You’ve probably had a printer for a while, but do you really know how it works? What happens if your printer breaks? You’ll probably take it back to the shop or get a new one. But you don’t have to. Printers can be repaired, and if you know how yours works, you’ll stand a better chance of doing it. Even if you don’t want to repair a printer any time and your is still in full working order, you still might want to know how one works, It’s good to have more knowledge about things, right?

In this article, we’re going to look more closely at how printers work. For the basis of this article, we’ll mostly be talking about inkjet printers. This is the most common type of home printer, and it’s probably what you’ve already got. While there are other printers like laser printers, these aren’t as popular anymore. Big publishers and printworks might have more sophisticated or bigger machinery, but you’ve probably just got an inkjet at home. Some of this info also makes sense for other types of printers, but most of it is specific to inkjets. So how does a printer work?

How does a printer work?

Let’s have a look at how a printer creates an image as well as what equipment makes up a printer.

How is an image created?

When you see a picture printed on a page of paper, you might think a magical process has taken place. It hasn’t. It’s actually quite straightforward. What a printer ISN’T doing is painting a picture like a human would. This would be far too sophisticated and complicated to implement in a piece of machinery. So how are those images actually created?

Each big picture is made up of thousands of tiny dots. These dots will often be a range of colours. Think of a “paint-by-numbers” picture but with loads more sections. The dots are positioned very carefully by the printer and can have up to a million per inch.

Inkjet printers fall into a type of printer known as a non-impact printer. There are generally two different types of printers, impact and non-impact. Impact printers include dot-matrix types while non-impact printers include laser as well as inkjets. Other types of non-impact printers include solid ink, thermal wax and autochrome variants.

With an inkjet printer, in order to create those millions of tiny dots, nozzles are used to spray different drops of coloured ink onto the paper. The term “spray” might make them seem unsophisticated, but the reality is that this process is very careful and precise.

How do the parts inside an inkjet printer work?

Ink cartridges

These are where the colours and black inks are stored. You’ll have to refill or replace these when they run out, and you’ll be limited to the type of printer and manufacturer you’ve got. There may be combinations of separate black and colour cartridges, or all-in-one cartridge systems depending on the printer.

Print head

This is the main part of an inkjet printer and is where the nozzles which are used to put ink on the paper are kept. The print head interacts with the cartridges in order to make a picture or print something on a page.


The print head needs to move across a page in order to print effectively. This requires a stepper motor which moves the print head and cartridges across the page as the page is fed through automatically. When the printer is not in use, the stepper motor will stop and be kept in place


This is used to make sure the print head system only moves across steadily and is kept in place along the correct trajectory. Obviously, a printer needs to be really precise so this is important.

Paper feeder

If the print head and cartridge moves across the page, something needs to feed the page through so that lines of text or imagery can be created. This requires a paper feeder and tray. Most inkjets will require paper to be fed into it. A tray can hold more paper which is then fed into the printer in turn. Different inkjets can have slightly different tray and feeder features and might hold more paper at once, or load from the top or bottom. This will depend on your manufacturer and model.

The paper feeder will also have rollers to feed paper through, as well as its own motor. Just like the print head needs to move across, the feeder needs a motor to make the paper feed through properly.

Power supply

All of these motors need power, so there’ll be a power supply which feeds to a plug and is then plugged into the mains. Some newer printers might only need power from a USB cable, plugged into a computer.

Interface and control

There’s some circuitry inside your printer to control everything like the movements and spraying. This will normally be connected to your computer via USB or a serial port on older models. That’s how your printer finds out what to do from the computer and can start producing text or pictures on a page. Your computer is normally used to control the printer, although some newer models have started having control units on the front. Again, this will depend on your model, manufacturer, and how old it is.

How does the ink dropper work?

Different inkjet printers will have different ways to get the ink onto the page. As you know, this doesn’t happen by touching the page, but by spraying instead. But this can still be done in one of two ways:

A thermal bubble is created by small resistors which create heat and creates a bubble of ink which touches the page in the right place. When this bubble pops it creates an ink spot. These printers are known as bubble jet and can have up to 600 nozzles to create these bubbles.

The other system is known as piezoelectric and uses a number of tiny crystals one each nozzle which vibrates when it gets some electric current. This forces a small amount of ink out of the nozzle and gets put on the page.

Both of these sophisticated processes happen super-fast, and are part of what makes a printer such a great piece of equipment.

About the Author James S

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}