What is Printer? (Types & Uses)

What is Printer

What is Printer?

A printer is an electronic device that produces text or graphics on paper or other physical media, by applying ink or toner onto the surface of the medium.

Printers are commonly used for personal, educational, and commercial purposes, and come in various types such as inkjet, laser, and thermal printers.


  • The printer attached to a computer is considered as a peripheral device which is required only when you need to print a document.
  • Older printers needed to be attached to a computer but newer ones can be connected to a wireless network.
  • Newer printers typically come with a small amount of memory for storing print jobs in the print buffer, printer settings, and printer fonts.

Understanding Printer

What is Printer

A printer is one of the hardware peripherals of a computer that can print anything such as a text document or image or a combination of both.

The input command for printing is given by the users which is taken in and processed by the CPU and sent to the printer.

It then responds to that command by producing the printed output.

Therefore, a printer is that hardware device that changes a soft copy of a document stored electronically in your computer into a hard copy on paper which you can physically sign, distribute or use for any other purposes.

It is quite hard to say who invented a computer printer because there are so many different types of it developed over the years.

Still, the first mechanical printing machine was created by Charles Babbage in the 1800s by using his Difference Engine.

There were metal rods with printed characters on each of them that printed the text on paper fed through the machine.

Different Printer Interfaces

A printer can be connected to a computer in a few different ways that helps them to communicate with each other.

The most common wired type of interface is the USB or Universal Serial Bus cable.

And, as for the wireless connection, Wi-Fi signals are used.

Apart from that, a printer can also be connected to a computer with different other ports and cables such as:

Beneficial Features

The modern printers come with features that are beneficial by themselves for the users such as:

  • Compact and stylish design that allows installing it anywhere
  • Higher cost to benefit ratio irrespective of their type
  • Higher paper and ink capacity which ensures uninterrupted workflow
  • Multiple functions in few models reduces investment and
  • Photo and color printing ability makes life easy.

There are different benefits of using a printer and that may vary depending on the type of printer used.

However, the most common benefits are:

  • Print several copies of a document in quick time for distribution
  • Print receipts of online purchases
  • Print a document that needs to be signed physically and
  • Print colored images to see them without a monitor.

However, the 3D printers offer some unique benefits such as print tools, parts or toys to build or replace and even objects to be sold.

Languages and Fonts

As said earlier, a printer accepts input commands given by the users on a computer or on other devices to print the documents.

For example, if you have to submit a project report at your college, you need to create a soft copy of your report and print it with the help of the printer.

These commands usually use printer languages.

Printer languages refer to the instructions given to it by the computer which tells it about the format in which the document is to be printed.

The commands are very useful for the printer because it manages different aspects of printing such as:

  • The format
  • The font size
  • Data compression
  • The graphics
  • Color and more.

There are two most widely used printer languages and each of these has distinctive features as follows:


This particular printer language uses English phrases along with programmatic constructions to define how the printed document should look.

This specific language was developed in 1985 by Adobe with new features such as:

  • Vector graphics
  • Outline fonts and more.

However, the functionality of this specific language is not limited to the printers alone.

In fact, it can be used for any such device that can produce an image even using dots such as:

  • Slide recorders
  • Screen displays and
  • Image setters.

Printer Control Language

Commonly known as PCL, this is an escape code language.

This is named likewise because the command sequence is initiated by the Escape key which is followed by a set of code numbers.

Printer Control Language was originally developed by HP for the inkjet and dot matrix printers.

Since then, this language has become the industry standard and it has been copied by other manufacturers selling HP clones, though these clones are not 100% identical.

The PCL can change the look from poor quality to exceptional one even for the low-cost printed documents.

As for the printer fonts, which signify the series of characters of a particular size and style that is to be used for designing the overall typeface, typically, the printers use two types of fonts to print a document namely:

  • The resident fonts and
  • The soft fonts.
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Resident fonts

These fonts are usually built in the printer hardware and therefore are also known as the built-in fonts or internal fonts.

