Although printers may seem like a mundane device to most consumers, the computer printer has an interesting history. Some historians believe that printing technology has had a more significant impact on human civilization than any other invention.
Early Printer History
The earliest computer printer was developed in the 1800s by a man named Charles Babbage who was known for creating a computational device called the “difference engine.” However, his designs for a programmable computer and a printer were never developed into working machines during his lifetime.
The first general-purpose electronic computers were developed in the 1940s. This was also the era that saw the first computer printing technology. During this era, from 1940 to 1970, computer printers were similar to manual typewriters. These devices, called “line printers,” used an ink ribbon and a metal cylinder that pressed text onto a sheet of paper.
The Computer Age
In the 1970s, when computers were becoming common in most office environments, the well-known “dot matrix printer” was born. This printer also struck ink onto paper via an ink ribbon; however, instead of striking the paper with a letter-shaped stamp, the characters were created by a series of tiny dots. These patterns of dots could form a wider variety of characters and fonts while producing documents with cleaner and bolder text.
Although the dot matrix printer was the preferred type of printer for most organizations until well into the 1990s, more advanced technologies had already been developed in the 1970s. The laser printer, invented in 1971 by Xerox, used a laser to heat a cylinder, which in turn released a powdery substance called “toner” onto paper under the cylinder. The ink jet printer, developed by various organizations during the 1970s, worked by spraying a series of tiny droplets of ink directly onto paper.
In today’s office environment, there are a wide variety of printers made by various manufacturers. This can create some compatibility issues that result in workers not being able to print documents. Although Citrix Printing uses several methods for printing, it introduces complexity to IT and the end user. Overall, it improves the situation with a universal printer driver that works with most printer models and manufacturers.
Recent innovations include printers that use conductive ink that can print circuits onto paper or plastic surfaces. Another trend is more environmentally friendly solutions such as biodegradable inks, refillable cartridges and UV radiation-curable ink that dries more quickly.
Perhaps the most significant recent advancement in printing is 3D printers. These devices perform like miniature factories that custom-build 3D objects by printing them layer by layer with a polymer material. These devices are particularly useful for building prototypes and models from digital design files such as CAD or 3D scan images.
With the growing trend of viewing documents on portable devices such as tablets and smartphones, traditional paper documents are becoming less prevalent. However, there are still many new ideas to explore in the world of printing, and their usefulness is sure to endure well into the future. For more info on technology trends and progress, check out our other articles!