Printer Advice: Laser printers

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In the 1980s, dot-matrix and laser printers were pre-dominant, with inkjet technology not emerging in any significant way until the 1990s. The laser printer was introduced by Hewlett-Packard in 1984, based on technology developed by Canon. It worked in a similar way to a photocopier, the difference being the light source. With a photocopier a page is scanned with a bright light, while with a laser printer the light source is, not surprisingly, a laser. After that the process is much the same, with the light creating an electrostatic image of the page onto a charged photoreceptor, which in turn attracts toner in the shape of an electrostatic charge.

Laser printers quickly became popular due to the high quality of their print and their relatively low running costs. As the market for lasers has developed, competition between manufacturers has become increasingly fierce, especially in the production of budget models. Prices have gone down and down as manufacturers have found new ways of cutting costs. Output quality has improved, with 600dpi resolution becoming more standard, and build has become smaller, making them more suited to home use.

Laser printers have a number of advantages over the rival inkjet technology. They produce much better quality black text documents than inkjets, and they tend to be designed more for the long haul - that is, they turn out more pages per month at a lower cost per page than inkjets. So, if it's an office workhorse that's required, the laser printer may be the best option. Another factor of importance to both the home and business user is the handling of envelopes, card and other non-regular media, where lasers once again have the edge over inkjets.

Considering what goes into a laser printer, it is amazing they can be produced for so little money. In many ways, the components which make up a laser printer are far more sophisticated than those in a computer. The RIP (raster image processor) might use an advanced RISC processor; the engineering which goes into the bearings for the mirrors is very advanced; and the choice of chemicals for the drum and toner, while often environmentally unsound, is fascinating. Getting the image from the PC's screen to paper requires an interesting mix of coding, electronics, optics, mechanics and chemistry.

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