Differences Between Commercial and Desktop Printers

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Desktop printer refers to the actual piece of hardware including dot matrix printers, laser printers, and inkjet printers used in homes and businesses. These desktop printers are usually small enough to fit on a desk or table. Businesses may also use larger floor-model printers. Again, these are equipment used to print documents on paper or transparencies or other materials.

With a desktop printer, a digital file is sent to a printer connected to a computer (or its network) and the printed page is available in a short while.

Printer as Person

The commercial printer is actually a business and its owner and/or employees who are printing professionals. A print shop may have printers (machines) for digital printing but they also usually have web or sheet presses for offset lithography and other commercial printing processes.

A commercial printer is a printing company that prints a file using one of a variety of methods, often involving a printing press. The printing method to be used affects how the digital file must be prepared. Commercial printers usually require very specific file preparation or prepress tasks.

Knowing Which is Which by Context

When you encounter instructions in desktop publishing articles and tutorials to "talk to your printer" we're not telling you to whisper to your inkjet or engage your laser printer in meaningful conversation, although a few sharp words might make you feel better when the printer jams or you run out of ink in the middle of a print job.

You can safely assume that "talk to your printer" means consulting with your commercial print service about your print job.

Instructions to "send your document to your printer" could refer to the man (or woman) or the machine. It should be evident from the context of the page whether it means hitting the print button in your software or taking a digital file to your print shop for commercial printing.

Other terms used for a commercial printer are print shop, offset printer, quick printer (places such as Kinko's), or service bureau—technically different but a printer and a service bureau may sometimes provide ​similar services. The term "service provider" may be used to mean either your service bureau or print shop.​