Types of Printers: Impact & Non-Impact Printers

The printer is the second most popular output device after the monitor which is widely used worldwide. Many types of printers are available in the market and each one has its advantages and disadvantages. Not all printers provide all the functions we need, and even if it does, it may unnecessarily ask us for an additional price. Therefore, it is necessary to know the different printer types and choose the right among them by paying the right price.


This article discusses all about the printers and the different types of printers available in the market. In addition, it describes which type of printer is best to choose for home and office purposes and what factors to consider before getting a particular printer.

What You Will Learn


What is a Printer?

By the definition of a printer, “a printer is defined as an electromechanical output device, which is used to accept data from computers and make hard copies/ prints of data on physical means, such as texts and graphics on a paper”. 

Many modern printers come with support for 2D and 3D printing. 2D printing mainly refers to printing texts and graphics on paper. In addition, 3D printing refers to making three-dimensional prints on physical objects such as mugs, T-shirts, etc. 

Note: The operating speed of the printer is usually calculated as PPM (pages per minute). Additionally, the printer's resolution is measured in DPI (dots per inch). The higher the PPM and DPI, the better the printer performance and print quality. 

The printer is connected to a computer so that it can be given a command to print the data on paper. Although printers provide us various interfaces for connecting printers to computer systems, nowadays the most common types include Wi-Fi and USB. One (Wi-Fi) is wireless, while the other (USB) is a wired connection, allowing printers to be called wireless and wired printers, respectively.


Wired Printers: Printers that use wires to connect to computers are called wired printers. Wired printers are connected using a USB connection.

Wireless Printers: Printers that do not use wires to connect to computers are called wireless printers. Wireless printers are connected using a WIFI connection.

How many types of printers are used in a computer?

Printers can be of different types and sizes with different functionalities and characteristics. However, all printers can be broadly classified into the following two types:

Impact Printers
Non-Impact Printers

Types of Printers

Impact Printers

Impact printers are printers that typically use a specific type of hammer with which the print heads are attached. When the print command is given, the hammer pushes the print heads onto the ink ribbon. Print heads have different characters, and therefore, they help the ink ribbon to draw the corresponding character on the paper that is placed near the ink ribbon.

Most impact printers are incompatible with printing images or graphics. Besides, they use electromechanical components that make a lot of noise and work relatively slowly compared to modern printers, making these printers almost obsolete nowadays. However, they cost less and are therefore considered the best for bulk printing.

Impact printers are mainly categorized into the following two types:

Character Printers
Line Printers

Let us discuss both types of impact printers:

Character Printers

Character printers are defined as impact printers that typically print only one character at a time. That means, these printers use a single stroke of a hammer or print head at a time. That's why character printers are slow and cannot print the entire line at once.

Character printers are further categorized into the following two types:

Dot Matrix Printers: Dot matrix printers, also known as pin printers, are the most popular type of impact printer. These printers have a matrix of pins on their print heads to create characters or graphics. 

Dot-matrix printers usually have 9 to 24 pins in the print head. Thus, they typically print a character using multiple dots created with pins. The more pins in a dot matrix printer, the faster the performance and the better the print quality. Carbon (ink ribbon) is positioned in such a way that it lies between pins and the paper.

Dot Matrix Printer

When the print head reaches the correct position, the pins strike individually on the ribbon, which then produces a print on the paper. In dot matrix printers, the print mechanism moves both directions (left to right and right to left) throughout the print line. To make a color print, ribbon soaked in black ink can be replaced with colored stripes. Dot-matrix printers are cheap and usually print 100–600 characters per second. 

Daisy Wheel Printers: Daisy wheel printers are impact printers used primarily to achieve the quality found with typewriters. Because these printers have a mechanism that looks like a daisy (a flower), they are named daisy wheel printers. More specifically, these printers have a wheel/disc that includes print heads and the ends of these print heads have a molded metal character. The overall arrangement looks like daisy petals.

