All About Printers: Technology, Markets, and History

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A Modern Printer Primer: Recent History

The history of printing often sees completely different methods contemporary with each other. The modern era began with Xerox's Xerographic office photocopying in 1959, and over the following 20 years it gradually replaced copies made by other duplicating machines and became the standard bearer for copying technology (Dalakov 2017). In 1968, dot matrixes started catching on; a dot matrix printer is a type of computer printer with a print head that prints by impact much like a typewriter. But, unlike a typewriter letters are drawn out of a dot matrix, and therefore allows different fonts and graphics to be used. The first dot-matrix printers were invented in Japan by Epson (Palmer 2012). In 1969 the first laser printer was invented at Xerox. The first laser printer designed for use with an individual computer was released and called the Xerox Star 8010. This release occurred in 1981 but was so expensive that most consumers could not purchase this model. When the rise of personal computers followed, the first laser printer intended for a mass market emerged in 1984. This was Hewlett Packard's LaserJet 8ppm, incorporating Canon parts but housed in an HP machine and running on HP software. The HP LaserJet printer was quickly followed by other laser printers manufactured by Brother Industries, IBM, and others ("History of Printing" 2017).

Atari 1027

Atari 1027 Daisy-wheel printer, 1983

Modern needs

With different technologies available and an array of products, it's relevant to think of what today's offices get from their printers, differentiated from other markets and interests. Printers for the business market are more efficient and offer more productivity than those used in the consumer market (Smith 2016). Purchasing network printers that can be shared by office staff can save a significant amount of money over purchasing individual personal computers. These networked printers also have faster print speeds and most are multi-functional offering additional features such as copying, scanning, faxing and emailing.

Printers for the business market can be wired or wireless. There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these when being used in the business environment. A wired connection offers faster, more reliable, and definitely more security which can be very important in the business workplace. Wireless connections are more flexible for placing office equipment and also make it easier to connect with mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones (Smith 2016).

Inkjet Printers: Not Quite Obsolete

Inkjet technology printing has been present during the introduction of most new printer technologies, from dot matrix to laser to dye sublimation, and has endured them all. The most common inkjet technique involves a microscopic tube which blasts a high-pressure, steady, and precise stream of ink onto paper following a directed path. In the age of home and office computers, it was the traditional choice for printers because of inkjet printers' reliability, agreeable printing speed, and mostly importantly, prices (Hanson 2014). While inkjet printers are still offered today, and indeed many small-time users might be satisfied with an inkjet printer from 15 years ago, they are falling out of phase as laser printers have become more efficient, and not necessarily cheaper machines, but today the prices of inkjet ink cartridges are prohibitively more expensive than laser printers' toner offerings in the home and small office world ("Inkjet printing" 2017).

Yet inkjet printers have found a place in the current printing landscape. Even though inkjet printers are not the largest portion of printers used in the business market, their use is increasing with the introduction of high speed business inkjet printers from HP and continuous ink supply systems (CISS) from Canon, Epson, and HP. Although sold in some capacities, CISS printers are mostly a jury-rigged affair; it usually means breaking the original manufacturer's detection software, but it is worth it to businesses. It can be a messy affair, sometimes producing "bubbles" in printing pages and making official technical support an impossibility, but many businesses choose CISS printers or even rig old inkjet printers for CISS ink supply, because this ink can be continuously resupplied and purchased and installed in bulk, meaning significantly cheaper ink prices (Wirth 2014). It seems to be unknown or unpublished how widespread this trend is, and how deep its impact is on markets. Although previous trends may have shown that inkjet printers were destined to die in the home consumer market, the revenue from business inkjet cartridge replacement is expected to exceed the consumer inkjet cartridge revenue by the year 2019.

Laser Printers: The Standard

Laser printers are the most commonly used printers in business offices. These printers use a light source to project an image onto a drum which then transfers toner to the paper. These printers produce high quality text and are faster and more reliable than inkjet printers which are more popular in home offices. Laser printers are more expensive to purchase but the toner they use is relatively inexpensive compared to the ink used in inkjet printers.


In the 1980s and early 1990s when Laser printers were a far more expensive technology the image was applied directly by the printing belt, known as the intermediate transfer belt, which would carry the needed toner particles from the toner cartridge to the spot where they would then be applied to the paper (The Printer Encyclopedia 2013). Since the early 2000s, both cost and speed have been optimized with an electrostatic transfer belt, making separate moving parts for the transport of toner during a printing task, and for the application of toner to the page. Laser printers went from a 2-page-a-minute technology to a 20-page-a-minute technology, which is the speed home consumers today find powerful. Yet development of ITB (intermediate transfer belt) laser printers has continued.

