HP and the Inkjet Printer: A Continual Evolution

It’s nearly thirty years since HP introduced its first inkjet printer, and throughout that time the company has played a leading role in the development of the technology and the devices it has come to drive. Launched in 1984, the HP Thinkjet was the precursor of today’s Deskjet and OfficeJet printers, and the first mass-marketed Inkjet printer. Designed to replace dot matrix printers, it used the same fanfold, tractor-feed paper but replaced the noisy impact mechanism with a quiet inkjet print-head, running at impressive speeds of 150 characters per second.

HP and the Inkjet Printer: A Continual Evolution

Technologies developed for the ThinkJet, most notably the revolutionary combined disposable ink cartridge/print-head, became part of HP’s breakthrough inkjet product, the HP DeskJet. Launched in 1988, it was the first single-sheet printer that could fit on a desk, with a laser-quality resolution of 300dpi and a print speed of 2ppm. Speedy, quiet and efficient, the DeskJet was a game-changer; over one million units were sold in the first year alone.

Having transformed the monochrome printer market, it was only natural that HP would do the same for colour. The DeskJet 500C, launched in 1991, and was HP’s first mainstream colour printer, featuring a tri-colour Cyan/Magenta/Yellow ink cartridge that could print colour images at a resolution of 300dpi. The 500C was a success, for the first time giving businesses an affordable and effective means of producing colour documents. Unfortunately it had two major drawbacks. Firstly, with no dedicated black cartridge it could only print a process black, which actually resembled a murky dark green. Secondly, it was slow, taking four minutes to output a colour page.


The DeskJet 550C sorted out the first issue one year later, becoming the first DeskJet to support both a tri-colour cartridge and a black cartridge simultaneously, and printing colour pages in four minutes or monochrome pages at a speed of 4ppm. It was joined by the DeskJet 520, HP’s last monochrome-only Inkjet and the first to introduce HP’s REt resolution-enhancement technology.

1993’s DeskJet 1200C bought considerable improvements. Another four-colour printer, it could print black and white pages at speeds of 6ppm and colour pages in one to two minutes, which made it a more realistic option in a busy office. Meanwhile, resolution jumped to 600 x 300dpi in monochrome with REt, enabling the 1200C to mimic the crisp text being output by office laser printers. With a plug-in module it could even connect to an Ethernet network for sharing by a workgroup. It was followed in 1995 by the DeskJet 1600C, which upped the print rate to 9ppm in black and white and 4ppm in colour.

For a couple of years the DeskJet line went through incremental changes, with the DeskJet 660C bringing 600dpi and 6ppm speeds to the mid-range DeskJet series, while the entry-level DeskJet 400 was the first DeskJet printer to sell for under £200 in the UK.  In 1996, however, HP made its first steps into proper photo printing. The DeskJet 690C was the first HP inkjet to support an optional photo cartridge, which replaced the black cartridge when printing photos and produced lighter cyan and magenta inks. The 690C could print at a 600dpi resolution in black and white, and at 600 x 300dpi in colour, though speeds were still limited to 5ppm monochrome and 1.7ppm colour.


1997 bought us a taste of things to come with the OfficeJet Pro 1150. This was HP’s first colour printer, copier and scanner, putting all three functions in the one appliance. At a time when copiers were still large and expensive pieces of equipment, the OfficeJet Pro was a watershed product. It was a natural winner for smaller organisations, and a product that paved the way for the multi-function devices that now dominate the business inkjet market today.

By 1999 HP had sold over 68 million DeskJet products, and the DeskJet 970C released that year showed how far the technology had come, with a native print resolution of 1,200dpi optimised to 2,500 x 1,200dpi using HP’s PhotoREt III, and speeds of 12ppm in black and white or 10ppm in colour. By 2002 the DeskJet 3000 and 500 series printers had pushed this upwards to 21ppm in monochrome and 15ppm in colour. Now, however, the OfficeJet and DeskJet lines were preparing for a new IT landscape. The DeskJet 5850, released in 2003, was the first to incorporate 802.11b Wi-Fi networking, allowing for connections without any cable except the power supply. As laptops and wireless networks became a standard part of office life, HP’s DeskJet printers were ready to accommodate them.

The next breakthrough came in 2004 with the introduction of HP’s Vivera inks. Producing more vibrant and lifelike colours and exceptional resistance to fading, they helped make HP’s Inkjet serious contenders for high-end photographic reproduction, and the printers that came with them brought breakthrough speeds of 30ppm in black and white and 20ppm in colour. The DeskJet 6940 and 6980 printers launched in 2005 took things even further, with 1,200dpi prints optimised to 4,800dpi, and speeds of 36ppm and 27ppm.

Since then, we’ve seen DeskJet and OfficeJet printers go from strength to strength. Current OfficeJet printers now print colour at a 50 per cent lower cost per page than equivalent lasers, and achieve comparable speeds. They can withstand 25,000 page monthly duty cycles, and with lower energy consumption and cartridges made from 70 per cent recycled materials, they’re more environmentally friendly too. As a result, inkjet printers are now coming to dominate the office just as they have dominated the home. If you want affordable, reliable colour printing with low upfront costs, they’re the sensible choice.


And in 2013 that choice has only got clearer. HP’s PageWide technology, as used in the latest OfficJet Pro-X series multi-function devices, uses an HP-developed print head that runs the whole width of an A4 page, meaning pages print as fast as the printer can roll them through the mechanism. The PageWide technology is also proof against the inaccuracies and misalignment issues that can plague conventional inkjets, meaning you get even more precision and detail at higher speeds. With page rates up to 70ppm in general office mode and printing colour and black-and-white ISO pages at speeds of 42ppm, OfficeJet Pro-X series devices reach speeds that comparable with workgroup lasers. The result is a faster printer, a more reliable printer, and one that still prints 1,200dpi photo-quality output. From DeskJet to OfficeJet Pro-X,  InkJet technology has come a long way – and the journey is only just beginning. 

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