Daisy Wheel Printer

When the print command is given, the printer rotates the disk with all its associated characters. As soon as the desired character arrives at the correct print location, the hammer hits the disc and the corresponding character hits the ink ribbon to produce a character on a paper. 

Besides, daisy wheel printers are not compatible with printing images or graphics. These printers typically have a speed of about 25–55 characters per second.


Line Printers

Line printers, also called bar printers, are defined as impact printers that usually print an entire line at a time. This means that these printers use multiple strokes of a hammer with different print heads at once. 

Unlike character printers, line printers are faster and can also print up to 6,000 lines per minute. Apart from this, line printers are incompatible for printing images or graphics. Because of this, these printers are rarely seen in today's time. 

Line printers are further categorized into the following types:

Drum Printers: The drum printer consists of a rotating cylindrical drum with a circular band of characters on its surface. In particular, the surface is divided into tracks equal to the size of the supported printing paper. Tracks have characters set on them. Additionally, the drum printer has a separate hammer for each set of characters. 

When the print command is given, the drum rotates and when the desired character reaches under the hammer, the hammer quickly strikes the ink ribbon against the paper to print the corresponding character. The paper is placed in such a way that it lies between the hammer and the ribbon of ink. The character is embossed on paper due to the hammer pressure.

Drum Printer

As soon as the line is printed, the paper is moved upwards to print the next line. Each rotation of the drum prints only one line. Drum printers are not compatible with printing graphics. Although their printing speed is quite fast (i.e., 300 - 2,000 lines per minute), they make a lot of noise. 

Chain Printers: The chain printer consists of a revolving chain with characters set on its surface. These printers typically have a character set of 48, 64, or 96 characters. The chain is connected using gears in such a way that it can rotate horizontally. Like drum printers, chain printers also have several hammers; the total number of hammers is exactly equal to the number of print positions.

Chain Printer

When the print command is given, the chain rotates with its respective characters. As soon as the desired character reaches the correct print position, the hammer strikes the ink ribbon against the paper and the corresponding character on the chain. In this way, the ink ribbon creates the impression of the corresponding character on paper. 

Chain printers are not compatible with printing graphics. However, they can print 300 - 500 lines of characters per minute. Like other impact printers, chain printers also make a lot of noise.

Band Printers: Band printers, also known as belt printers, are almost identical to chain printers. But instead of using a chain, band printers use a steel band with a relatively small number of hammers. Fonts, such as characters and time marks, are etched on the surface of a steel band.

Band Printer

The hammers are located on a pump, which travel to the precisely correct positions around the page while printing. When these hammers reach the correct position, they strike the ribbon, which is then rolled onto the band. As a result, the characters on the band are printed on paper that is placed between the ink ribbon and the band. 

The font styles/ sizes can be changed in these printers by changing the band. Band printers are considered superior to drum printers in terms of price and performance.

Non-Impact Printers

Non-impact printers have no hammer to hit the print heads on the ink ribbon. These types of printers do not even use ink ribbon to produce prints. Instead, non-impact printers use various technologies such as laser, electrostatic, xerographic, chemical, or inkjet. 

Unlike impact printers, internal machinery components of non-impact printers typically do not make any direct contact with the paper. Non-impact printers use efficient mechanisms to produce full-page prints at once. This is why non-impact printers are sometimes called page printers.


Non-Impact printers are mainly categorized into the following types:

Inkjet Printers

Inkjet printers are non-impact printers that are widely used by home users and small businesses. These printers make prints by spraying a pattern of ink droplets on the paper with the help of a nozzle or jet. A nozzle has small holes to eject small droplets of ink. Inkjet printers use a special type of ink that usually contains iron material. 

As the ink exits the nozzle, the ink droplets are electrically charged after passing through a valve. The direction of the droplets is controlled using electrically charged horizontal and vertical deflection plates to drop them into the correct area on the paper. Due to the electric field, the droplets are printed at the desired locations, forming the corresponding letter/shape.

