What is a Printer and its Types?

A printer is a peripheral device that takes input from a computer and transfers color or monochrome output to physical media such as paper or transparency film. Printers are essential devices for individual users and businesses to produce physical copies of electronic documents and images.

What is a Printer and its Types?

There are several major types of printers, differentiated by the printing technology they employ:

Inkjet Printers

Inkjet printers work by propelling tiny droplets of liquid ink onto the media. The ink immediately dries and fuses to produce the printed images and text.


  • Inexpensive to purchase
  • High print quality for graphics and photos
  • Quiet operation
  • Energy efficient


  • Ink is more expensive over long term
  • Slower print speeds compared to laser printers
  • Ink susceptible to smudging and water damage

Common inkjet printer manufacturers: HP, Canon, Epson

Laser Printers

Laser printers use a laser beam, powdered ink known as toner, and heat to fuse the toner to the media to create the printed output.


  • Fast print speeds
  • Lower cost per page compared to inkjet printers
  • Crisp, professional-looking text output
  • Toner is waterproof and smudge-resistant


  • Higher upfront costs for device purchase
  • Requires regular maintenance and toner replacements
  • Not ideal for high quality photo printing

Major laser printer manufacturers: HP, Brother, Canon, Samsung

Multifunction Printers (MFPs)

Multifunction printers integrate the basic printing functions with additional capabilities in a single device, most commonly printing, scanning, photocopying and fax.


  • Saves space over multiple devices
  • Typically can handle high monthly print volumes
  • Scan-to-email and scan-to-file functions useful for businesses


  • Tend to be more expensive than single function printers
  • Complex interfaces can have steeper learning curve

Leading multifunction printer brands: HP, Canon, Brother, Epson

3D Printers

3D printers build physical three dimensional objects from digital design files. They work by depositing successive thin layers of materials like plastics, thermoplastics, metals or food ingredients and fusing them together.


  • On-demand production of unique 3D objects
  • Ideal for rapid prototyping and small-batch manufacturing
  • Custom design with complex shapes and structures


  • Typically slower than high-volume traditional manufacturing
  • Size constraints on object dimensions
  • Limited material selection compared to other processes like injection molding

Top 3D printer companies: Ultimaker, FormLabs, Markforged

Label Printers

Label printers are specialized printers designed primarily for printing labels and tags with strong adhesion to attach to documents, products, inventory and more.


  • Fast label printing speeds
  • Feed systems optimized for printing precision
  • Often include built-in cutters
  • Rugged designs for high duty cycle use


  • Typically only print using one or two methods
  • Mostly monochrome-only output
  • Higher costs than general purpose printers

Well-known label printer manufacturers: Brother, Dymo, Zebra

Choosing the Right Printer

With a wide variety of printers on the market, it’s important to select the right model for your specific needs. Key factors to consider include:

  • Intended application: Will you mostly print documents, photos, labels, 3D prototypes? This determines the optimal print technology.
  • Print volume: For high monthly print volumes, laser printers and MFPs are most cost effective long term.
  • Initial costs vs. operating costs: Inkjet printers are typically cheaper upfront while laser printers have lower supplies costs over time.
  • Print speed: Do you need fast print speeds of over 20 pages per minute? Laser printers and high-end inkjets provide the best performance.
  • Networking: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and USB connectivity allow flexible printer placement anywhere in your home or office.
  • Mobile printing: For printing on the go from phones and tablets, Wi-Fi and apps like AirPrint are essential.

Once you settle on the key criteria most important for your printer needs, you can zero in on the models that best fit your unique preferences and usage requirements.

Optimizing Printer Performance

To keep your printer running smoothly and prevent issues like low output quality or jamming, be sure to follow manufacturer recommended printer maintenance and usage guidelines:

  • Use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) ink, toner and parts. Third party supplies often compromise print quality and printer lifespan.
  • Clean the device regularly to prevent toner dust and ink buildup on sensitive components.
  • Replace toner cartridges and ink tanks when they reach recommended page yield levels for optimum output.
  • Print a test page if you notice faint, streaked or faded prints to diagnose print head issues before they worsen.
  • Regularly check and realign paper trays to prevent paper jams inside the printer.
  • Keep printer firmware up to date for compatibility fixes, new features and improved security.

Following best practices for printer maintenance goes a long way towards minimizing downtime and costly printer repairs down the road.

Advances in Printer Technology

Printers continue advancing to provide faster speeds, higher print quality and built-in capabilities that were previously only found in dedicated peripherals. Some recent innovations include:

  • Faster connectivity with USB 3.0, Wi-Fi 6, and 10 gigabit Ethernet on high end printers
  • Enhanced security features like centralized print management to control access
  • Integrated document processing with automatic stapling, hole punching and booklet creation
  • Increased mobile device compatibility with printing flexibility from phones and tablets
  • Improvements in 3D printing with stronger material properties and finer printable feature resolution
  • Ink tank designs that radically reduce the cost per page for photos or document printing

As printers further evolve, they open new possibilities for streamlining office work, unlocking creativity, and customizing the world around us.


From versatile inkjet printers tailored toward crisp photo printing all the way to industrial-scale 3D printers unleashing product designers’ creativity, printers continue getting faster, more cost effective and specialized to every use case imaginable. By selecting the right balance of features and performance for their needs alongside proper maintenance for longevity, from individual users to large enterprises can remain confident their printer investment will support their printing needs both now and into the future.