There are one or more fonts in every printer but you can add more of these internal fonts in the printer.

All you have to do is insert a font cartridge in it or install the soft fonts on the hard drive. However, you cannot erase resident fonts, unlike soft fonts.

Soft fonts

These fonts are usually installed onto the flash drive or hard drive and are then sent to the memory of the computer while printing a document with a particular soft font. You can purchase soft fonts from the stores or download from the internet.

Types of Printers

What is Printer

Printers can be either 2D or 3D where the 2D printers print on paper and the 3D printers print on 3D physical objects.

The most commonly used printers, as said before, are the inkjet printers used at homes usually, and the laser jet printers, typically used in the offices.

In addition to that, based on the design and functionalities, the printers can be categorized into different types such as:

  • 3D printers
  • AIO or All-In-One printers
  • Dot matrix printers
  • LED printers
  • Solid ink printers
  • MFP or Multi-Function Printers
  • Plotters and
  • Thermal printers.

Here is the brief description of each.

Inkjet printers:

Development of inkjet printers started in the 1950s but a functional one came in the late 1970s manufactured by Epson, Canon, HP and other companies.

These printers can print high quality digital images.

The working principle is similar to that of the dot matrix printers but there are no pins or ribbons used in these printers. These printers are quite fast.

These printers are widely used in homes and businesses. It prints by spraying ink on the paper with the help of magnetic plates.

The different parts of it are:

  • A paper feed assembly
  • A print head
  • An ink cartridge
  • A stabilizer bar and
  • A belt.

These affordable and easy to use printers have separate ink cartridges for magenta, yellow, cyan, and black color to print high-quality pictures with vivid colors.

The advantages offered by the inkjet printers are:

  • High-quality output
  • Faster printing
  • Ease in use and
  • No warm up time.

The downsides of these printers are their high running cost and no highlighter marker.

Laser printers:

This is a commonly used printer in personal computers. It was invented by Gary Starkweather in the 1970s.

These printers were introduced by HP in 1984 followed by Apple the next year with their Apple LaserWriter which featured PostScript technology.

Laser printers are more complex but faster.

These printers use non-impact photocopier technology using a laser beam to draw the document using electric charges on the selenium-coated drum.

This charges the drum which is rolled in the toner containing dry ink powder which combines with the paper.

The heat and pressure generated usually transfers it on the paper.

On completion, the electric charge is removed from the drum and extra toner is collected.

It usually prints in monochrome but expensive color laser printers are also available.

Its advantages offered by the laser printers are:

  • Higher paper capacity
  • Less expensive than inkjet printer and
  • Faster output.

Its downsides include the warm up time, bulky and high voltage needs.

3D printers:

Created by Chuck Hull in 1984, the 3D printers work on the digital blueprint of any object and reproduce the same layer-by-layer.

It produces 3D objects with quality resin and also uses different materials such as:

  • Metal alloys
  • Plastic
  • Polymers and even
  • Food elements.

The 3D printers have different applications such as in:

  • Archaeology
  • Information systems
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Biotechnology and
  • Dentistry.

These printers work with a CAD or Computer Aided Design software system to create the prototype first.

This is then sent to the printer in Stereo Lithography or STL file format which reads the cross section of the prototype and recreates the object, layer-by-layer.

The advantages of 3D printer are:

  • 3D output
  • Full customization
  • Cost effective
  • Easy to access
  • Better quality and
  • Infinite shapes and geometry.

The disadvantages of 3D printers include high initial cost, high energy consumption, limited materials and a pretty slow output.

LED printers:

These non-impact printers invented by OKI in 1989 are similar to the laser printer but in place of a laser they use Light Emitting Diodes for the printer head.

The other vital parts of these printers are:

  • Ink
  • A drum and
  • A fuser system.

Light is focused throughout the entire length of the photoreceptive drum that is charged highly with static electricity by using a high voltage wire.

The LEDs located below or above the drum produce negative static charge and the light from them hits a positively charged drum.

