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laser printer

A type of printer that utilizes a laser beam to produce an image on a drum. The light of the laser alters the electrical charge on the drum wherever it hits. The drum is then rolled through a reservoir of toner, which is picked up by the charged portions of the drum. Finally, the toner is transferred to the paper through a combination of heat and pressure. This is also the way copy machines work.

Because an entire page is transmitted to a drum before the toner is applied, laser printers are sometimes called page printers. There are two other types of page printers that fall under the category of laser printers even though they do not use lasers at all. One uses an array of LEDs to expose the drum, and the other uses LCDs. Once the drum is charged, however, they both operate like a real laser printer.

One of the chief characteristics of laser printers is their resolution -- how many dots per inch (dpi) they lay down. The available resolutions range from 300 dpi at the low end to 1,200 dpi at the high end. By comparison, offset printing usually prints at 1,200 or 2,400 dpi. Some laser printers achieve higher resolutions with special techniques known generally as resolution enhancement.

In addition to the standard monochrome laser printer, which uses a single toner, there also exist color laser printers that use four toners to print in full color. Color laser printers tend to be about five to ten times as expensive as their monochrome siblings.

Laser printers produce very high-quality print and are capable of printing an almost unlimited variety of fonts. Most laser printers come with a basic set of fonts, called internal or resident fonts, but you can add additional fonts in one of two ways:

  • font cartridges : Laser printers have slots in which you can insert font cartridges, ROM boards on which fonts have been recorded. The advantage of font cartridges is that they use none of the printer's memory.
  • soft fonts : All laser printers come with a certain amount of RAM memory, and you can usually increase the amount of memory by adding memory boards in the printer's expansion slots. You can then copy fonts from a disk to the printer's RAM. This is called downloading fonts. A font that has been downloaded is often referred to as a soft font, to distinguish it from the hard fonts available on font cartridges. The more RAM a printer has, the more fonts that can be downloaded at one time.
  • In addition to text, laser printers are very adept at printing graphics. However, you need significant amounts of memory in the printer to print high-resolution graphics. To print a full-page graphic at 300 dpi, for example, you need at least 1 MB (megabyte) of printer RAM. For a 600-dpi graphic, you need at least 4 MB RAM.

    Because laser printers are nonimpact printers, they are much quieter than dot-matrix or daisy-wheel printers. They are also relatively fast, although not as fast as some dot-matrix printers. The speed of laser printers ranges from about 4 to 20 pages of text per minute (ppm). A typical rate of 6 ppm is equivalent to about 40 characters per second (cps).

    Laser printers are controlled through page description languages (PDLs). There are two de facto standards for PDLs:

  • PCL : Hewlett-Packard (HP) was one of the pioneers of laser printers and has developed a Printer Control Language (PCL) to control output. There are several versions of PCL, so a printer may be compatible with one but not another. In addition, many printers that claim compatibility cannot accept HP font cartridges.
  • PostScript : This is the de facto standard for Apple Macintosh printers and for all desktop publishing systems.
  • Most software can print using either of these PDLs. PostScript tends to be a bit more expensive, but it has some features that PCL lacks and it is the standard for desktop publishing. Some printers support both PCL and PostScript.





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