What Are the Main Characteristics of Inkjet Printers That Affect Image Quality

By Gissimee Doe

There's more to your inkjet printer than meets the eye.
i Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Inkjet printers are best known for their ability to produce color prints and black and white documents at a lower initial cost than laser printers. The relatively cheap hardware makes them attractive for use in low-volume print processes for both business and home users. Several characteristics of inkjet printers work together to affect image quality, although factors external to the printer, such as the substrate used in printing, can significantly impact image quality. The permanence, edge quality, artifacts, resolution/addressability, linear tonescale/color reproduction and solid-area quality are the main characteristics of inkjet printers that work together to affect the perceived image quality.


Inkjet printers produce images by spraying a jet of ink unto a substrate in a dot matrix. The quality of the resultant image depends on many factors, including the technology used in the inkjet, the composition of the ink, the substrate and the perception of the viewer, as quality is subjective. Inkjet image quality is judged on six main criteria based on the way the inkjet technology applies ink to the substrate: Permanence, Edge Quality, Artifacts, Resolution/Addressability, Linear tonescale/Color Reproduction and Solid-Area Quality, referred to collectively as “P.E.A.R.L.S.”


Permanence is the stability of the ink in the printed image over time and on exposure to different environmental conditions. It is mainly dependent on the type of ink used in the printer and the interaction of the ink with the substrate. Edge quality deals with the sharpness of the edges of the image and the smoothness of the transitions between edges, including transitions between different colors. The velocity at which the inkjet printer emits ink and its placement accuracy affect edge quality and ragged edges cause blurry images. Artifacts are anomalies in the printed image which can result from sensor defects or machine irregularities in the printer. Resolution and addressability deal with the placement and size of the ink drops that are sprayed to make up the image. Linear tonescale and color reproduction govern the colors in the image. Solid area quality deals with the ability of the printer to produce solid blocks of black and colored images in a uniform manner with sufficient substrate coverage. All of these characteristics must be balanced properly for an inkjet printer to produce a good-quality image.


The quality of an image produced by inkjet printing is dependent on the speed at which the ink dries when ejected on to the substrate. To overcome problems with ink spray and drying times, most inkjet printers now use a drop-on-demand process using either the thermal or piezoelectric methods in which the ink is heated until a water vapor bubble forms which bursts and expels ink on to the substrate. This affects the volume, velocity and frequency of the jet of ink, which in turn all affect image quality.

Other Factors

The substrate or media that you use in your inkjet printer will have a great impact on image quality. The paper you use can absorb ink in a nonuniform manner, slow droplet drying time or cause bleeding and smears, so you need to buy coated paper that is designed for use with your inkjet printer in order to get the best image quality, regardless of the printer you choose.