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How do Inkjet Printers Work?

Inkjet printers create images by propelling tiny droplets of ink onto paper with precision. They use microscopic nozzles in the print head, which heat or vibrate to push ink out in a controlled manner, crafting text and images with remarkable detail. Intrigued by how these everyday machines blend art and technology? Dive deeper to uncover the magic behind each print.
S Garden
S Garden

One of the most popular and affordable printers available today is the inkjet printer. But how exactly do these common printers work?

At the most basic level, what the printer does is place small drops of ink onto the paper. Inkjet printers are considered a type of non impact printer, as opposed to dot matrix, since the ink is transferred to the paper by way of nozzles. These nozzles spray the ink directly onto the paper.

There are two different methods that inkjet printers often employ: the thermal bubble and the piezoelectric. The first lends its name to the bubblejet type of printer, and handles things quite differently from the piezoelectric method.

An inkjet printer.
An inkjet printer.

With the thermal bubble, or bubblejet, resistors create heat, which then creates a bubble in the ink. The bubble expands and forces ink out from the nozzle. Eventually, it will collapse, drawing more ink into the cartridge. On average, a bubblejet printer will have a range of three hundred to six hundred nozzles.

The piezoelectric utilizes small crystals in the nozzles which will vibrate under the influence of an electric current; this in turn pushes ink out and draws more ink into the cartridge. The drops of ink that come from the piezoelectric type printer are significantly smaller than those of the bubblejet printers, allowing for greater control over the image quality. This method is patented by Epson, which accounts for its smaller market penetration; the thermal bubble method is used by the majority of printer manufacturers.

These printers were first mass produced in the 1980s, but it took until the 90s for the price to drop to a point that the average consumer would take notice. Since then, inkjet printers have been used in the home, the office, and even in the commercial printing environment.

The low cost and relatively high quality of prints that are offered by the inkjet printer is suitable for most day to day tasks; unfortunately, if you do a great deal of printing, the price of cartridges might drive you out of house and home! Well maybe not that bad, but keep in mind that if you do a great deal of heavy duty printing, that the ink cartridges cannot hold that much ink, and you might end up buying many times the cost of your printer in ink.

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Discussion Comments


I want to know if there are ink jet systems on the market that have that the capacity for printing with an ink containing a metallic substance (conductive inks).


My question: Does a home inkjet printer work the same as an industrial inkjet printer for marking online bottles?


The difference between bubblejet and piezoelectric is explained nicely, but I want to know how a printer of either type prints the letter "A" instead of the letter "B", for instance. It knows how to print each letter because the software tells it to, but how an "A" shows up instead of something else is my question. Think: stencil, where you can spray paint through the open space of the stencil paper, remove the stencil, and voila!, there's the letter "A."


question: can I switch manufacturer's ink cartridges in printers, e.g., use epson cartridges in a HP - cheap printers break, can't be repaired, & leave me with unused cartridges. I'd love to be able to use them.


Another thing, inkjets are noisy. I had an old Canon inkjet and I could hear it printing from the other side of the house.

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    • An inkjet printer.
      An inkjet printer.