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What is a Printhead? Types and Working Principle

What is a Printhead?

What is a printhead? The print head is one of the core components of the printing device and is responsible for converting electronic data into physical points on the printing substrate. Whether it’s a desktop inkjet or a large-format printer, the printhead is the component that applies ink or toner directly to the surface, creating the images, text, or graphics we see on paper or other substrates. Printheads come in a variety of types and technologies, each suited to specific printing applications and requirements.

The printhead of printer mainly has the following parts:
1. Nozzle plate
The nozzle plate is made of silicon wafer with nozzle holes on the surface, which is covered with small nozzle holes. The diameter of these holes is only a few tenths of a millimeter. Each nozzle can eject a very small line of ink to form tiny printing dots on the printing paper to form the required characters or images.
2. Inkjet head module
The inkjet head module is the core part of the entire printer printhead. It is usually assembled from a power supply, control chip, inkjet module, and nozzle board. The inkjet head module requires liquid ink as input, and the input ink is ejected from the control circuit channel to the nozzle plate.
3. Ink storage box
The ink storage box is where the ink is stored, also known as the ink tank. Ink storage boxes are generally large sealed ink cartridges or ink dampers that are easy to store. They can ensure that the printhead prints continuously and at fixed points to avoid ink interruption on the way.

Types of Printheads

1. Thermal Printheads
Thermal printheads use tiny resistive elements that heat up to create vapor bubbles in the ink. The expansion of these bubbles propels the ink onto the printing surface. Thermal printheads are commonly found in inkjet printers, including desktop printers and photo printers.

2. Piezoelectric Printheads
Piezoelectric printheads rely on the deformation of piezoelectric materials in response to an electric charge. This deformation ejects tiny droplets of ink onto the printing medium. They are widely used in both industrial and commercial inkjet printers, providing high-precision and fine-detail printing.

3. Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) Printheads
How it Works: CIJ printheads continuously expel a stream of droplets, and a deflection mechanism guides the droplets onto the desired positions on the printing medium.
Applications: Ideal for high-speed and continuous printing, commonly used in industrial coding and marking applications.

4. Drop-on-Demand (DOD) Printheads
How it Works: DOD printheads eject droplets of ink only when needed, offering precise control over the placement of each droplet.
Applications: Common in various printing technologies, including inkjet, where the droplets are selectively deposited to create the desired image.

More info:

Piezoelectric Print Heads vs Thermal Print Heads

Key Components and Features of Printheads

To facilitate everyone to have a more comprehensive understanding of inkjet printers, we have summarized the main performance indicators that reflect the performance differences below for your reference when purchasing.


DPI is an important standard for measuring print quality in the industry. It expresses the number of dots per inch that an inkjet printer can print. When printing in monochrome, the higher the dpi value, the better the printing effect. The situation is more complicated when printing in color. Usually, the quality of print quality is affected by both the dpi value and the color blending ability. Since the black-and-white printing resolution and color printing resolution of general color inkjet printers may be different, when purchasing, be sure to pay attention to which resolution the merchant tells you and whether it is the highest resolution. Generally, you should choose at least an inkjet printer with a 360DPI or above.

Color Blending Ability

For users who use color inkjet printers, the printer’s color blending capability is a very important indicator. When printing color photos, traditional inkjet printers will choose a close combination of three basic colors to print if they encounter a transitional color. Even if black is added, this combination generally cannot exceed 16 However, the ability to express color levels is unsatisfactory.

To solve this problem, early inkjet printers used a method of adjusting the density of spray dots to express color levels. But for products with a color resolution of only about 300 dpi at that time, the result of adjusting the density was that the transition color effect was very poor and it looked like there were many spots. Today’s color inkjet printers, on the one hand, make the printed dots thinner by increasing the printing density (resolution), thereby making the images more delicate; on the other hand, they all improve technology in color blending. Common ones include: Increasing the number of colors, changing the size of the ejected ink droplets, reducing the basic color density of the ink cartridge, and other methods. Among them, increasing the number of colors is the most effective. Currently, five-color color ink cartridges are usually used, plus the original black ink cartridge, to form the so-called six-color printing. In this way, the number of color combinations obtained by permutation and combination is increased many times, and the effect improvement is naturally very obvious.

The principle of changing the size of the ejected ink droplets is to eject standard-sized ink droplets where higher color density is required during printing and to eject small ink droplets where lower color density is required, which also achieves more color gradations. To reduce the color density of the ink cartridge, it is actually to use repeated inkjet in areas with high color density to form more color gradations.

Printing Speed

The printing speed of inkjet printers is generally measured in terms of the number of pages printed per minute (PPM: Page Per Minute). However because the print volume of each page is not the same, this number will not be accurate and is just an average number. For home printers, since the printing volume is generally not too large, you don’t need to pay special attention to the printing speed when purchasing.

Print Driver

The print driver is a very important but often overlooked link. Many advanced printing technologies are closely related to supporting printing technologies. Please be sure to use the original driver from the manufacturer and update it at any time.

Printing Format

Generally, the printing formats of inkjet printers are A4 and A3. Generally, home users can use the A4 format.

How Often do Printheads Have to be Replaced?

Printer printheads can be divided into two types according to their working principles: thermal bubble type and piezoelectric ceramic type. Printhead replacement is different.
Epson printheads are of the piezoelectric ceramic type, while HP and Canon are of the thermal bubble type.
Piezoelectric ceramic printheads are expensive but have a longer service life. They use a structure in which the ink cartridge and the nozzle are separated, so the ink cartridges are cheaper. Recently, there are also printers designed with an ink tank structure, which is the continuous supply structure, and the cost of use is lower, but, once the piezoelectric printhead is clogged, the cost of replacing it is almost the same as buying a new printer.
Thermal bubble printheads are cheaper and have a relatively short lifespan. Generally, the printheads are directly mounted on the ink cartridge. Replacing the ink cartridge is equivalent to replacing a new printhead, so the ink cartridge is slightly more expensive.

As for the life of the printhead, it depends on many factors. The first is daily maintenance. Inkjet printers are most afraid of drying out the ink and blocking the nozzles. Generally, they need to print at least once every half a month. If they are not printing for a long time, it is easy to clog the nozzles. The second is the amount of printing. The printheads cannot be used forever. When well maintained, the piezoelectric ceramic ones can be used for about 5 years in a light household environment, and the thermal bubble ones can be used for about 4 years (self-modifying continuous ink supply).

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