The present cost-effectiveness of adding multiple lasers (which speed up the process) combined with the machine ability to better manipulate paper have made ITB's feature of less moving parts a potential simplification of the process. While both ITB- and ETB-utilizing laser printers are manufactured today for Hewlett Packard's standard lines, ETB may end up as a simple fad in the history of the evolution of laser printing.

Laser printing continues as a powerful printing solution

Laser printing in general is becoming more efficient. It also is becoming more powerful. According to Nanowerk (2015), on the horizon is laser printing technology that will be able to print in 127,000 DPI. This might not have practical implications for offices in itself, but it might have industrial applications for replacing other tiny-scale production processes.

Sales and Market Trends

In short, printers are on the down-swing. Documentation from 2015 shows that total worldwide shipments of printers, copiers and multifunction products declined 6.9% with 98 million units shipped. Total spending declined 6.0% to $48.3 billion (Gartner 2015).

Printer market

According to market-research firm the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Hardcopy Peripherals Tracker, the worldwide hardcopy peripherals (HCP) market declined 10.6 percent year-over-year on shipments of 23.11 million units in the first quarter of 2016 (1Q16). Inkjet printers experienced a year-over-year decline of 11.1 percent, while the laser market declined 10.5 percent year-over-year (Wirth 2016).

The Major Players

For the first quarter of 2016 Hewlett Packard (HP) shipped 8,385,014 units and held 36.3% of the market share. Canon was next shipping 4,517,713 units to claim 19.5% of market share. Third was Epson with 4.000,229 units shipped and 17.3% of market share. Brother shipped 1.777.332 units and had 7.7% of the market share. Samsung shipped 1.015,240 units to have 4.4% of market share. This data was for all single function printers and multi-function printers. Of these companies, only Canon and Epson saw an increase in their market share compared to the first quarter of 2015 (Wirth 2016). All of the companies saw a decline in their growth (number of units shipped) from 2015 to 2016.

Hewlett Packard

Indeed the HP competing in the printer industry now is not the same as it was only two years ago; as HP saw its networking and server-side industry still relatively bustling and innovating, in October 2015 it split those ventures into HP Enterprise while reserving the simple HP name for its lines of printers and personal computers, which both appear to be waning with no rescue in sight (O'Brien 2016).


There were significant events in 2016 in the printing industry including HP's split and Xerox as well as the acquisition of Lexmark by APEX and HP acquired Samsung s printing business. Amazon entered the market for toner cartridge replacement called their Dash program and they also are offering photo printing services.5

Looking Out Forward: Outlook for Printing

3-Dimensional future

Also in the office printing industry the major manufacturers are looking at 3D printing as a way to offset declining office print revenues and operating profits. HP is investing large amounts of money their 3D JetFusion technology which they introduced in May of 2016. 3D printers satisfy a wholly different need for offices than paper printers, but as the paper printing industry shifts in profitability, 3D printing may be what many in printing technology devote their research and development priorities to. Indeed, Ron Iverson (2017) shows that research and development has already declined by at least 5% for each of Canon, Epson, HP, and Xerox between 2007 and 2015, and interest in not bound to rise again. In this way, 3D printers may not spell the death knell for paper printing, but they may spell the future for manufacturers and developers looking for something fresh.

Digital future

Still, paper's decline has more to do with the rise of digital industries. Printing will still be a competitive business because of business needs, but a progressively less important one both to society and to grabbing a corporate edge, and a confluence of new technologies promises to leave it behind. As suggested, many manufacturers in the business printer market are also increasing their investments in the e-document and digital workflow technology. Xerox is one of the companies that is investing heavily in these areas (Mimeo).

Some good and some bad ahead

Over the next few years, it is expected that office printer shipments will continue to decline and companies will keep their existing devices longer before replacing them. It is also expected that 3D printing will become more mainstream in the commercial and industrial markets where it can reduce product development time. It is also believed that more manufacturers will get into the continuous ink supply system (CISS) (Webb). With increased networking and cloud capabilities, print and document security will become exceedingly important. Web-to-print is another area of growth for manufacturers of business printers. With this technology, employees can upload their content to a cloud service and order those materials to be printed and shipped to any location around the world. This allows businesses to send training manuals, posters, brochures and corporate binders in a quick and easy manner (Mimeo).