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Laser Printers

A laser beam projects an image of the page to be printed onto an electrically charged rotating drum coated with selenium. Photoconductivity removes charge from the areas exposed to light. Dry ink (toner) particles are then electrostatically picked up by the drum's charged areas. The drum then prints the image onto paper by direct contact and heat, which fuses the ink to the paper.

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Laser printers have many significant advantages over other types of printers. Unlike impact printers, laser printer speed can vary widely, and depends on many factors, including the graphic intensity of the job being processed. The fastest models can print over 200 monochrome pages per minute (12,000 pages per hour). The fastest color laser printers can print over 100 pages per minute (6000 pages per hour). Very high-speed laser printers are used for mass mailings of personalized documents, such as credit card or utility bills, and are competing with lithography in some commercial applications.

The cost of this technology depends on a combination of factors, including the cost of paper, toner, and infrequent drum replacement, as well as the replacement of other consumables such as the fuser assembly and transfer assembly. Often printers with soft plastic drums can have a very high cost of ownership that does not become apparent until the drum requires replacement.

A duplexing printer (one that prints on both sides of the paper) can halve paper costs and reduce filing volumes. Formerly only available on high-end printers, duplexers are now common on mid-range office printers, though not all printers can accommodate a duplexing unit. Duplexing can also give a slower page-printing speed, because of the longer paper path.

In comparison with the laser printer, most inkjet printers and dot-matrix printers simply take an incoming stream of data and directly imprint it in a slow lurching process that may include pauses as the printer waits for more data. A laser printer is unable to work this way because such a large amount of data needs to output to the printing device in a rapid, continuous process. The printer cannot stop the mechanism precisely enough to wait until more data arrives, without creating a visible gap or misalignment of the dots on the printed page.

Instead the image data is built up and stored in a large bank of memory capable of representing every dot on the page. The requirement to store all dots in memory before printing has traditionally limited laser printers to small fixed paper sizes such as letter or A4. Most laser printers are unable to print continuous banners spanning a sheet of paper two meters long, because there is not enough memory available in the printer to store such a large image before printing begins.