Inkjet Printer

Inkjet printers store ink in cartridges. These printers can also produce color prints. For colored inkjet printers, individual cartridges are assembled into printers that can store different colors. Generally, most inkjet printers use four primary colors, such as black, yellow, cyan, and magenta. Thus, color prints are produced by mixing these four colors.

Laser Printers

Laser printers are non-impact printers, typically using laser or non-impact photocopier technology to produce the dots needed to print text or images on paper. When the print command is given, the laser beam produces a text or image structure on a selenium-coated drum by controlling the electric charges.

Once the drum is fully charged, it is rolled into a toner (dry ink powder) and the charged image particles pick up the toner. After that, the toner is printed on paper using some heat and pressure. Once printed, additional amounts of toner are collected as well as electric charges are removed from the drum.

Laser Printer

Laser printers can produce extremely high-resolution prints. This can vary from 300 dpi to 1200 dpi depending on system capacity and memory availability. The higher the DPI, the higher the memory usage and the better the quality. The use of high voltages in these printers causes some carbon emissions. They are still in widespread use in large offices or companies due to their efficient performance compared to other printers.

Thermal Printers

Thermal printers use a specific heat-sensitive paper and they produce prints by pushing electrically heated pins onto the paper. The paper used in these printers has a special heat-sensitive coating. It starts getting dark as it gets hot. Therefore, when the hot pins are pushed onto paper, the area concerned becomes darker. 

Thermal Printer

In a thermal printer, the heating element is heated using an electric current. Besides, each character is printed by joining a matrix of dots formed by hot pins. To print characters, the print head is moved to the starting position of the first character. After that, the heat elements of that particular character are turned on, which further help to create a print of the character. 

Once the first character is printed, the print head moves to the starting position of the second character and repeats the same process again. The heating elements are switched off in a very short period of time when they are not in use. Thermal printers are also known as electrothermal printers, thermal transfer printers, or thermal wax-transfer printers.


List of Other Popular Printers

Although the printers discussed above are fairly common, many other printers are available in the market and even often coming up with new technologies and techniques over time. Some such printers are discussed below:

LED Printers

In terms of components, LED printers are almost identical to laser printers. These printers also use ink, toner, spinning drum, and fuser systems to make monochrome or color prints. However, instead of using lasers, LED printers make use of light-emitting diodes. In this way, the source light makes the LED printer different from the laser printer.

LED Printer

LED printers are not currently so popular as inkjet and laser printers, but they are widely used due to their benefits over other printers. For example, LED printers are considered more effective than laser printers due to the lightweight, compact size, and the functioning of a small number of moving parts. 

Photo Inkjet Printers

Photo inkjet printers provide the opportunity to work with different print sizes for photos. They are best known for printing photos with efficient quality and make photos stand out from photos printed with other printers.

Photo Inkjet Printer

Photo printers are relatively expensive compared to traditional inkjet printers. The main reason for their expensive cost is the type of ink used in these printers and the fact that they can be both dye and pigment-based. Photo printers are mainly used by photographers. Nowadays, portable photo printers are also available, allowing us to print photos directly from a tablet or smartphone.

Multifunction Printers

As the name suggests, multifunction printers are designed in such a way that they can perform various tasks, such as printing, scanning, copying, and faxing. These printers are also known as 'all-in-one printers'. Since these printers come with different functions, they are best suited for businesses with a limited budget. 

Multi Function Printer

Multifunction printers can be installed in a relatively small space compared to placing multiple devices, such as printers, scanners, faxes, etc. Thus, the multifunction printer eliminates the need to purchase more than one device and allows users to complete multiple tasks. These printers can also be controlled using their control systems without the need to connect them to the computer. They can be wired, wireless, or with both supports.

3D Printers

3D printers are advanced printers that are used to produce three-dimensional objects. Instead of printing on paper like other printers, 3D printers create a three-dimensional model of various materials, such as plastics, polymers, metal alloys, or even food materials. These printers typically use high-quality resins to create 3D objects.

