50 microns total in diameter. That means that the dots produced by the inkjet printer are smaller than the diameter of a human hair! That’s very tiny.

Precisely placed, the dots will use different colors to create high-quality photographic images. Inkjet printers are a type of printer, but they don’t encompass every printing method.

Using different kinds of technology, there are multiple approaches that inkjet printers can take to produce an image. For instance, there are non-impact versus impact inkjet printers.

Before we dive into the different technologies used for inkjet printers, let’s talk about another type of printer. The laser printer.

How Do Printers Work With Lasers?

How do printers work with lasers? Laser printing technology uses digital data and transforms it into images and text.

The laser beam itself is just a beam of light with intense focus. It uses static electricity to do its work.

Static electricity is the same energy that causes you to get a shock when touching something after walking across a carpet in socks. Another way to witness the phenomenon is to rub a balloon on your head and get it to stick to the wall.

Static electricity is a simple electrical charge that builds upon an insulated object. Atoms that are oppositely charged have an attraction to each other. This causes a static electricity field which creates the clinging effect.

What does any of this have to do with the laser printer? A laser printer uses static electricity to work as a type of adhesive.

The photoreceptor is usually made out of a photoconductive material. After positively charging the photoreceptor, a tiny laser beam shoots across specific points.

The laser helps create the images by establishing specific patterns. After establishing the pattern, the printer coats the cylinder with a positively charged black powder toner.

The toner clings to the specific areas of the drum to help create the image or text. By the end, the laser process creates an electrostatic image. It’s an amazing concept when you think about it.

The laser system can even work in reverse. In other words, you can put a positive electrostatic image on a completely negative background. The incredible process has a rich history with the idea of lasers dating back to the 1900s.

Why Doesn’t the Paper Burn?

Establishing the pattern for the images is just to start. The printer also needs to pass the paper through a hot pair of rollers.

The rollers will melt the black toner powder. Then the heated rollers will pass the paper to the output tray. The fusers are also responsible for heating up the paper, which is why printer paper is so warm when it’s fresh.

Burn Proof

Why doesn’t the printer paper burn? It has to do with the speed of the heated rollers. The heated rollers move so quickly that the paper doesn’t have time to overheat.

There’s also a discharge lamp that creates an etch sketch effect with the photoreceptor. What is a discharge lamp?

The discharge lamp is a super bright light that shines on the photoreceptor. The intense bright light completely erases the electrical image so you can print something new.

Looking Inside an Inkjet Printer

Now that you know more about how an inkjet printer works, let’s look inside!

Here’s a list of what you’ll typically find inside an inkjet printer:

  • Ink cartridges
  • Printhead
  • Stabilizer bar
  • Belt
  • Rollers
  • Paper motor
  • Paper tray
  • Interface ports and power supply

Your ink cartridges can come in color or is separate black cartridges. You can even find color and black within a single cartridge or cartridges to help with each specific color. In some cases, the cartridges are going to include the printhead itself. For the most professional look, you’ll need to use premium toners like

What Each Printer Part Does

It’s the printhead’s job to spray the ink onto the paper using nozzles. Your printer will also include a stepper motor that gives the printhead functionality. The stepper motor is going to move the print head back and forth so that it can create an image or text across the paper.

You can park the printhead stepper motor. When you park the print head assembly, it means that you’re restricting it from moving by accident.

To attach the printhead to the stepper motor, you’ll have a specialized belt. A stabilizer bar also helps keep the printer’s movements precise and efficient.

As far as the paper feet assembly goes, you can expect to have a paper tray that you’ll need to load the fresh printer paper into. The rollers are going to pull the paper in from the tray when it’s time to print.

It’s also helpful if your printer has a stepper motor to keep the paper in perfect position. Modern printers are going to have a power supply built within them, along with a variety of interface ports. Newer printers even have USB C ports.

What Happens When You Push Print?

A lot takes place when you push the print button! Whatever software you’re using has to send data over to the printer driver, for starters. The printer driver will translate the data into a language it understands.

The driver will also check if the printer is online and ready to go. You can also send data to your printer using one of the interfaces, such as a USB port.

After getting the data and translating it, there will be a bit of buffering. You can expect a more considerable buffering time if you’re printing if you have a large print load.

Was the printer sitting still before pushing print? When the printer has been idle for a while, it’s going to perform a short cleaning cycle. After double-checking that the print heads are clean and free of debris, it’ll start working on your order.

