A brief history of the modern computer printer


Computer printers are all around us today. They are found in many homes, throughout the majority of businesses, and they can even be accessed in libraries and other public buildings. They provide a convenient and reasonably inexpensive means of publishing a wide variety of documents, ranging from simple text documents to full colour reports and even photographs.

While a printer can be picked up for little more than £30 and cartridges are available at under £10 each, for some models, this hasn’t always been the case. When printers were first introduced, they were prohibitively expensive for home users, and only the most advanced and well-off businesses could really afford to invest in a printer.

Dot Matrix

Early consumer printers were based on daisy wheel designs, which were very similar to the working mechanism of a typewriter. However, these were slow, and line printers were introduced as a more updated and faster printing alternative. Dot matrix printers could print a combination of both text and images, but the finished quality was low.

The LaserJet

HP launched the LaserJet laser printer in 1984. It was available for a price roughly equivalent to £2,000 which would be considered expensive by today’s standards but was considered a major breakthrough at the time. Apple launched the Laser Writer a year later, and this competition saw prices begin to drop and quality start to increase. Inkjet printers were replacing the now obsolete daisywheel and dot matrix printers and, by 1990, good quality desktop printers were available for under £100. By today’s standards the quality was poor, but leaflets, flyers, and similar paper based designs were being created on desktop computers and printed at home for relatively little outlay.

3D Printing

3D printing may be considered the next evolution in printing, although strictly speaking it is a means of additive manufacturing and not printing. It is also still considered highly specialist and, although home 3D printers are available, the industry has yet to truly blossom.

Today’s Printers

In today’s printer market, the two most commonly used variants are monochrome laser printers and colour inkjet printers:

  • Laser Printers – Monochrome laser printers produce high quality text and graphics by passing a laser over a negatively charged drum. The drum collects electrically charged ink, called toner, and transfers it to the paper, which is then heated in order to create a lasting representation. These devices, which were once considered cutting edge and carried a fittingly high price tag, are not only affordable but are readily available and are commonly found in homes and offices across the world.
  • Inkjet Printers – Epson, HP, and Canon were the frontrunners in developing inkjet printers in the 1970s, and these three manufacturers, along with Brother, are responsible for the production and manufacturing of the majority of this type of printer to this day. Droplets of ink are propelled onto paper or other types of printing media with print quality varying according to the cost and quality of the printer itself. Inexpensive models are available that offer reasonable printing at low costs, while more expensive models can produce high quality and attractive prints but not only do the printers themselves cost more, but so too does each printed page.

As well as improvements in the quality of the printers themselves, the market has also experienced improved printer ink quality and reduced cost on printing consumables. Buying ink and toner is easy, quick, and convenient, and it means that consumers and businesses can enjoy continuous printing solutions, whatever their specific requirements.

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