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Printer Study Notes


What is printer?

In computers, a printer is a device that accepts text and graphic output from a computer and transfers the information to paper, usually to standard size sheets of paper. Printers are sometimes sold with computers, but more frequently are purchased separately. Printers vary in size, speed, sophistication, and cost. In general, more expensive printers are used for higher-resolution color printing.

Personal computer printers can be distinguished as impact or non-impact printers.

Early impact printers worked something like an automatic typewriter, with a key striking an inked impression on paper for each printed character.

The dot-matrix printer was a popular low-cost personal computer printer. It's an impact printer that strikes the paper a line at a time. The best-known non-impact printers are the inkjet printer, of which several makes of low-cost color printers are an example, and the laser printer.

The inkjet sprays ink from an ink cartridge at very close range to the paper as it rolls by.

The laser printer uses a laser beam reflected from a mirror to attract ink (called toner) to selected paper areas as a sheet rolls over a drum.





               Laser Jet                               Dot Matrix

Printer Qualities:

The four printer qualities of most interest to most users are:

  • Color: Color is important for users who need to print pages for presentations or maps and other pages where color is part of the information. Color printers can also be set to print only in black-and-white. Color printers are more expensive to operate since they use two ink cartridges (one color and one black ink) that need to be replaced after a certain number of pages. Users who don't have a specific need for color and who print a lot of pages will find a black-and-white printer cheaper to operate.

  • Resolution: Printer resolution (the sharpness of text and images on paper) is usually measured in dots per inch (dpi). Most inexpensive printers provide sufficient resolution for most purposes at 600 dpi.

  • Speed: If you do much printing, the speed of the printer becomes important. Inexpensive printers print only about 3 to 6 sheets per minute. Color printing is slower. More expensive printers are much faster.

  • Memory: Most printers come with a small amount of memory (for example, one megabyte) that can be expanded by the user. Having more than the minimum amount of memory is helpful and faster when printing out pages with large images or tables with lines around them (which the printer treats as a large image).

Printer I/O Interfaces:

The most common I/O interface for printers are described below. 


In the context of the Internet and computing, parallel means more than one event happening at a time. It is usually contrasted with serial, meaning only one event happening at a time. In data transmission, the techniques of time division and space division are used, where time separates the transmission of individual bits of information sent serially and space (in multiple lines or paths) can be used to have multiple bits sent in parallel.

In the context of computer hardware and data transmission, serial connection, operation, and media usually indicate a simpler, slower operation (think of your serial mouse attachment). Parallel connection and operation (think of multiple characters being sent to your printer) indicates faster operation. This indication doesn't always hold since a serial medium (for example, fiber optic cable) can be much faster than a slower medium that carries multiple signals in parallel.

A conventional phone connection is generally thought of as a serial line since its usual transmission protocol is serial.

Conventional computers and their programs operate in a serial manner, with the computer reading a program and performing its instructions one after the other. However, some of today's computers have multiple processors that divide up the instructions and perform them in parallel.

Parallel Interfaces

Universal Serial Bus

USB (Universal Serial Bus) is a plug-and-play interface between a computer and add-on devices (such as audio players, joysticks, keyboards, telephones, scanners, and printers). With USB, a new device can be added to your computer without having to add an adapter card or even having to turn the computer off. The USB peripheral bus standard was developed by Compaq, IBM, DEC, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, and Northern Telecom and the technology is available without charge for all computer and device vendors.

USB supports a data speed of 12 megabits per second. This speed will accommodate a wide range of devices, including MPEG video devices, data gloves, and digitizers. It is anticipated that USB will easily accommodate plug-in telephones that use ISDN and digital PBX.

Since October, 1996, the Windows operating systems have been equipped with USB drivers or special software designed to work with specific I/O device types. USB is integrated into Windows 98 and later versions. Today, most new computers and peripheral devices are equipped with USB.


FireWire is Apple Computer's version of a standard, IEEE 1394, High Performance Serial Bus, for connecting devices to your personal computer. FireWire provides a single plug-and-socket connection on which up to 63 devices can be attached with data transfer speeds up to 400 Mbps (megabits per second). The standard describes a serial bus or pathway between one or more peripheral devices and your computer's microprocessor. Many peripheral devices now come equipped to meet IEEE 1394.


Printers can also be attached with the help of infrared adapter. A simple diagram of a printer with an infrared adapter is shown below.

Printer Languages:

Printer languages are commands from the computer to the printer to tell the printer how to format the document being printed. These commands manage font size, graphics, compression of data sent to the printer, color, etc. The two most popular printer languages are Postscript and Printer Control Language.

Postscript is a printer language that uses English phrases and programmatic constructions to describe the appearance of a printed page to the printer. This printer language was developed by Adobe in 1985. It introduced new features such as outline fonts and vector graphics. Printers now come from the factory with or can be loaded with Postscript support. Postscript is not restricted to printers. It can be used with any device that creates an image using dots such as screen displays, slide recorders, and image setters.

PCL (Printer Command Language) is an escape code language used to send commands to the printer for printing documents. Escape code language is so-called because the escape key begins the command sequence followed by a series of code numbers. Hewlett Packard originally devised PCL for dot matrix and inkjet printers. Since its introduction, it has become an industry standard. Other manufacturers who sell HP clones have copied it. Some of these clones are very good, but there are small differences in the way they print a page compared to real HP printers. In 1984, the original HP Laserjet printer was introduced using PCL. PCL helped change the appearance of low-cost printer documents from poor to exceptional quality.