This erases the charge and generates a negative electrostatic charge that attracts the toner particles.

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These toner particles are positively charged and stick to the surface which is negatively charged.

The paper gets positively charged when it enters the printer by the high voltage wire and draws the toner from the surface.

As the paper moves between the two heated rollers it carries the toner with it while coming out.

The advantages of the LED printer are:

  • Low cost and
  • Ability to print on 3D items.

Solid ink printers:

These printers save money and space both and use a unique ink technology. It is melted before it is put on the drum.

This offers a good color combination because the drum can be controlled according to the moving paper.

These printers come with only three major assemblies such as:

  • The print head
  • The drum and
  • The controller.

The advantages of solid ink printer are:

  • Good print quality
  • Dynamic colors
  • Easy to handle
  • Quite affordable
  • Non-toxic vegetable oils
  • Spillage or leakage free
  • Fast printing
  • Easy ink loading and
  • Takes less space.

The disadvantages of these printers include warm up time, cool down time, UV light sensitivity, and more power consumption.

Dot matrix printers:

Created for the first time by IBM or International Business Machine in 1957 it was however introduced in 1970 by Centronics.

The print head in it contains pins which sit on an ink ribbon resting above the paper.

The print head moves horizontally across the ribbon and the pins press on it to imprint on the page using several dots.

The advantages of dot matrix printer are:

  • Less expensive
  • Easily available
  • Can print carbon copies of a specific print out
  • Lowest printing cost and
  • Low maintenance.

The disadvantages of it include slow output, low resolution, annoying noise, and needing proper paper aligning.

Multifunction printers:

Also known as All in Ones, these printers can perform a variety of tasks such as:

  • Printing
  • Scanning
  • Faxing and
  • Copying.

These printers can be connected to a computer via a wired or wireless connection and can also be used as copiers by controlling it from the control panel.

The advantages of multifunction printers are:

  • Multipurpose single unit
  • Saves floor space
  • Faster operation
  • Less cables and therefore low congestion and
  • Low consumption of power.

The disadvantages of these printers include high operating cost, high maintenance cost, high ink usage, works may stack up due to FIFO or First In First Out rule, and all work stops during breakdown.

Thermal printers:

Invented by Jack Kilby these printers that use hot pins to produce an image are known in different names such as:

  • Electro thermal printer
  • Thermal wax-transfer printer and
  • Thermal transfer printer.

These low-cost printers print fast and do not use ink. These are used extensively in different sectors such as:

  • Airline
  • Banking
  • Entertainment
  • Grocery
  • Retail
  • Fax
  • Healthcare industries and
  • Calculators.

Working on thermal paper and no ink, there is no need to change ribbons or ink in these printers and therefore can work uninterruptedly.

The different advantages of thermal printers are:

  • No ink or cartridges save time
  • Easy to use
  • Noise-free
  • Cheaper and
  • Fast output.

The disadvantages of these printers include high heat and inability to produce color print outs well.


Invented in 1953 by Remington-Rand, this printer does not use ink or toner to print but typically uses pen, pencil and marker to produce a hard copy of schematics.

There are different types of plotters available such as:

  • Drum plotter or a roller plotter where the paper moves back and forth on the drum and the pens move left and right to draw a line in any direction
  • Flatbed plotter where a moving bar travels across the paper placed on a large horizontal surface to draw the line
  • Electrostatic plotter which draws on a negatively charged paper with positively charged toner or ink
  • Inkjet plotter or a Pinch Roller plotter that showers tiny drops of ink on the paper to produce an image and
  • Cutting plotter which is of the latest generation and cuts shapes used for sign-making, ads, Billboard, or vehicle graphics.

The advantages of plotter are:

  • Ability to print on large sheet of paper, aluminum, plastic, steel, or plywood and
  • Ability to save the patterns and templates.

The disadvantages of a plotter include large size and high cost.

