How Does a Photocopier Machine Work?
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A Guide to how a photocopier works.

Have you ever asked yourself how does a photocopier machine work? You may think that the process of photocopying a document is really simple – you take a document, put it on the glass screen of a photocopier, a green light passes along the glass and after a few seconds, an identical copy of the document you placed on the screen comes out of the side of the machine.


When was the photocopier invented?

Chester Carlson invented the photocopier machine in 1938, but he called the process electrophotography. It took 10 years for his invention to be recognized. In his quest to answer “how does a photocopier machine work?” he simplified the process name from electrophotography to xerography in 1948.

How a photocopier works, its functions and capabilities today are vastly different from the original Xerox machine, with the ability to print on two sides of the page (duplex), staple documents, create booklets and send scans and faxes, all at the touch of a button.

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So how does a photocopier machine work?

After you’ve put your piece of paper (the master copy) on the glass screen of the copier and pressed the big green button, the machine takes several steps before your copy comes out.

  • Step One.

How a photocopier works is on the principle that ‘opposites attract’. Toner is a powder that is used to create the printed text and images on paper. The powder is negatively charged, and so it is attracted to something positive – the paper.

  • Step Two

The drum, which is located in the heart of a photocopier, is positively charged using static electricity.

An image of the master copy is transferred onto the drum using a laser. The light parts of the image (the white areas on a piece of paper) lose their charge so become more negative, and the black areas of the image (where the text is) remain positively charged.

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  • Step Three

The toner (being attracted to the positive areas) sticks to the black areas of the image on the drum. For colour copies, the drum attracts the cyan, magenta and yellow and black toner. From these 4 colours, a wide spectrum of colours can be formed.

The resulting toner on the drum is transferred to a piece of paper, which has a higher negative charge than the drum.

  • Step Four

The toner is melted and bonded to the paper using heat and pressure rollers. Then, finally your photocopied document comes out of the copier. Because heat is used, the paper that comes out of a copier is warm.

Now you know how a photocopier works. So, the next time you hear someone ask, “how does a photocopier machine work?”, don’t hesitate to enlighten them on this important piece of engineering marvel.

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