What is a printer developer?

Updated: 2021-08-03

A laser printer requires three primary parts:

  • the drum assembly;
  • the developer unit; and
  • the toner hopper.

All three must work in concert to produce clean, sharp text and graphics. If any one part fails, the entire printer will not function properly. That’s why it is so important to keep all three components in top working order.

The Drum Assembly

The drum assembly is what actually prints out your document. It has a metal core covered with an elastomeric material that is coated with a non-stick powder.

This non-stick powder attracts the toner to the drum surface. As you can imagine, a non-stick powder coated drum will last a very long time. The drum is rotated by a motor at high speed. Toner particles are electrostatically charged by the laser or other means.

The charged toner particles are then attracted to the drum by an electric charge opposite to that on the drum. When a particle of toner is attached to the drum, it is held by a relatively weak electrostatic force.

The drum continues to rotate and the toner particle is pulled by the rotating drum until it is separated from the non-stick powder surface.

Laser Printer Developer Unit

In a laser printer, the developer unit is essentially a device that draws the toner powder through the system before printing it on the paper. The difference between ink-based printers and laser printers is that printing with laser printers involves adhering dry toner powder to the page instead of directly transferring ink.

The developer unit plays a crucial role in the printing process. Without it, toner would never make it to the page.

Developer units are shaped like a cylinder or roller with a collection of tiny beads attached to it. As the beads pass through the toner hopper, they carry a small negative electric charge that attracts toner. The toner powder attracts the toner because it has a positive electrical charge. 

Toner-coated beads pass through the developer drum and onto the drum assembly, which has an electrostatic version of the image to be printed. During the printing process, the electrostatic image draws more toner from the developer unit and onto the drum than does the developer unit. As the developer moves back into the hopper, more toner powder is collected.

The entire process is extremely fast and efficient. Because it is a dry process, there is no need for an operator or any type of maintenance. However, this efficiency comes at a cost. The developer unit and other internal parts of the printer are very small and can easily become contaminated with paper fibers, dust, and other debris. 

What is Toner Starvation?

This contamination causes the printer to not properly attract or release toner powder, resulting in poor printouts or no printouts at all. This condition is called “toner starvation”. 

Toner starvation causes a myriad of problems for a laser printer. The most common symptom is that the printer will not produce any output whatsoever. In this case, a simple test will reveal whether or not the problem is toner starvation. If the printer does produce output, but it is of poor quality, then the problem is almost certainly toner starvation. Toner starvation is a serious condition which can easily be remedied by replacing the developer unit. 

However, because the developer unit is so small and difficult to access, it is usually necessary to send the printer to a service center to have the unit replaced. This is an expensive and time-consuming repair, especially if it has to be done more than once. 

ADF may help

One solution to this problem is to use an automatic document feeder (ADF) with the printer. This device automatically feeds paper into the printer as the operator prints. Using an ADF with a laser printer greatly increases the reliability of the printer because it eliminates the need for the operator to load paper into the printer.