How Does a Printer Ink Cartridge Work?

January 23, 2010 No Comments

For quite some time now, people have been using inkjet printers but do you know the technology behind printer ink cartridges?

The fad on inkjet technology started when Canon developed and introduced their bubble jet technology in the market. This technology is different from the then-widely-used dot matrix printing technology because it makes use of a drop-on-demand inkjet printing method. In this inkjet printing method, a very small heater is installed in the cartridge to heat the liquid ink and turn it into ink vapor bubble. This will then eject the ink drops from the nozzle and onto the paper. Hence, the name “bubble jet” was coined by Canon to refer to this new printing technology.

Hewlett-Packard (HP), not willing to give up their throne as the print industry leader, also independently developed and released a similar inkjet printing technology. They called this “thermal inkjet” in reference to the function of the small heater in the cartridge. Thermal inkjet became the driver and leading technology behind HP’s popular inkjet line of printer models.

Technically, inkjet or bubble jet printing technology also makes use of the serial printing process similar to that of dot matrix printers. In dot matrix printing, small pin-like devices are installed in vertical columns to “prick” on the ribbon cartridge and produce the printouts. The same is true for inkjet printing. Serial inkjet printers have print heads wherein a number of nozzles are arranged also in vertical columns. The printing process is the same as that of dot matrix printers.

The print head serves as the engine of the printer. In some cases, it is included in the cartridge while some print heads are built in the printer unit (not in the cartridge). The print head contains hundreds of small and somehow fragile nozzle assemblies. Each nozzle assembly includes a tiny ink chamber, a resistor that controls the flow of ink, walls or tiny bridge-like structures that the flow of the ink in the right direction and a nozzle plate with a hole from which the ink will be sprayed to the paper.

After each time the nozzle fires ink, a new supply of ink will automatically flow into the chamber, stored there temporarily for the next use or printing. When the computer (usually through the printer driver) tells the printer to print, the copper circuits installed at the end of the ink cartridge will relay a message to the nozzle’s resistor. The resistor will then heat the ink supply in the chamber, enough to cause the ink to expand ands to force a drop of it through the nozzle to the paper.

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