In the fifteenth century Johannes Gutenberg developed and used the first form of mechanical movable type that would later pioneer a printing revolution and set the course for the modern printer. It all started with a wooden block, individual cast iron characters (letters and punctuation marks), ink, and some parchment (or paper). This process was painstakingly long, having to load and ink each character by hand, pull the impression, hang the sheets to dry, and assemble the type. The process took about half a day to complete one page, as compared to today where each page takes only seconds to produce.
Now printers come in a variety of forms and sizes with differentiating functions, features, and software to specifically target individual consumer needs. Printers can create photographs, scan and save originals in a file format, copy originals, send and receive fax transmissions, and even access and browse the internet. In order to accommodate these newer aspects consumers are looking for, printing has changed from the traditional offset printing methods established by Gutenberg, to a digital-based image processing device.
Any printing device that takes an image directly from a computer to print can be considered a digital printer. In essence, we are taking a digitally created image (or an image created by or on a computer) and using a matrix grid to map out and reproduce the image onto a substrate, thus completing a digital process. During the process, lasers inside the machine will polarize and write the image while electricity will affix the toner or inkjets onto the substrate to produce a printout.
With the advancements and evolution of digital capabilities, printers have become more feature rich and often contain a way to connect to the internet for unmatched data communication. Applications can even be downloaded to mobile devices, allowing users to print wirelessly from tablets, smart phones, and other internet connected devices. Each manufacturing company has their own versions of downloadable mobile printing applications, including HP’s ePrint, Canon’s Easy PhotoPrint, Brother’s iPrint and Scan, Google’s Cloud Printing, Apple’s AirPrint, and many more.
Printers without internet connection options can also be set up to receive printing tasks from mobile devices by connecting the printer directly to a computer or device that has internet capabilities. When the computer with internet is plugged into a printer with no independent internet ability, the computer can be used to receive and forward tasks to the printer. The downloadable mobile printing apps will then work the same as intended with internet connected printers.
The latest trend in printing technology, other than mobile printing, is color LCD Touchscreen Displays that can control printer settings, formatting options, and even preview projects before printing them out. Perhaps the most convenient aspect of Touchscreen displays is the fully customizable application placement. These intuitive new control panels will actually compute the most frequently used applications with specific printing tasks and will prioritize the frequently used applications to display first.
Inkless Printers are also being developed that will revolutionize the printing industry. Over the past decade more and more research efforts have been going into Additive Manufacturing or 3D Printing. Instead of using a dye or pigment based substance in liquid form, these 3D printers utilize solid materials such as metals, plastics, starches, proteins, and more to create 3-dimensional, fully-functional items, layer by layer. Therefore eliminating the need for media (paper), while creating a need for 3-dimensional digital Cartesian grids made on computers.
Computers and Printers have been shaping the way we do business, communicate, and handle documentation for years without us ever realizing it. Anytime we want a computer to manufacture or structure an item, we are using a digital process that can replicate lines and curves better and faster than a human can by hand. So keep your printer up to date with the latest printing capabilities such as cloud printing and stay up to date with the communication and manufacturing of the future.