Ah, the printer. Never was there an office appliance more necessary and more prone to breakdowns and supply issues. Anyone who’s worked in an office or attended college could tell you horror stories of paper jams, ink and toner shortages, and myriad other issues.
However, anyone that says that printing is dead is trying to sell you something. While digital files have replaced most paper memos, your business may still need to physically print certain materials. From market copy to finance records, some things require a physical backup.
In such cases, you need a laser printer to help with the workload.
How does a laser printer compare to traditional inkjet models? How do they function? These questions and more, we’ll answer below.
What Is Laser Printing?
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of how laser printers work, let’s first discuss laser printing as a whole. What is it, exactly?
The laser printer was first conceived in 1969 by now-office-staple company Xerox. Gary Starkweather got the idea to fire laser beams onto a copier drum. These beams would essentially draw the document that needed duplication.
This came in stark contrast to inkjet printing, which relied upon the tried and true method of rapidly stamping ink onto and into the paper to imprint its message.
How Do Laser Printers Work?
So, how do these borderline sci-fi machines that now seem so commonplace function? Let’s break down the steps of the laser printing process to their most basic forms below.
Step One: File Conversion and Sending
Before you can print a file from your computer, it must first get converted into a format that the printer is capable of reading. Your computer, through the magic of coding and programming languages, will break your Word document or picture down into a series of zeroes and ones.
Then, the printer reassembles this code into what will be your final image, capturing and processing the document.
Step Two: Cleaning Away the Old Project
Have you ever swapped channels or apps on a TV, only to notice a faint image left behind from the old program? This is due to pixel burn-in, where the screen can’t clean away the remains of what was once on it. A similar thing can happen with a laser printer that doesn’t or can’t clean off the last project imprinted on it.
This is because laser printers leave behind a physical residue of the previous job. In order to function properly, these printers must both clean away this old residue and ready the photosensitive drum inside of it for the next task.
A rubber-cleaning blade scrapes off what remains of the toner from the last print from the drum. This debris falls into a debris cavity. Simultaneously, any electrical charges that remain get erased by electrostatic erase lamps.
After that, the internal heat roller gets lubricated. This ensures that the incoming document or image receives an even transfer of heat.
Step Three: Charging and Conditioning
During this step, the paper passes through what’s called a corona wire. This gives it a static charge that’s also applied to the toner drum. With static applied to them both, the image can transfer via electrostatic.
How does it do this? Well, imagine that you’ve just taken your clothes out of the dryer and found them clinging to one another with static electricity. Annoying as this might be when it happens to your nice blouse for the office, this same force allows the laser printer to function.
At this, the internal charge roller buzzes into action. It spins the organic photoconductor, or OPC, slathering it with static electricity. This begins the printing process all the way down at the molecular level.
Isn’t science awesome?
Step Four: Firing the Laser Beams
Now comes the fun part. The bit involving the lasers.
As fun as it is to imagine little laser beams firing off like a ship hurtling through space in Star Wars, this process is far less captivating.
The laser beam fires onto the photosensitive drum, reducing every exposed area to around 100 volts of direct current. This generates a latent print invisible to the naked eye as the drum turns. Invisible, because at the moment, it’s nothing more than a pattern of electrons on the surface of the OPC drum.
Within the darkness of the laser printer, a prismatic display occurs as the laser diffracts and refracts into line after line of information. In a laser color printer, these lines will also communicate the color of the ink in CYMK.
Step Five: Time for Development
Once an image with a positive charge wears into the drum, it’s time to develop. During this step of the process, the printer applies toner to the latent image that rests on the drum.
Toner, for the unaware, holds powdered plastics with a negative charge in shades of cyan, yellow, magenta, and black. The drum and toner get held at microscopic distances from each other to facilitate the printing process.
Ground plastics compose the vast majority of toner. However, other substances like pigments, silica, and control agents can keep the toner from clumping.
Step Six: Transferring the Image
Now, the image transfers from the drum to the paper. A secondary corona wire applies positive charges to the paper. Meanwhile, an agitator unit spins inside the toner cartridge, heating it up.
The toner adder spins and gathers the toner’s dust on its surface. To ensure an even amount of toner gets applied, a doctor blade sweeps over the nearby developer roller.
Now, the particles of the toner have a positive charge that will get attracted to the OPC drum through the power of magnetic attraction. Then, the negative charge on the drum leaps onto the positive charge of the paper.
The sheet of paper rolls through each toner cartridge during the transfer process.
