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There are two main types of printers in business and household use: the Inkjet and Laser Printer. Whereas many people might see the two as interchangeable, they are, in fact, very different. Inkjet Printers most often use an aqueous ink that produces minute droplets which are then applied to a printing surface. Laser Printers use a dry toner to print onto paper.
The mechanism and process behind the production of a print with a Laser Printer is very complex, but will be briefly outlined here. Firstly, a central, rotating drum is charged with a layer of negative ions. The material, or in some cases materials, that the drum is manufactured from allow for electron "leakage" in the presence of light. This is to say that when light reaches the surface of the negatively charged drum, the negative ions are neutralised, and no longer contain a charge.
By using an extremely accurate laser beam, the printer is able to select which parts of the rotating drum to neutralise and which parts to leave negatively charged. The areas exposed to the amplified light beam (i.e. the laser beam) will pick up dry toner and transfer it to paper for the final print. The laser is directed in its very fine movements by the printer's ability to read a raster image (a digitised image that breaks a picture plane down into a matrix of pixels).
The dry toner adheres to the neutralised areas of the rotating central drum as the toner particles are themselves negatively charged by passing a current over them. To put this idea another way, one could say that static electricity is used by a central drum to pick particles of toner up and shape them in a way that mirrors what is meant to appear on the printed paper. The dry toner is then transferred onto paper.
To fix the toner to the paper, the print is passed through the "fusing" component of the Laser Printer. The fusing section essentially consists of two rollers through which the print passes. One roller heats the print to make the toner literally melt onto the paper, and the other merely applies pressure to physically push the melted toner into the paper's fibres. All excess toner is wiped away by toner wipers (the unused toner is deposited into an internal bin).
The toner itself is a very fine dust of coloured/dyed polymer plastic. The type of polymer plastic might vary between manufacturers, as might the pigments used for the dye ? the only essential features that the toner must incorporate include the fact that it must be able to carry a static electricity charge, and, secondly, it must melt at relatively low temperatures.
Owing to its low melting point, spilt toner should always be cleaned with a cool, damp cloth. This cloth should then be washed in cold water. Washing toner (on either a rag or on an item of clothing) in warm water will result in permanent stains. Similarly, garments with toner on them shouldn't be ironed until it is ascertained that the toner has been completely washed out beforehand.
When conducting a maintenance check on a Laser Printer, one should always remember that using a conventional, household vacuum cleaner to vacuum errant toner could result in further complications: the toner particles are so fine that they may pass directly through the vacuum filtration system and end up being air-borne in the room; secondly, because they carry a charge, a spark could ignite a fire in the dust of the vacuum bag.
A final point is to bear in mind that correct usage and maintenance of your printing equipment will make it last longer, making it a better value-for-money purchase than it otherwise would be. Try to consult with an expert before purchasing toner, thus ensuring that you secure the best possible advice.