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The innovations that revolutionized printing

The innovations that revolutionized printing

July 2014

Whether you’re at home or at work, you’ve probably got a printer nearby. Since the 1980s, inkjet printers have become an office staple, as familiar and indispensable as a keyboard, monitor, or mouse. But how does that printer on your desk or in the office hallway actually work? What breakthroughs brought them to the mass market, or enabled the world’s fastest desktop speeds [1]? In this crash course, we’ll take you through some of the key inkjet innovations that helped bring the printed page to the PC revolution.

Borrowing from typewriters: pre-1980s
Prior to the mid-80s, most home and office printers were dot matrix. These “impact” style printers worked much the same way a traditional typewriter does, with a printhead hitting an ink-soaked ribbon against the paper to transfer the ink [2].

The thermal breakthrough: 1984
That all changed in 1984 when HP introduced the world’s first mass-marketed thermal inkjet printer [3]. Inkjet printers in general work by depositing droplets of ink onto the page, helping create a finer resolution and quieter operation. In a thermal inkjet printer, that droplet is created using a tiny heating element. To place a dot of ink on the page, a pulse of electric current is passed through the element in the ink chamber. This heat causes a tiny amount of ink to rapidly vaporize, creating a small bubble that pushes the ink out of the nozzle and onto the page [4].

Creating color: 1991
Inkjet printing was again revolutionized with the introduction of color in the early 1990s. HP’s Deskjet 500C in particular made color printing affordable by creating new algorithms for the printer to process how it translates the three basic colors on a monitor (RGB, or red, green, and blue) into the primary colors used in printing (CMY, or cyan, magenta, and yellow), improving both print quality and cost.

The reason this translation from RGB to CMY has to occur is because of the different ways that light reaches the eye in each case. With a monitor or TV, light is produced and shines on the eye directly, in a process called additive color. In contrast, on paper the light that reaches our eye is first reflected off of the paper. The color we see reflected, called subtractive color, depends on the colors absorbed by the pigments in the ink [5].

Breakthrough speed, professional quality: 2013 [1]
Despite their improvements and advantages, all of these earlier inkjet technologies had one primary limitation that slowed them all down considerably. In order to print, a small printhead had to travel across the entire page, advancing the paper line by line and creating the signature stop-start paper movement that we’re all used to seeing, and waiting for.

In 2013, HP PageWide Technology took those earlier printing technologies and scaled them to a new class of multifunction printers. This technology places more than 40 thousand tiny nozzles—each smaller than the diameter of a human hair—on a stationary printhead that spans the width of a page to deliver ink onto a moving sheet of paper. Because the paper moves and the printhead doesn’t, printers that utilize HP PageWide Technology can offer impressive reliability and laser-fast print speeds of up to 70 pages per minute [1, 6]. To find out more about how that breakthrough speed was achieved, take a look at this short white paper from HP.

Into the future
The printed page is here to stay, but the technology that delivers it is ever evolving to meet the needs of fast-moving businesses. Exceptional office printing—enabled by innovations like HP’s new PageWide Technology—helps you set the pace, pushes projects forward, makes work teams more efficient, and helps improve the bottom line.

A (very) brief history of inkjet printer firsts
1984: HP introduces the first mass-marketed thermal inkjet printer, the HP ThinkJet [3]
1988: The HP DeskJet is released as the first mass-market inkjet printer [7]
1991: Color printing is revolutionized with the introduction of the HP DeskJet 500C [8]
2005: HP becomes the first to fabricate the inkjet printhead as one unit rather than welded together [9]
2013: HP PageWide Technology powers the world’s fastest desktop printer [1]

Shop now
HP Officejet Pro X series printers—with HP PageWide technology

More to read
HP PageWide Technology technical white paper

[1] Based on published fastest print speeds of HP Officejet Pro X551dw and X576dw models compared to laser and inkjet color desktop MFPs <$1000 USD and color printers <$800 USD as reported by Buyers Lab Inc. BliQ WW Printer Database May 2014. For more information, see www.hp.com/go/printerspeeds
[2] InfoWorld, Dot Matrix, July 28, 1986
[3] HP, Timeline of our history: 1984 HP invents ThinkJet printing
[4] HP, Hewlett-Packard Inkjet Printing Technology: the state of the art, March 1999
[5] HP, Color Theory Overview
[6] When printing in general office mode.
[7] HP, Timeline of our history: 1988 HP Deskjet launched
[8] HP, Timeline of our history: 1991 Color printing revolution
[9] HP, Timeline of our history: 2005 A print breakthrough


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