Types of printers and their characteristics

A printer is an output device that is used to convert soft copy information to hard copy. Most of today`s printers are connected to the system unit by a USB and even others are wireless. The earlier computer though used a different interface to connect.

Types of printers currently in the market include laser, inkjet, dot-matrix, drum, and 3D among others. They are characterized by the quality of the print, speed, the noise produced, the technology used, and tray size.

The printer receives the information to be printed from the computer and then stores it in its RAM. The information stored in the printer RAM can be printed even if it is disconnected from the computer for any reason. From RAM the information is converted into instructions which are then printed.

Classification of printers and their characteristics

The printers can be classified in 3 main ways:

  1. How they print data
  2. How the paper interacts with the printing head
  3. Technology

1. How the paper interacts with the printing mechanism

This is the basic category and it classifies all printers into 2:

Impact printer:

These printer uses physical force to print images into paper. The paper makes contact with printing ribbon example dot matrix printers.

Non-impact printers:

They don’t use physical force to print images and no contact between the paper and printing ribbon e.g inkjet and laser

2. How do they print characters

The other way printers are classified is by how they print the character. They are 2 classes which are:

Line printers

They print a whole line of the document at a time. All characters of the given line are printed together e.g. drum printer.

Character printers

They print each character at a time e.g. Daisy wheel.

3. Printing technology

The next classification is in terms of the technology that is used to print. They include:

a) Inkjet printers

They are non-impact printers that produce a print by spraying a jet of ink through a nozzle to create a small dot that becomes part of the print-out. The manufacturer can use either piezoelectric technology or thermal inkjet technology.

inkjet types of printers

Advantages of inkjet printers.

  • High-quality printout.
  • Less noise compared with dot-matrix.
  • Low cost compared with the laser printer.
  • Faster than dot-matrix
  • Ink cartridges cost less compared to toners used in laser printers.

Disadvantages of inkjet printers.

  • The ink cartridge will require frequent and costly replacement.
  • The cost of print per page is high.
  • The print can be blurred if it comes in contact with water. It fades away when it gets into contact with water.
  • Nozzles are prone to clogging and damage.

b) Dot matrix printers

They are the oldest types of printers and they are impact printers. They use the concept of a typewriter where the ribbon makes the print by direct impact with the paper being printed.

dotmatrix printer

Advantages of dot matrix printers

  • They are cheap (although they are not common these days)
  • The cost of printing is low.
  • They can print carbon copy
  • They can tolerate environmental changes like temperature.
  • Can be used with continuous paper.

Disadvantages of dot matrix printers

  • They create a lot of noise due to the printing mechanism that they use.
  • Have low printing speed
  • Produce black and white print only.
  • The quality of the print-out is low compared with other technology.

c) Laser printers

They are non-impact printers that use toner. The toner can be either colored or black.

laser printer

Advantages laser printers

  • It has the best printout compared to all the other printers.
  • Prints at a very high speed.
  • It prints quietly.
  • Offers high-quality print because of its high resolution.
  • They are the most reliable printer around.
  • The printout is not affected by water compared with an inkjet printer.

Disadvantages of laser printers.

  • The initial cost of acquiring is high.
  • The cost of toner is more expensive compared with ink used on other printers.
  • It is bulky.

3D printers

This is a new technology of printing also called additive manufacturing. These are printers that are used to produce physical items rather than text on a piece of paper. They print or manufacture items by adding layers of material to create depending on the item design from a computer. Read a more detailed article on 3D printing.

Factors to consider when selecting a printer

  • Speed

Check the number of pages that a printer can print per minute. If your work involves printing bulk work then you may consider one that can print more pages. Another speed you need to consider is the time that the printer takes after you have sent the command and actual printing. Some printer takes more time than other.

  • Paper tray size

How much printing paper can the printer tray hold without the need of refilling it? Also how many can it hold on the output side before they start falling from the holding bay? This depends on the purpose of the printer.

  • Cost

The first cost to consider is the initial cost when you are acquiring the printer for the first time. This depends on your budget. The other cost is the printer maintenance cost. This involves the cost of ink to be used, new toner, and other consumables.

  • Quality of print

It is measured in the number of dots per inch (dpi). This is the number of dots that can be printed per inch of the printing material. The high the number of dots the better the print.

  • Interface to PC

This involves how the printer connects to the PC where it is getting the document. The latest printers use a USB connector and port and even others use wireless technology.


It is not categorized as a printer but it does the same job. Plotters are used to give the output but they draw lines with the use of pens instead of the dot that the printers create when developing the print. Plotters are used mostly to create blueprints. You can read more on the types, uses, and advantages of using plotters.


What are printer consumables?

A consumable is an item that will require to be replaced periodically as the product continues to be used. This means if a product has consumers like a printer you should factor in the cost of buying them and how frequently they will be needed.

Below is a list of consumables used in a printer.

  1. Printer toner cartridge: it is mostly used by laser type of printer. The ink in the toner is in powder form and it is used together with a printer drum. They are replaceable after the ink is finished.
  2. Printer drum: it is the mechanism that embeds the powder ink from the toner to the paper during printing. If it has a problem, it can be replaced with a new one. Here are the differences between printer drums and toner cartridges.
  3. Ink: For inkjet types of printers users can buy ink for a refill.
  4. Printer fuser: it is the part made of 2 rollers where one is used for heating and the other applies pressure to the paper. The heat melts the powder ink then it is pressed onto the paper. It is used in printers that use laser technology to print. If your printout is having dirty dark lines, frequent paper jams, or produces overlapping text then check on the fuser.
  5. Printing papers: These are general printing papers that can be sourced from any dealer. However, printer manufacturer specifies the best type of paper that their printer use for optimum operation. The wrong kind of paper can damage the printer fuser in some printers.

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