Home » What Are Printer Printheads?

When I was a bit younger, back in 2003. when 128 MB of RAM costed an arm and a leg, I bought my first printer which was from HP. Although I don’t remember the exact name, what I do remember is that it was like a Kinder Surprise egg.

You buy it for $100, but hey, now you need paper. You have the paper? Well, to bad, now you’re out of ink. Got enough ink? Well, look at this, now it’s time to clean your printhead! I’ll be damned.

After a while I got used to it, but I still remember the feeling I had when I first opened it up and cleaned the head of the printer. Imagine a 13 year old kid succeeding at something like that – pure gold.

Anyhow, back then, HP Printer Printheads were well known for causing issues, where you had to regularly clean them if you wanted your device to last 5+ years, which wasn’t an issue once I got used to the process, but before that I was completely lost and (slightly) disappointed with the printing industry.

My story aside, today we’re covering Printheads – what are they, what do they do, why do we need to replace them and so on, so let’s start:

So, what are printheads and why do we have them?

Printer PrintheadIn the old days of printing you had to have print presses which made direct contact with the paper (media) to produce a print and, although it worked flawlessly, it was also quite messy and required a cleaning session more often then one would have the patience to do it. Also, with the size and cleaning in mind, they were expensive as hell. Fast forward to today and we have a compact printer with a printhead which is not larger then your phone. And although the official name came from the word “head of the printer”, which later on went to “printer head” to the final and widely used term “printhead”.

What do they do?

Contrary to their older brothers, printheads do not touch the paper (media), but rather spray the ink on to it. To do that, they need to have access to chambers that get ink fed on a constant basis, combined with nozzles that spray the ink out of them. So, you have the contacts which communicate with the computer, the chambers to keep the ink and the nozzles to spray the ink – sounds like a whole assembly, right?

Well, yes, that’s the setup which we then call a print head or printhead.

There are two different types of printheads

Here we’re talking about the Piezo Inkjet print heads used in Epson inkjet printers and the Thermal inkjet print heads used in Canon and HP inkjet printers.

Although both technologies excel in printing and have basically the same drop-on-demand print heads, the difference is in the method which they use to spray the ink on to the paper (media) together with the way they are moving the ink from the chambers in to the print head and then back.

Piezo Printhead Printer Setup

To go a bit deeper in to the topic, the Piezo Print Heads do not heat up the ink to make it leave the nozzle, but rather use vibration caused by a thin film which is, in the end, exposed to an electric charge. Through that build up pressure, the head is forcing the ink to from the nozzle on to the paper.

Since they do not use heat to activate the spraying process, they are compatible with different types of ink, including Eco-solvent and solvent inks together with water or oil based ones. These types of printheads can last you up to 5 years, since they are designed to last.

Thermal Printhead Printer Head

Thermal inkjet print heads on the other hand, as the name implies, use heat to boil the ink and create an air bubble which, after it explodes, is forcing out the ink on to the paper (media). Once the ink is sprayed, the assembly cools down rapidly and once it reaches a certain temperature it repeats the process.

Thermal printheads are mainly using water based inks, and can wear out faster then their Piezo counterparts. Now, although they do brake easily, printers using them are cheaper then the ones with a Piezo printhead and are also easier to replace once they are broken.

Common printhead problems and solutions?

Once you figure out that your printheads are not working properly, there are three main solutions.

The first solution is to clean your printheads through the software/driver which was provided with your printer, we wrote a short tutorial on how to do it, which you can find under this link: How to clean HP Printheads

If the first solution didn’t work, you might consider cleaning the printheads manually, to do that, again, just follow our tutorial which we wrote a few weeks ago, you can find it here: How to manually clean your HP Printheads

If both of these solutions are out of question, and you’re assured that a replacement is needed, then just follow our replacement tips under this link, and you’re good to go: How to replace your HP Printhead

That’s all from us, best of luck in fixing your device!