3D Printer

While 3D printers were introduced by Chuck Hull in 1984, they have been used primarily for large-scale industrial requirements. Nowadays, these printers are available at very affordable prices, making these printers beneficial for people to produce household products or replacement parts, etc.

Plotter

Plotters are the type of large format printers that allow us to print relatively large graphics. Due to this, these printers are quite expensive and require more space than other printers. Unlike regular printers, the plotter can also print vector graphics on cardboard, film, fabric, and other synthetic surfaces.

Plotter

A plotter usually derives a vector design from a computer's graphic card and interprets it for printing. Instead of ink or toner like other printers, the plotter typically uses a pencil, colored pen, marker, and other writing tools to draw a continuous line between different points to create the entire design.

Classification of Printers based on Printing Speed

Based on the printing speed, printers can be classified into the following three types:

Serial Printers: Serial Printers include all such printers that print character by character. The speed of those printers is measured in characters per second. Their speed can range from one character per second to a few hundred characters per second.

Line Printers: As the name suggests, line printers are printers that print line by line. The speed of those printers is measured in lines per minute. For some printers, such as non-impact printers, their speed can reach up to a thousand lines in a minute.

Page Printers: Page printers have one or more page buffer memory, which stores the entire page and prepares to print the entire page at once. Since these printers print the entire page at once, their speeds can reach 50,000 lines per minute.

Common factors to consider before choosing a printer

Before choosing any printer for home or office use, we must first consider the following factors:


Cost: Cost is one of the major factors when purchasing a printer. The price of the printer should be budget-friendly. Despite this, we should also consider the expenses of the printers, which we will have to pay after purchasing. This usually includes toner, cartridges, paper, and maintenance costs. 

Besides, we should also calculate the total cost per page printing for the separately shortlisted printers. This will help us choose budget-friendly printers for our needs.

Technology: The technology used in printers should be one of the main consideration factors as it can affect many things (such as printer speed, print quality, etc.) while printing. In the current technological era, laser and inkjet printers are the latest technology. 

While laser printers may be a better option for businesses or networks, inkjet printers can be a good solution for home businesses and home users.

Ink & Toner: If a printer uses ink and toner, this may be one of the consideration factors that we cannot ignore. We should ensure that supported inks and toners are readily available in the market so that we do not face problems when these things need to be changed. 

In the case of laser printers, we have to see if the printer accepts cartridges of many colors. Because if a printer has only one cartridge, we may sometimes need to buy all the colors needed in that particular cartridge, even if we don't want all the colors.

Speed: Printer speed can help us speed up our print job. Printer speed mainly refers to the number of pages that a printer can print in a minute. The speed is usually between 5 and 10 pages per minute. This can vary depending on different factors such as color or monochrome prints, high DPI or low DPI, full graphical pages or text only, etc.

In terms of speed, laser printers are currently considered to have a faster speed of pages per minute than other printers. However, they can be expensive.

Resolution: Print quality is one of the important things when purchasing a printer. It mainly depends on the resolution of the print output and is usually measured in dots per inch (DPI). The more dots per inch, the better the print quality of the documents.

Printing Availability: This is another essential factor that a printer must support in various types of printing such as text and graphics in both monochrome and colors. 

Inkjet printers are widely used for most printing and are quite good in terms of quality and speed. However, laser printers are more efficient for high-quality prints for graphics such as logos, charts, diagrams, photos, etc. But it may cost more than other printer types.


Which one is the best printer?

For most purposes, a multi-function all-in-one printer may be the best option. However, this may not always be necessary for normal users. Thus, choosing the best printer depends on the requirements and budget.

When it comes to purchasing printers for home use or small office purpose, the following printers can meet the needs with a user-friendly budget:

Inkjet Printer
Dot-Matrix Printer

Besides, when it comes to purchasing printers for commercial use, the following printers may meet the requirements:

Multifunction Printer
LED Printer
3D Printer

These printers are fast and provide quality prints, making them efficient for businesses.


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