Step Seven: Fusion Time
Lastly, the fuser unit applies heat and pressure to the toner, generating a permanent bond with the paper. This happens because the powdered plastics of the toner literally press and melt into the page.
Teflon and silicon oil coat the fuser unit to prevent the paper from sticking to it. Then, once the image and its duplicates have been printed, we return to the cleaning step to prepare the printer to run again.
What Advantages Do Laser Printers Offer?
Now that you have a better idea of how laser printers work, let’s talk about the advantages that a laser printer can offer your business. Some of the reasons you might want to use a laser printer over an inkjet include:
Much Higher Printing Speed Than Inkjets
While the process described above might seem long and complicated, in real-time, it takes seconds to complete. Laser printers have much higher print speeds for first pages, and more consistent pages printed per minute than inkjets.
Office buildings print a lot of material and need it all done five minutes ago. With their higher speeds, laser printers can process higher volumes of paperwork, making them the better choice for busy workplaces.
They Cost Less to Run, Despite Higher Initial Investment
Laser printers tend to be a pricier investment than their inkjet counterparts at the outset. However, though the initial cost might seem higher, you’re saving money in the long run.
Ink cartridges might be cheaper and print hundreds of pages, but toner cartridges will print thousands. You need only look at the page counts for these lexmark toner cartridges for proof of that.
Plus, laser printers are designed for high-volume printing. To get that same ink economy, you’d need an eco tank printer, which are some of the most expensive on the market.
Improved Print Quality
Think for a moment about the size of a droplet of ink. Now, think about the microscopic particles of toner powder that get employed by a laser printer. The smaller the particle size being printed, the greater the accuracy of the image.
Increased accuracy leads to higher print quality, finer detail, and more vibrant colors. This can be a godsend when printing basic marketing materials, where color psychology plays such a large role.
Laser printers were designed with the office environment in mind. They’re built for high-speed, high-volume demands. As such, they undergo much more rigorous testing than inkjet printers.
Increased testing before the printer goes to market ensures reliability for your business.
Are There Any Disadvantages to Using Laser Printers?
Alas, no office appliance can exist without some weaknesses. Laser printers are no exception. Some of the potential disadvantages to using laser printers include, but are not limited to:
Limited Paper Options
Not all types of paper will work with all printers. If you’re using a laser printer, you need to do your research and make sure that the paper you’re using is compatible.
If you use non-laser-compatible paper, this can cause serious damage to the printer. Plus, any media sensitive to heat will cause issues when used with a laser printer. So, for certain marketing materials, it might be best to stick to an inkjet.
High Power Consumption
If your company operates on a slim budget for utilities, you may want to skip the laser printer. Even when they’re idle, these printers consume more power than inkjets due to the laser and heating elements.
Not only does the machine itself consume more power, but it could drive up climate control costs. Laser printers in use can put off a surprising amount of heat. While power-saving modes do exist in more recent models, laser printers still consume more electricity than their counterparts.
Slow Warm-Up Time
The overall printing speed of an inkjet printer is much lower than a laser printer. However, it takes the inkjet much less time to get started on the job. Laser printers need to warm up before they can get into gear.
Once they’re warm, they outperform the inkjet in all fields. But if you’re the first one to use the laser printer in the morning, make sure you allow some time for it to get up to the right temperature.
Potential Health Issues
While most laser printers are perfectly safe to use in any office environment, there are some potential health hazards that need to be discussed. One possible hazard comes from the toner itself, which could prove harmful if its particles are inhaled.
Cleaning up toner powder leaks is an absolute nightmare without having to worry about breathing it in.
Laser printers also tend to use much higher voltage, which could render them more dangerous in the event of an electrical discharge.
The last major disadvantage of laser printers is their size. Due to the complex machinery housed inside of them, they tend to have bulkier frames and take up more physical space than their inkjet counterparts.
If you work in an office with limited floor space, this can present a serious problem. Make sure you account for this before you buy a laser printer for your office.
Let’s Review Everything You Need to Know About a Laser Printer
Laser printers are fascinating technological marvels, rendered mundane by their use in everyday offices. A laser printer uses a multi-step process involving ionic charges, powdered plastics, and laser beams to melt images and documents into static-charged paper. This allows for higher volumes of printing at lower overall costs to the company.
While there are some drawbacks to using laser printers over an inkjet, now that you understand how laser printers work, you can make the decision about whether or not they’re right for your company.
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