Inkjet printers have only become widespread only in the past few years, yet, the technology has been under development for decades. Inkjet recorders appeared as early as 1950 and inkjet typewriters as early as the 1960s. But the big research dollars started to flow in the 1970s when virtually every major printer manufacturer invested in lengthy and mostly unsuccessful inkjet development programs, driven by the vision that inkjet was destined to replace impact (matrix) technology.

      The Achilles Heel of inkjet technology has always been twofold: reliability and print quality. It is very difficult to control the ink flow, and to prevent the ink from drying and clogging the print head. The print quality depends heavily on the complex relationship between ink, print head and receiver material (paper, film). By the end of the 1980s, Canon and Hewlett-Packard mastered both the ink chemistry and the hydrodynamics required to produce a reliable, good quality inkjet printer.

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     In 1998 the total narrow format coated inkjet media market was good for approximately 360 million square meters.  The estimates for the future are that this market will still continue to grow heavily in the coming years.

Liquid inkjet printers generally fall into one of two classes - continuous and drop-on-demand. In a continuous inkjet printer, a continuous spray of ink droplets is produced, the unneeded droplets are deflected before they reach the paper. 

      Continuous inkjet technology permits very high-speed drop generation, one million drops per second or faster, but is expensive to manufacture and, because of the wasted ink, expensive to operate. Two classes of continuous inkjet products are available today. High-speed industrial printers are used for applications such as carton and product marking and addressing and personalizing direct mail. The other is the proofing printer which offers the best print quality of any non-photographic device, but they are much slower - less than an inch per second. Although the resolutions are not that high (e.g. 300 dpi), the variable-sized dots make photographic quality possible. 

      Drop-on-demand inkjet printers produce ink droplets only when needed. The two most common technologies to drive the droplets out of the print head are thermal (used by Hewlett Packard, Lexmark, Canon, Olivetti, Oc and others) and piezo-electric (used by Epson). Thermal have been by far the most successful because they can be produced inexpensively. 

      The biggest challenge for piezo-electric inkjet technology is the cost and difficulty of producing print heads. Today Epson has a very successful line of piezo-electric color printers, namely the Stylus color and Stylus photo family of printers offering photographic quality.

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