Some of the above mentioned types of printers may also come in a different variant with some modified features to use for different functions. These are:

  • Photo printer which is fundamentally an inkjet printer that can print on specially coated paper
  • Digital printer which is used to print small quantity of any document that needs sharp details
  • Label printer which is very fast and is not like ordinary printers since it has a specific type of feed mechanism
  • Barcode printer that can print barcode labels or tags even directly on an object by making the use of thermal transfer printers
  • PVC card printer that can print on plastic or PVC that are typically very smooth by running a heater printhead over the ribbon
  • Sublimation printers that also use heat for printing on clothing materials such as socks, T-shirts, hoodies and other fabric
  • Portable printers that are small and light in weight and are typically used in hotels, shops and other outlets to print bills for credit card and other modes of payment
  • Sticker printer which is also a type of label printer but uses a self-adhesive sticker material for printing and
  • Canvas printer which is actually an inkjet printer but is used to reproduce 2D paintings, drawings and photos.
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With so many variants of printers available today, it can be put into different uses, which brings to the final section of the article.

Uses of Printers

The printers can be used for different purposes which largely depend on the type of it.

Here are some of the major uses with a brief description against each.

Personal Use:

Printing personal documents and images for domestic use fall under this category.

The printers used for personal use are typically designed to handle low volume printing requirements but can produce high quality prints at high speed.

Typically, the inkjet printers fall under this category and are used to print documents such as:

  • Personal letters
  • Family greeting cards
  • Family pictures and others.

These printers are usually compact in design and small in size.

General Use:

Just as the name suggests, any document printed for general purposes falls under this category.

These printers are typically designed to handle a wide variety of printing requirements.

The output may not be of exceptionally high quality but these printers can print anything from emails to text letters, and from the term paper of your child to the notice for a lost animal or flyer for the garage sale.

Marketing Use:

This includes printing objects such as banners, advertisements, billboards, marketing signs and other various materials that are typically used for business promotion and marketing purposes.

The printers used for such requirements are wide format printers.

Business Use:

This includes printing any document related to the business.

Once again, the printers used for this purpose are usually wide format printers. However, these printers can print on almost all sizes of media.

These robust printers are designed to handle large volumes of documents to print and are therefore found in almost all types of business environments.

The ink cartridges in these printers are larger and therefore can hold more ink to print for a long time.

The ink cartridge does not load on the print carriage but is usually inserted in the slots located in the front or behind a cover.

There are tubes to feed the ink to the printheads. However, the ink pump needs to be primed which takes time.

Other Uses:

The wide format printers in particular are also used for other purposes that can be categorized as general uses.

  • Party banners – The event coordinators and party planners usually use attractive and professional banners related to the party or event to decorate the venue. However, individuals hosting private parties in their homes or other places also look for these banners because they are pretty.
  • Signage – If you want to make a signage look more attractive using a wide format printer is the best device for that. The materials used in these projects are often long lasting which will add to your Return on Investment.
  • Architectural and engineering plans – Blueprints or building plans are usually large and also need absolute accuracy and detailed measurements. Therefore, a regular print-out will not make the cut. A wide format printer once again proves to be useful to print drawings, plans and diagrams.
  • Education – Large printed materials prove to be extremely handy and a proven visual aid during lectures and any educational program. This can be a huge map or a valuable work of art to study.
  • Graphic design – Any graphic design artist will love large print-outs of the samples of their creation put on display in an exhibition or for a presentation. It can be anything from decoration to interior design and more.

So, the uses of printers today can be varied and wide. The printers expedite the process of replicating things whether it is any personal document or image or any piece of art or a legal document for business merger and acquisition.


So, as it is clear from this article, a printer plays a varied role depending on its type.

It is required in both homes and businesses to print hard copies of data stored in the computer.

This saves the users from the hassles of recreating the data in the computer on paper painstakingly by some other manual methods.

About Taylor

AvatarTaylor S. Irwin is a freelance technology writer with in-depth knowledge about computers. She has an understanding of hardware and technology gained through over 10 years of experience.

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