Impact Printers Vs Non-Impact Printers – What’s the Difference? 

Impact printer vs non-impact printer

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The comparison between impact and non-impact printers centres on fundamental differences in printing mechanisms, output capabilities, and operational efficiency. Impact printers, known for their mechanical approach, contrast sharply with the more modern, quieter, and versatile non-impact printers. 

This guide delves into the technical and practical aspects of impact and non-impact printers, offering clarity on their operations, advantages, and suitability for various tasks. Whether you’re selecting a printer for professional, business, or personal use, our analysis aims to equip you with the insights needed to make an informed decision that best meets your objectives.

What are Impact Printers?

Definition of impact printers

Impact printers are a type of printer that uses a printhead that physically strikes a ribbon against paper to produce text and images, similar to how a typewriter operates.

These printers are distinguished by their mechanical printing process. They are renowned for their robustness and capability to print through multipart forms. Despite their advantages, impact printers tend to be noisier, slower, and yield lower-resolution prints than their non-impact counterparts.

Given their unique attributes, impact printers maintain their utility in specific scenarios, such as producing invoices and multipart forms, particularly in environments where low printing volume and moderate quality are satisfactory.

Examples of impact printers include dot matrix, daisy wheel, and line printers.

For a more comprehensive exploration of impact printers and their applications, please visit our detailed article, What is an Impact Printer?

What are Non-Impact Printers?

Definition of non-impact printers

Non-impact printers are a type of printer that produces text and images without direct physical contact between the printing mechanism and paper. 

Renowned for their efficiency, non-impact printers excel in speed and operate with minimal noise. This makes them ideal for bustling office environments and quiet home offices. The lack of physical impact in the printing process reduces wear and tear, resulting in lower maintenance requirements and a longer lifespan for the printer itself.

These printers cater to various needs, adeptly handling everything from high-volume document production to the creation of intricate graphics and vibrant photographs. Their versatility and performance benefits make them essential for businesses seeking professional-grade prints and for individuals prioritising quality and convenience in their printing solutions.

Examples of non-impact printers include thermal, inkjet, and laser printers. 

For those looking to delve deeper into non-impact printers’ capabilities, advantages, and suitable applications, refer to our dedicated guide, What Are Non-Impact Printers?

Non-Impact Printer vs Impact Printer - The Similarities

Five similarities between impact printer and non-impact printer

While the impact and non-impact printers differ significantly in their technology and applications, they share fundamental similarities essential to the printing process. 

Let’s quickly examine the similarities between impact printers and non-impact printers. 

Purpose

Both impact and non-impact printers are designed to produce printed materials such as documents, images, and texts. This fundamental goal underscores the essential role of printers in both personal and professional settings, enabling the transition from digital data to tangible outputs. 

Use in Business and Personal Settings

Impact and non-impact printers are useful in a wide range of environments, from business offices to personal home use. Their versatility is evident in their wide range of tasks, catering to various printing needs. 

Digital Data to Physical Output

The core functionality of converting digital data into physical paper output is a shared characteristic between impact and non-impact printers. This conversion is crucial for materialising digital information into easily distributed and consumed format. 

While the technology behind this process differs—impact printers use mechanical force, while non-impact printers deploy ink without direct contact—the end goal remains the same. 

Variety of Models and Brands

The printer market offers a diverse selection of both impact and non-impact printers, featuring various models and brands to suit different needs and budgets. This variety ensures that users can find a printer that matches their specific requirements, whether for occasional home use or daily professional applications. 

Maintenance Required

Maintenance is necessary for owning an impact or non-impact printer, ensuring longevity and consistent print quality. Regular maintenance tasks may include cleaning print heads, replacing ribbons or cartridges, and updating software. 

While the nature of maintenance can differ, impact printers may require more frequent mechanical maintenance due to their moving parts, and both types benefit from regular upkeep.

Impact Printer vs Non-Impact Printer - The Differences

Table of dissimilarities between impact printer and non-impact printer

The differences between impact and non-impact printers affect their operation, maintenance, print quality, and suitability for various tasks. Below is a table summarising these key differences. 