A font is a set of characters of a specific style and size within an overall typeface design. Printers use resident fonts and soft fonts to print documents. Resident fonts are built into the hardware of a printer. They are also called internal fonts or built-in fonts. All printers come with one or more resident fonts. Additional fonts can be added by inserting a font cartridge into the printer or installing soft fonts to the hard drive. Resident fonts cannot be erased unlike soft fonts. Soft fonts are installed onto the hard drive and then sent to the computer's memory when a document is printed that uses the particular soft font. Soft fonts can be purchased in stores or downloaded from the Internet.

There are two types of fonts used by the printer and screen display, bitmap fonts and outline fonts. Bitmap fonts are digital representations of fonts that are not scalable. This means they have a set size or a limited set of sizes. For example, if a document using a bitmap font sized to 24 point is sent to the printer and there is not a bitmap font of that size, the computer will try to guess the right size. This results in the text looking stretched-out or squashed. Jagged edges are also a problem with bitmap fonts. Outline fonts are mathematical descriptions of the font that are sent to the printer. The printer then rasterizes or converts them to the dots that are printed on the paper. Because they are mathematical, they are scalable. This means the size of the font can be changed without losing the sharpness or resolution of the printed text. TrueType and Type 1 fonts are outline fonts. Outline fonts are used with Postscript and PCL printer languages.

Troubleshooting general deskjet printing problems:

Cannot turn on printer

  • Check that the power cord is connected.

  • Try connecting the power cord to a different wall outlet.

  • Remove and reinstall the panel on the back of the printer. Make sure that the removable panel is tightly pushed into the slot and that the Panel Knob is in the Lock position

Nothing prints

  • Check the power. Make sure the power cord is firmly connected to the printer and to a working outlet, and that the printer is turned on. The Power light on the front panel of the printer should be lit.

  • Be patient. Complex documents containing many fonts, graphics, and/or color photos take longer to begin printing. If the printer's Power light is blinking, the printer is processing information.

  • Check the paper. Make sure the paper is loaded correctly and that there is no paper jammed in the printer.

  • Check the print cartridges. Make sure that both the black and color print cartridges are properly installed and that the printer's access cover is closed. The Cartridge light will flash if the print cartridges are not installed correctly.

  • Try printing a sample page. Turn the printer off, and then on. Press and hold down the RESUME button. Release it when the Resume light starts to blink. If the sample page prints, the printer hardware is working properly.

A blank page is ejected

  • Check that there is no tape covering the ink nozzles on the print cartridges.

  • Check that the media being used is wide enough. The media width in the page settings and print settings must match.

  • Check for an empty print cartridge. When trying to print black text and a blank page is ejected from the printer, the black print cartridge may be empty. Replace the black print cartridge. When trying to print using color, and one or more colors do not print properly (or at all), the color cartridge may need to be replaced.

  • Check the printer setup. Make sure the correct printer is selected as the current or default printer.

  • Check the parallel port on the computer. If a parallel cable is being used, make sure the printer is connected directly to the computer's parallel port. Do not share the port with other devices such as a zip drive.

Placement of the text or graphics is wrong

  • The paper size or orientation settings may be incorrect. Make sure the paper size and page orientation selected in the software program match the settings in the HP print settings dialog box.

  • The paper may not be loaded correctly. If everything on the page is slanted or skewed, make sure the paper width and length guides fit snugly against the left and bottom edges of the paper stack. Also, there should be no more than 150 sheets of paper loaded into the Main Paper Tray or 10 sheets of paper loaded into the Alternative Top Media Feed.

  • The margin settings may be wrong. If text or graphics are cut off at the edges of the page, make sure the margin settings for the document do not exceed the printable area of the printer.

Paper is jammed in the printer

NOTE: To clear jammed paper from the printer, open the Access Cover and pull the paper towards you. If you cannot reach the jammed paper, turn the Panel Knob on the back of the printer, remove the panel, pull out the jammed paper, and then replace the panel. If you still cannot reach the paper, raise the Output Tray and remove the jammed paper from the Main Paper Tray.

To avoid paper jams, follow the suggestions below:

  • Make sure nothing is blocking the paper path.

  • Do not overload the Alternative Top Media Feed. The Alternative Top Media Feed holds up to 10 sheets of plain paper (or other print media that has the same thickness). The Main Paper Tray holds up to 150 sheets of plain paper.

  • Load paper properly.

  • Do not use paper that is curled or crumpled.

  • Always use paper that conforms with those listed in the Printer Specifications section of the User's Guide.

Printing a sample page

Print a sample page without being connected to a computer. This allows you to see that your printer is set up correctly.

  1. Turn the printer off.

  1. Disconnect the parallel or USB cable from the back of the printer.

  1. Turn the printer on.

  1. Press and hold down the RESUME button on the printer. Release the RESUME button when the Resume light starts to blink. The printer should

Cleaning the print cartridges

Clean the print cartridges when lines or dots are missing from printed text or graphics.

NOTE: Do not clean the print cartridge unnecessarily because this wastes ink and shortens the life of the print cartridges.


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