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The History and Technology of Inkjet Printing

Aug 28, 2008
Most of us will be familiar with the dot-matrix printers of old; the striped green and white paper, the perforated edges and the 1980's style font. It brings back memories of days gone by, when computing was a simpler process, doesn't it? However, many of the younger generations will be unfamiliar with such technology, having instead been raised on the high quality output of modern day inkjet printers. They take their glossy photos and 25 page per minute print times for granted, never thinking to ask how the technology was developed. Well, this article hopes to change that, giving an account of inkjet printings history as well as a brief look at its possible future.

Although the first range of inkjet printers hit the shelves in the 1980's, their development had begun almost 20 years before when manufacturers realised the huge potential of printers that spray a tiny jet of ink onto a page to create the final image. There were numerous technical problems to overcome however, and this was reflected in the price of the first publicly available machines; the Hewlett Packard DeskJet cost over $1000 when it was first released in 1988!

So how does the inkjet printer work? There are several technologies involved, but they predominantly operate by propelling variable sized ink droplets onto any medium one may wish to print to. Three of the big four manufacturers use print cartridges that have a current run through them; this current creates a bubble of ink to form at the nozzle which propels the tiny droplet of ink onto the page. Effectively the bursting of the ink bubble draws yet more ink through the nozzle and so another jet is 'fired' at the page. Thinking about it, it's no wonder that the technology took over 20 years to develop prior to becoming widely available!

The original inkjet printers were capable of firing around 192 drops of ink per inch (dpi), allowing for near letter quality prints (equivalent to a typewriter). Modern inkjet can achieve a resolution of almost 4800 dpi, producing the photo-realistic results that we all know and love!

Commercial inkjet printing has undergone many transformations, with large format inkjet printing long available as well as smaller, hand held instruments designed to print labels or barcodes on products at an incredibly low cost.

Its hard to imagine where inkjet technology could go in the future and what other applications it could be used for. But one new manufacturer has recently launched an inkjet printer capable of printing 30 6"x4" photos a minute (roughly 25x faster than standard inkjets) and at a fraction of the cost of traditional prints. If this is anything to go by, the future development is likely to be significantly quicker than that made over the past 30 or so years!
About the Author
John McE writes articles on a number of subjects including industrial inkjet printing. For more about coding and marking with industrial injet printers see Sauven marking.
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