You can print to many different printer types from your Linux system, and each has its own quirks. The four most common printer classes are
Serial line printers generally accept only ASCII text (these printers are sometimes called dumb printers), but there are exceptions. Some higher-end line printers accept PCL or PostScript. These printers are usually connected through serial or parallel interfaces, but they also can be connected through a terminal server or other network device. Line printers print a page one line at a time. Serial character printers print one character at a time. These printers have tractors that feed the paper through the printer using holes along the sides of the paper. Thus, one of the complications of these printers is paper alignment and jams.
Serial character and line printers accept carbon or duplicate forms, which are commonly used in printing forms, checks, and POS applications. High-speed line printers such as band printers are also used for batched reports from computer systems. They are exceptionally fast and efficient.
One of the great joys of tractor-feed printers is bursting the pages. Because the pages are all connected in a continuous feed, they must be burst apart at their perforations, and the tractor feed holes must be removed from either side.
Laser printers are known for their speed and print quality. These printers print a page at a time rather than a line at a time. They use a heated drum and toner (similar to a copier). Color laser printers are available, but most print in black and white. They can also experience jams in the feeding mechanism, but they occur less frequently than tractor-feed printers. The print quality is generally higher than other printing methods. The printing speed varies depending on the printer but can range from 3 to more than 750 pages per minute.
Most laser printers accept a variety of PDLs. PCL is the generally accepted standard, but PostScript is common on laser printers as well. Fonts and other PDLs can be loaded into many printers with DIMMs inserted into memory slots in the printer. Due to their cost, laser printers are more common in businesses, although the cost has decreased markedly in the last few years.
Laser printers can be printed to by most of the connectivity types depending on the model. The most common is through the network. This method enables many systems to access the printer. It is common to have one laser printer shared in a work area. This approach spreads the cost more efficiently than having one printer per system.
Another big plus of laser printers is the wide range of accessories that can be attached to them, such as sheet feeders and extra trays, duplexers, stackers, collators, mailboxes, and staplers. Although some of these options are available on other printer types, none can match the range and versatility of a laser printer. Other options include pages sizes (8.5 x 11, A4, legal, card stock, envelopes, labels) and different media types such as transparencies.
Inkjets are generally found on individual systems, although they can be shared. They are common for home printing and small office printing because of their capability to print high-quality color pages. They are often used to print color photographs and overheads for presentations. They work by using a fine spray of super-heated ink from a small print head. They can print on a good range of paper sizes and a great range of media including CDs, cloth, transparencies, and many others. Inkjets are usually connected locally to a computer through USB or parallel interfaces.
Plotters are very high-end print devices that use a pen to essentially draw the image on the paper. Older plotters could only print line-based vector graphics. The newest generations of plotters have switched to other technologies such as thermal inkjet printing. These are usually used in CAD/CAM/CAE environments for schematics and blueprints or for large-format printing. The newest plotters offer exceptionally high quality and can print photo-quality raster graphics on large rolls of paper (60-inch-wide rolls, for example). Plotters are usually either USB, parallel, or networked.
There are many other types of printers such as solid ink, electron beam, thermal wax transfer, electrostatic transfer, and dye sublimation that we do not cover here.