Key Takeaway: Printers come in a variety of underlying technologies, speeds, capabilities and costs. Carefully evaluating their intended applications and volume usage enables selecting the optimal printer to become a valuable, hassle-free productivity tool.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the most common type of printer used today?
    The most popular printer today across both home and office is the inkjet printer due to its versatility to handle both text documents and photographic prints at affordable purchase prices, despite higher ongoing costs for replacement ink.

  2. Which printer type typically has the lowest operating costs long-term?
    Laser printers tend to have the lowest operating costs over years of use because toner powders can print thousands of pages compared to inkjet cartridges that must be replaced more frequently. However they have a higher upfront investment.

  3. What are the benefits of a multifunction printer versus a standard printer?
    Multifunction printers consolidate printing, scanning, copying and sometimes faxing into a single device. This saves space and offers convenient document digitizing and duplication flexibility that would otherwise require standalone peripherals.

  4. How is 3D printing technology useful compared to traditional manufacturing?
    3D printing enables on-demand production of custom and complex objects without high upfront costs associated with injection molding or CNC machining for mass production. It provides greater design flexibility.

  5. Should third-party or remanufactured ink and toner cartridges be avoided?
    For optimal printer health and output quality, stick to OEM ink and toner supplies. Some third party supplies compromise performance or could even damage the print head mechanisms they interface with over time.

  6. How can print quality issues like streaking or fading be fixed?
    Carefully cleaning the print heads and inside the printer of dust buildup can improve faint or streaked output. If issues persist, replacing the print heads restores them to like-new condition, along with using appropriate printer settings.

  7. What recent innovations have improved printer functionality?
    Faster USB/Ethernet/Wi-Fi connectivity, robust security protocols, automatic on-device document finishing like stapling, advances in 3D printing materials and ink tank printer designs have expanded printers’ usefulness and flexibility.

  8. What should you consider when choosing the right printer for your needs?
    Consider the primary printing application (documents, photos, labels, etc.), average monthly print volume to determine duty cycle, initial printer cost versus longer term consumables expenses, required connectivity types, and whether advanced features like automatic duplexing or scanning are beneficial.

  9. Why is it important to use paper types and media weights a printer is rated for?
    Printer paper trays, feed mechanisms and fusing systems are engineered for certain weights and types. Using inappropriate media can lead to jamming or damage over time. Check manufacturer guidelines before loading specialty paper.

  10. What maintenance steps help maximize printer lifespan?
    Use original manufacturer’s ink or toner supplies to prevent premature wear, clean dust and grime off moving parts and the chassis interior regularly, replace worn components like pickup rollers when needed, keep firmware up to date, and follow usage guidelines.

  11. What are some recent printer security innovations?
    Secure print protocols allow print jobs to require entering a release code at the device to access them. Centralized print management systems also strengthen access control, auditing and optimizing settings across many networked printers simultaneously.

  12. How has mobile printing from smartphones and tablets advanced recently?
    Recent printers include wireless connectivity options like Wi-Fi direct and Bluetooth alongside print apps to enable easy discovering and printing from mobile devices without needing a centralized network. Technologies like AirPrint and Mopria also help simplify the process.

  13. What are the major differences in label printers versus standard printers?
    Label printers utilize adhesive-backed label media designed for high peel/adhesion strength, often have built-in label cutters, maximize print precision alignment, include the ability to print barcodes one-dimensionally or as two-dimensional QR codes, and have more rugged designs to withstand heavy-duty cyclic usage.

  14. What is a thermal printer and how does it work?
    Thermal printers use heat to create images and text on heat-sensitive paper instead of ink. They contain a thermal print head with tiny heating elements that activate to vary the temperature across an output page, darkening the coated paper in shapes that form the output content.

  15. Which printers have the lowest environmental impact?
    Ink tank printers allow refilling ink reservoirs from bottles which generates far less plastic waste over time. Newer printer models also emphasize efficiency features like auto power-down to conserve energy when not in use. Some printers use recycled plastics in their construction.

  16. Can you print usable circuit boards from a 3D printer?
    While affordable desktop 3D printers currently only print non-conductive plastics, high-end specialized 3D printers for electronics can print boards and conductive traces from silver, copper and other metal-infused filaments, allowing printing functional circuit prototypes.

  17. What causes streaks and lines across inkjet printed pages?
    Streaks are typically caused by clogged or dirty print head nozzles. The nozzles dispense tiny ink droplets to form the images. If any nozzles become partially or fully blocked over time due to dried ink or debris, it affects the print quality. Print head cleaning and replacements resolve it.

  18. What is bleed through and how can it be prevented?
    Bleed through occurs when ink soak deep through thin printer paper and is visible from the other side, reducing print quality. Higher weight printer paper minimizes bleeding. For the worst cases, specialty inkjet papers contain coatings to inhibit over-absorption of liquids into the media.

  19. Can you use a 3D printer to duplicate objects?
    With some preparation work, specialized 3D scanning hardware allows creating digital scans of existing objects. The resulting 3D model files feed into slicing software to prepare them for printing. This can effectively duplicate geometric forms. Limitations exist for tiny details and varied material properties.

  20. What are the main differences between inkjet and laser label printers?
    Inkjet label printers offer affordability for lower volume label printing. Laser label printers use toner so have a higher upfront cost but lower consumables cost per label making them better for high volume printing. Toner also provides greater precision and durability important for barcodes and product labels.

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