Is a printer an input or output device?

A printer is a computer device that is often referred to as peripheral hardware alongside devices like mice and scanners. A monitor is also an input device. Like with a lot of computer hardware, it can be difficult to distinguish whether a printer is an input or output device. 

A printer is an output device. A computer sends the digital information to the printer which then converts it to a human-readable format and outputs it by printing paper.

However, printers have changed a lot over the last decade. It means that some more complex printers can act as an input and an output depending on the function you are using. 

Let’s take a closer look at what makes a printer an output device and how you can make the distinction yourself for other pieces of hardware in the future. 

What are input and output devices?

To understand why a printer is an output device, it is useful to understand both inputs and outputs and consider their differences. The computer processing unit, or the CPU, controls both input and output devices. However, unlike these pieces of hardware, the CPU is not considered an input or output device.

Input Devices

A computer keyboard and mouse fall under the input device category. Input devices are used to send information to the computer processor. A mouse is used to control the cursor and these movements and then send inputs to the computer process, while a keyboard is used to input text into a digital format.

Input devices send information to the processor whereas output devices receive data. 

Data flow of an input device

Output Devices

Printers and speakers are examples of computer output devices. Printers receive digital information from the processor which they then decode and print on paper. Speaker outputs the audio information they received from the computer in the form of sound waves. 

Unlike input devices, output devices primarily receive data from the computer processor and can’t be manipulated via user input. 

Data flow of an output device

Is a printer an input or output device?

A printer is an output device that receives information from a processor which is then decoded and printed onto paper. It is an output device because it receives information from a computer’s processor rather than sending it. Around 70% of American adults regularly use a printer so it’s important to be able to understand whether it’s an input or output device.

The reason a printer is an output device is that information is sent to it by an external device like your computer or phone. 

Modern printers like the HP Envy 6055 typically have Bluetooth enabled which means you don’t need to connect to them using a wire to print things. However, features like this make it more difficult to determine whether a printer is an input or output device. People mistakenly think that because the printer gives off a signal to the computer processor to let it know where to print, that it can be considered an input device. 

Can a printer be used as an input device?

A printer can not be used as an input device because it doesn’t send any information to the computer processor. Home printer technology has come a long way and they now come with a lot of built-in functionality.

Regardless of the features, a printer will have, it is always considered an output device. Even printers like the Brother Laser Printer which has scanner functionality are still output devices. Although it has a scanner attached which is an input device, it would still be considered an output device when using the printer functionality. 

Unlike a mouse or a keyboard, a printer only receives instructions from the computer. Your device provides the printer with the things it needs printing and then these are outputted onto paper. The printer doesn’t send instructions to your computer. It may send specific pieces of information like paper and ink level, as well as any faults that may occur. But these small packets of data don’t drive any behavior in the processor. 

Is a laser printer an input or output device?

A laser printer is an output device because it receives information from your device’s processor but does not send the processor any data. The laser printer market is set to grow by 5% between 2020 and 2027 so we are likely to see more of these in the coming years. 

There are traditionally two types of printers: inkjet and laser. Both types of printers are output devices, regardless of the additional functionalities that exist on both.

An inkjet printer has a printhead with thousands of tiny holes, similar to that found on the HP Deskjet. These holes drop droplets of ink onto paper to provide a  high-quality finish. The liquid ink is either a colored dye or a liquid that contains solid color pigments.

A laser printer, like the Brother Laserjet, uses static electricity to attach toner to your sheet of paper. The toner used is essentially powered ink that is more granular than the liquid used in inkjet printers.

What are other output devices similar to a printer?

As we have discussed an output device is anything a computer can send information to and can control. Different devices often called computer peripherals, all perform different tasks and are used for different functions. 

An example of 10 output devices that are similar to a printer include:

  1. Speakers
  2. Plotters
  3. Projectors
  4. Computer Monitor.
  5. Headphones
  6. LCD Projection Panels
  7. Sound card
  8. Video card
  9. Braille Reader
  10. GPS

There is speech generating technology that is an output device similar to a printer. A plotter is an input device because it produces detailed graphic drawings in a similar manner to a printer.

Conclusion

A printer is an output device because it is controlled by the computer’s processor, information only flows from the processor to the printer. Output devices like printers receive instructions from external devices but do not send instructions back. Input devices on the other hand send instructions to a computer’s processor. 

Modern printers have made it more difficult to decipher whether they are an input or output device because of the sheer number of built-in functionalities they now have. However, with all-in-one hardware each piece of functionality i.e. printer, scanner, fax, should be thought of separately.

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