Digital Printing


Digital printing describes the process of transferring a document on a personal computer or other digital storage device to a printing substrate by means of a device that accepts text and graphic output. As with other digital processes, information is reduced to binary code, or "digitized," to facilitate its storage and reproduction. Digital printing has steadily replaced lithography in many markets, especially at the consumer and business level, as a result of its substantially lower production costs.

The following peripheral s are all capable of digital printing:

inkjet printer
laser printer
multifunction peripheral

Inkjet Printer

An inkjet printer is a computer peripheral that produces hard copy by spraying ink onto paper. A typical inkjet printer can produce copy with a resolution of at least 300 dots per inch ( dpi ). Some inkjet printers can make full color hard copies at 600 dpi or more. Many models include other devices such as a scanner , photocopier , and dedicated fax machine along with the printer in a single box.

In the inkjet printing mechanism, the print head has several tiny nozzles, also called jets. As the paper moves past the print head, the nozzles spray ink onto it, forming the characters and images. An inkjet printer can produce from 100 to several hundred pages, depending on the nature of the hard copy, before the ink cartridges must be replaced. There is usually one black ink cartridge and one so-called color cartridge containing ink in primary pigments (cyan, magenta, and yellow). Some inkjet printers use a single cartridge with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink. A few models require separate cartridges for each primary pigment, along with a black ink cartridge.

The principal advantage of inkjet printers is the fact that most of them are inexpensive. Inkjet printers are often given away at computer superstores along with the purchase of a personal computer or substantial peripheral. Even the cheapest inkjet printers are satisfactory for most of the needs of personal computer users. High-end inkjet printers can render digital images on special paper, with quality rivaling that of professionally produced glossy or matte photographs. Another advantage of inkjet printers is their light weight and modest desktop footprint . Many models are easy to transport, and are preferred by traveling salespeople for this reason alone.

The copy from an inkjet printer needs a little time to dry. Adequate drying time is especially important if the hard copy contains large regions of solid black or color. Inkjet printers also require non-porous paper. In bond paper containing cotton or other fibers, the ink may bleed along the fibers. Paper designed especially for inkjet printers is heavier than the paper used with laser printer s or photocopiers (24 pound vs 20 pound), has higher brilliance (it's "whiter"), and is somewhat more expensive. Another limitation is the fact that most inkjet printers are slow and they are not designed for high-volume print jobs. While the initial cash outlay for an inkjet printer may be modest (or zero), this type of printer is expensive to operate over time compared with a laser printer. When it is necessary to make hundreds of copies per day or thousands of copies per week, an office quality laser printer is a better choice.

Laser Printer

A laser printer is a popular type of personal computer printer that uses a non-impact (keys don't strike the paper), photocopier technology. When a document is sent to the printer, a laser beam "draws" the document on a selenium-coated drum using electrical charges. After the drum is charged, it is rolled in toner, a dry powder type of ink. The toner adheres to the charged image on the drum. The toner is transferred onto a piece of paper and fused to the paper with heat and pressure. After the document is printed, the electrical charge is removed from the drum and the excess toner is collected. Most laser printers print only in monochrome. A color laser printer is up to 10 times more expensive than a monochrome laser printer.

IBM introduced the first laser printer in 1975 for use with its mainframe computers. In 1984, Hewlett-Packard revolutionized laser-printing technology with its first LaserJet, a compact, fast, and reliable printer that personal computer users could afford. Since then, laser printers have decreased further in price and increased in quality. Hewlett Packard continues to be the leading manufacturer with competitors including Lexmark, Okidata, and Xerox.

The laser printer is different from an inkjet printer in a number of ways. The toner or ink in a laser printer is dry. In an inkjet, it is wet. Over time, an inkjet printer is about ten times more expensive to operate than a laser printer because ink needs replenishing more frequently. The printed paper from an inkjet printer will smear if wet, but a laser-printed document will not. Both types of printer operate quietly and allow fonts to be added by using font cartridges or installing soft fonts. If your printing needs are minimal, an inkjet printer is sufficient. But if your printing volume is high, consider buying a laser printer.