The internal control circuitry will kick start the paper feed stepper motor. The paper will begin rolling into the printer.

If there isn’t enough paper, a notification light will pop up, letting you know. After the paper is in place, the belt will begin moving across the page. The printing belt will pause as the nozzles spray ink dots onto the page.

How Long Do the Best Printers Take?

How long do the best printers take from start to finish? The amount of time it takes to create the image or text will depend on what you’re printing. Some printers can go as fast as 16 pages per minute, but they might slow down if you’re using color or a full page-sized image.

When the printing is all done, the printing head will park itself. You can also manually park the head.

The spinning rollers will push the finished product onto the output tray. Did you buy fast-drying ink? Then you can pick the paper up immediately without worrying about smudges.

Impact Printing Technology

There are 2 types of printer technologies that inkjet and laser printers use. They’re impact and non-impact categories of printing technology.

Impact printing requires a physical touching component. The printer can use a character or dot matrix approach for impact technologies.

The dot-matrix approach is the series of tiny dots that we were talking about earlier. Using perfectly placed tiny pins, the printer strikes the ink-coated ribbon. The ink can then transfer to the paper in the form of tiny dots that create an image.

Character impact printing is more like a typewriter. Using special bars with characters, you’ll be forcing the ink onto the paper.

Character printers have limitations. They really only work well for basic text.

As you can imagine, trying to use a character printer to create an intricate image just wouldn’t work. The results will be sloppy, to say the least. Instead, for images, you’ll want to use non-impact printer technology.

Non-impact Printing Technology

Do you need to create an image? Then you’ll want a printer that uses non-impact printer technology.

The non-impact approach means that the printer isn’t going to actually touch the paper. For instance, inkjet printers will use nozzles that spray the ink onto the paper. While a laser printer will use static electricity and heat to fuse the ink onto the paper.

Solid ink printers can also use waxy ink that melts onto the paper and dries into place. Other types of non-impact printers include dye-sublimation printers.

Dye Sublimation

A dye-sublimation printer uses a particularly long roll of transparent film. The film has a cellophane characteristic. The film is also embedded with color.

The special dyes within the film that help produce the images. Using heating technology, the printer reaches precise temperatures.

Depending on the color needed, the temperature adjusts accordingly. Then the dye can vaporize and adhere to the glossy paper.

Thermal Autochrome Options

You should also look into thermal autochrome non-impact printing options. Thermal autochrome printers use paper that has 3 layers of color. A specific heat activates each layer of color.

Thermal Wax Printing

Finally, another type of non-impact printing includes thermal wax printing technologies. Thermal wax is a combination of dye sublimation and standard ink technology.

When you use a thermal wax, the ribbon is going to pass through a series of small hot pins. The pins melt the wax so that it sticks to the paper.

Trouble Shooting an Unresponsive Printer

You press print. But nothing happens. What gives?

Before you start worrying that you broke something, take a breath. There are a lot of things that can cause a printer to be unresponsive.

The best part is you can usually fix these problems yourself within a few moments. First, you’ll want to check the basics.

For instance, is the printer plugged in and turned on? Does it have paper? Did you plug in all of the right cables?

What about your wireless connections? If it’s a Bluetooth printer, you might have an interruption causing the delay. Here are some tips to reset your Bluetooth devices with a Windows 10 setup.

Finally, you’ll need to check the toner cartridges. Are they full and ready to go?

Read Error Message Again

Double read the error message if your printer still isn’t printing after checking the basics. Do a quick internet search to see what other users are doing when their printer presents the same error message.

Your printer may be telling you exactly what’s going wrong so that you can choose the best troubleshooting tactic.

Restart Printer

When all else fails, you can reset the printer. After turning the printer off, wait 5 minutes before turning it back on again.

You should also restart your software application. Often, checking the basics and restarting the printer is all it takes. Before you know it, you’ll be printing at lightning-fast speeds.

Navigating Printing Technology With Ease

How do printers work? Answered! The next time you’re buying a new printer or fixing your current one, you’ll at least have an idea of what you’re dealing with.

We suggest going a step further by learning more about your specific printer model. For instance, do you have an inkjet or a laser printer? What toner works best for your model?

The more you know, the better off you’ll be if a printing problem pops up! For more smart tips, read another one of our articles.