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How Inkjet Printers Work

Click "OK" to Print

When you click on a button to print, there is a sequence of events that take place:

  1. The software application you are using sends the data to be printed to the printer driver.
  2. The driver translates the data into a format that the printer can understand and checks to see that the printer is online and available to print.
  3. The data is sent by the driver from the computer to the printer via the connection interface (parallel, USB, etc.).
  4. The printer receives the data from the computer. It stores a certain amount of data in a buffer. The buffer can range from 512 KB random access memory (RAM) to 16 MB RAM, depending on the model. Buffers are useful because they allow the computer to finish with the printing process quickly, instead of having to wait for the actual page to print. A large buffer can hold a complex document or several basic documents.
  5. If the printer has been idle for a period of time, it will normally go through a short clean cycle to make sure that the print head(s) are clean. Once the clean cycle is complete, the printer is ready to begin printing.
  6. The control circuitry activates the paper feed stepper motor. This engages the rollers, which feed a sheet of paper from the paper tray/feeder into the printer. A small trigger mechanism in the tray/feeder is depressed when there is paper in the tray or feeder. If the trigger is not depressed, the printer lights up the "Out of Paper" LED and sends an alert to the computer.
  7. Once the paper is fed into the printer and positioned at the start of the page, the print head stepper motor uses the belt to move the print head assembly across the page. The motor pauses for the merest fraction of a second each time that the print head sprays dots of ink on the page and then moves a tiny bit before stopping again. This stepping happens so fast that it seems like a continuous motion.
  8. Multiple dots are made at each stop. It sprays the CMYK colors in precise amounts to make any other color imaginable.
  9. At the end of each complete pass, the paper feed stepper motor advances the paper a fraction of an inch. Depending on the inkjet model, the print head is reset to the beginning side of the page, or, in most cases, simply reverses direction and begins to move back across the page as it prints.
  10. This process continues until the page is printed. The time it takes to print a page can vary widely from printer to printer. It will also vary based on the complexity of the page and size of any images on the page. For example, a printer may be able to print 16 pages per minute (PPM) of black text but take a couple of minutes to print one, full-color, page-sized image.
  11. Once the printing is complete, the print head is parked. The paper feed stepper motor spins the rollers to finish pushing the completed page into the output tray. Most printers today use inks that are very fast-drying, so that you can immediately pick up the sheet without smudging it.

In the next section, you will learn a little more about the ink cartridges and the paper used.