When buying a laser printer, these are some important features to consider:

Print capacity and speed: Personal laser printers are sufficient for printing an average of 200 pages per week. These are low-end and cost $200 and up. They can print up to eight ppm (pages per minute). A workgroup printer is needed if an average of 1000 pages per week is needed. These print up to 24 ppm and cost $1000 to $6000 and more. Production printers are needed for printing 50,000 or more pages per week. These are quite expensive and are used by commercial publishers. They can print up to 700 ppm and cost $100,000 and up. They can print 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Resolution: The standard resolution in most laser printers today is 600 dots-per-inch ( dpi ). This resolution is sufficient for normal everyday printing including small desktop publishing jobs. A high-end production printer might have a resolution of 2400 dpi. Some laser printers still use a resolution of 300 dpi. This resolution can cause jagged lines to appear on the outer edge of an image. Hewlett Packard created RET (Resolution Enhancement Technology) to correct this. RET inserts smaller dots at the edges of lines and to smooth the rough edges. RET does not improve the resolution, but the document looks better. If you purchase a printer with 300 dpi, make sure it has RET.

Printer languages: Printer Control Language ( PCL ) is the standard printer language for Hewlett Packard and most other laser printers (which are mostly HP-compatible). PCL is used for printing letters, database printouts, spreadsheets, and simple graphics. Postscript printers are used with desktop publishing software and drawing packages. Postscript printers are the norm for Apple Macintosh printers. A laser printer that comes with Postscript installed is more expensive. A laser printer that uses PCL can be upgraded to Postscript by installing a software driver provided by the manufacturer of the laser printer. The printer might require more memory when upgraded to use Postscript. This is because a laser printer needs the entire image in memory before printing, and a Postscript printer requires more memory to process than a PCL printer does. The application being used must support Postscript in order for the laser printer to print Postscript documents.

Paper handling: Paper handling is important when shopping for a laser printer. Most laser printers use letter-size, cut-sheet paper. High-end production printers use continuous sheet paper. Laser printers can print on transparencies, adhesive labels, and lightweight cards. A laser printer with duplex printing can print on one side of the paper, turn the paper over, and print on the other side. Most laser printers, however, use simple printing with manual duplex printing. Manual duplex printing is achieved by changing the print options in the printer's properties or printing one side and taking that same paper and reinserting it into the printer to print on the other side.

FPOT and warm-up time: A final consideration in purchasing a printer is FPOT (first paper out time) and warm-up time. When a laser printer receives data from the computer to print, it takes 5 to 30 seconds to prepare the printer to print a new job. This is in addition to the time it takes to actually print the document. The warm-up time is as important. When the printer is turned on, it needs time to warm up the fuser to operating temperature. If the printer has a standby mode or is turned off between printing jobs, the warm-up time becomes even more important. Large workgroup and production printers can take 5 to 15 minutes to warm up. This waiting period can hinder overall productivity.

Multifunction Peripheral (MFP)

A multifunction peripheral (MFP) is a device that performs a variety of functions that would otherwise be carried out by separate peripheral devices. As a rule, a multifunction peripheral includes at least two of the following:

A printer
A scanner
A copier
A fax machine

Multifunction peripheral devices often have a base function with one or more added capabilities. Here are some common examples:

Digital copy machine: Creates copies digitally, by scanning and printing. In addition to scanning and printing, may include fax, sorter and office hardware, such as a stapler.
Fax machine MFP: Looks like a normal fax but connects to a PC for data input/output, printing, scanning and copying.
Printer/Scanner/Copier MFP: Performs all three functions and sometimes faxing as well.

Cost savings and lower space requirements make multifunctional peripherals a practical choice for many people who would ordinarily have to buy separate devices. On the other hand, those who require high-end functioning may be better served by a device dedicated to that particular use.

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