Feature
Impact Printers
Non-Impact Printers
Physical Contact
Requires physical contact with the paper to print.
No need for physical contact with the paper.
Noise Level
Louder due to the mechanical impact during printing.
Quieter operation as they do not use impact mechanisms.
Print Speed
Generally slower, suited for low to medium-volume printing.
Faster, capable of handling high-volume printing efficiently.
Print Quality
Lower resolution and quality, suitable for text and simple graphics.
Higher resolution and quality, ideal for detailed graphics and photos.
Maintenance
Requires more frequent maintenance due to mechanical wear and tear.
Lower maintenance needs due to fewer moving parts.
Consumables
No need for frequent replacement of consumables.
Frequent replacement of cartridges or toner is needed.
Volume Suitability
Best suited for low-volume prints with text and simple graphics.
Designed for large-volume prints requiring high resolutions.
Paper Type
Typically require continuous paper sheets.
Use individual paper sheets, offering more flexibility in media types.

Physical Contact

Impact printers rely on direct physical contact between the print head and the paper. This method involves striking a ribbon with pins or a wheel to transfer ink onto the paper, creating the printed image or text. 

In contrast, non-impact printers require no physical contact. Instead, they use methods such as spraying ink or laser beams to transfer toner to the paper. The lack of physical contact in non-impact printers allows for more versatile printing on various media types beyond traditional paper.

Noise Level

The mechanical nature of impact printers results in a higher noise level during operation. The sound of the print head striking the ribbon can be significant, making these printers less suitable for quiet office environments. 

Non-impact printers offer a quieter solution. Their printing technologies operate without mechanical impact, making them preferable for settings where noise is a concern.

Print Speed

Impact printers generally have slower print speeds than non-impact printers, making them less efficient for high-volume printing tasks. For example, a typical dot matrix printer might print at speeds ranging from 200 to 600 characters per second (CPS).

A modern laser printer can produce over 20 pages per minute (PPM), significantly reducing printing time for large documents.

Print Quality

Impact printers typically have lower print quality than non-impact printers. They are suited for text and simple graphics, with resolutions around 240 x 144 dots per inch (DPI). 

In contrast, non-impact printers can achieve much higher resolutions. Laser printers offer up to 1200 x 1200 DPI, producing sharp, high-quality prints suitable for detailed graphics and photos.

Maintenance

Due to their mechanical components, impact printers often require more frequent maintenance to ensure proper function. This includes replacing worn-out ribbons and repairing or replacing damaged print heads.

Non-impact printers, with fewer moving parts, generally have lower maintenance requirements. Although they still require regular cleaning and cartridge or toner replacement.

Consumables

Impact printers have an advantage in consumable longevity, as their ribbons can last through the printing of several million characters before needing replacement. 

Non-impact printers, particularly inkjet models, require frequent cartridge replacements, especially in high-volume printing environments, which can increase operational costs.

Volume Suitability

Impact printers are best suited for environments with low printing volumes, and the print material is primarily text with simple graphics. 

Non-impact printers, with their faster print speeds and higher print quality, are designed to handle larger volumes. They can produce detailed graphics and photos, making them ideal for both office and professional printing needs.

Print Media Type

The necessity for continuous paper feeds in impact printers restricts their adaptability, especially when contrasted with the broad spectrum of paper formats and types that non-impact printers can handle. 

Non-impact printers excel in versatility, seamlessly working with an array of media, including individual sheets, card stock, glossy photo paper, and beyond.

Such versatility elevates non-impact printers, making them supremely suited for diverse printing needs, from everyday document output to superior-quality photographic prints. This capability enhances their practicality across different scenarios and broadens the creative and professional possibilities available to users.

How to Choose Between an Impact Printer and a Non-Impact Printer?

Four key areas to choose between an impact printer and a non-impact printer

When deciding between an impact and a non-impact printer, it is important to understand your specific needs, evaluate the environment in which the printer will be used, and consider the long-term costs associated with each option. 

Here’s a guide to help you make an informed decision. 

Assess Your Printing Needs

  • Volume and Speed: Non-impact printers, particularly laser models, excel in high-volume printing, offering speeds ranging from 20 to 100 pages per minute (PPM), making them efficient and cost-effective for large print jobs. In contrast, impact printers typically operate at slower speeds, from 200 to 600 characters per second (CPS), which is more suitable for lower-volume tasks, especially where multipart forms are necessary.
  • Quality Requirements: Non-impact printers can achieve high-resolution outputs, with quality ranging from 600 to 2400 DPI, ideal for detailed graphics or photos. On the other hand, Impact printers generally offer lower resolution, usually around 60 to 240 DPI, which is sufficient for basic text and simple graphics.

Consider the Operational Environment

  • Noise Sensitivity: In environments where noise is a concern, such as open offices or customer-facing areas, the quieter operation of non-impact printers is advantageous. Impact printers, being noisier, are better suited for environments where noise is not an issue.
  • Space Constraints: Non-impact printers generally have a smaller footprint compared to impact printers, making them ideal for tight spaces. This is because non-impact printers are designed with more compact, modern technologies that do not require the same mechanical components as impact printers. Impact printers often have larger, more complex mechanisms necessary for their printing process, including the feed mechanisms for continuous paper. This difference in design and mechanism size means that non-impact printers can easily fit into small offices, home workspaces, or retail counters, where every inch of space counts.

Evaluate Long-Term Costs

  • Initial Investment vs. Running Costs: While impact printers have a lower initial cost, their long-term maintenance costs are higher. Non-impact printers, particularly laser printers, though more expensive upfront, have lower per-page cost requirements.
  • Consumables and Maintenance: Consider the cost and frequency of replacing consumables like ink, toner, and print heads. Non-impact printers typically require more frequent cartridge replacements but less mechanical maintenance.

Future-Proofing

  • Technology Advancements: Non-impact printers often come with more advanced features, including wireless connectivity, cloud printing, and higher security features, which might benefit future needs.
  • Compatibility and Adaptability: When picking a printer, it’s smart to check if it can handle different kinds of paper and sizes. This is important because your printing needs might change. You want a printer that can adapt whether you need to print on glossy photo paper, thick cardstock, or standard office paper.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a 3D Printer Impact or Non-impact?

3D printers are considered non-impact printers. They create three-dimensional objects through a process called additive manufacturing, layering material without requiring physical contact between a print head and the printing surface. 

Is a Daisy Wheel Printer Impact or Non-Impact?

A daisy wheel printer is an impact printer. It operates similarly to a typewriter, with a wheel with petals, each bearing a single character. The wheel spins to position the correct character before striking it against an ink ribbon to imprint the paper.

What Is an Example of an Impact Printer and a Non-Impact Printer?

  • Impact Printer Example: Dot Matrix Printer, known for its ability to print through multipart forms, is suitable for invoices and similar documents.
  • Non-Impact Printer Example: Laser Printer, favoured for its high-speed, high-quality output, ideal for office documents and detailed graphics.

What Is a Commonly Used Non-Impact Printer?

Inkjet printers are among the most commonly used non-impact printers. They are versatile and capable of producing high-quality prints with rich colours and detailed images, making them popular for both home and office use.

What Is a Commonly Used Impact Printer?

Dot Matrix printers are a commonly used type of impact printer. They are particularly valued in environments requiring the printing of multipart forms, such as warehouses, logistics companies, and retail settings.

Are Non-Impact Printers Expensive?

Non-impact printers can vary widely in price. Initial costs for basic models are generally affordable, but high-end models, especially colour laser printers, are expensive. 

However, non-impact printers often offer lower running costs over time than impact printers.

Are Impact Printers Expensive?

Impact printers are typically less expensive to purchase than high-end non-impact printers. However, they may incur higher operational costs over time due to the need for regular maintenance and mechanical parts replacement.

Winding Up

In conclusion, choosing between impact and non-impact printers hinges on specific needs, operational environments, and cost considerations. 

Impact printers, known for their durability and ability to handle multipart forms, are suited for specific, often industrial, applications. Non-impact printers, offering higher quality prints at faster speeds, cater to a broader range of uses, from office documents to high-resolution images. 

Understanding these differences is key to selecting the right printer type. This ensures that it aligns with your printing requirements and operational goals, thereby maximising efficiency and productivity in your printing tasks.

We hope this blog covers all the information you need. 

Thanks for reading!

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