How Do Photocopiers Work?

By Dan Barraclough | Updated: 7 August 2018

How to use a photocopier

The video below shows you how to scan, copy or print using a professional photocopier or printer.

Modern photocopiers usually function as scanners, printers and photocopiers all-in-one, and are very simple to use. To scan or copy, simply open the lid and place your paper on the screen. Make sure you align the corners for a straight result. Once done, close the lid carefully without moving the paper.

On the control panel you can choose whether to scan or copy. If you want to scan, make sure the photocopier is connected to your computer. If you want to copy, choose how many copies you want, paper size, colour or black and white and then press start. The photocopier will memorise your document and you have your perfect copies.

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Key principles

If you’ve ever been curious to know just how a photocopier gets ink onto all those copies, you would be surprised to learn that it’s quite an easy operation.

The design of most photocopiers is based around giving opposing electrical static charges to the ‘ink' (actually a black powder called toner), and a rolling drum, to attract them to each other. Light is also an important part of the process for producing the image on the drum. The final process involves heat to fix the toner to a sheet of paper.

Step 1 – Creating an Image of the Original Document on the Drum

The process starts when the document is placed onto the glass. The copier scans the surface of the glass (the bright light). The light bounces off the white parts of the original document and through mirrors it is reflected onto the drum, which has been given a positive electrical charge.

The drum is surrounded by a photoreceptive layer, or special coating that conducts electricity when light falls onto it. Where the light falls (the white parts of the original document), the drum conducts and the electrostatic charge is lost. Where there is no light (the black parts of the document), the drum does not conduct and maintains its positive charge.

An image is produced onto the surface of the drum, but the image is made up of positively charged static electricity. A photocopier gets its name from the process of light that produces the copy of the image.

Step 2 – Charging the Toner Powder and Transferring It to the Drum

The toner is a black powder which is also charged by the machine. This time the charge is a negative one. The negative toner is drawn from the cartridge and attracted to the positive parts of the drum, which correspond to the black parts of the original document. You now have a drum with an image made up of black fine toner powder, which is a perfect replica of the original document. It now needs to be transferred to the paper.

Step 3 – Transferring the Image onto a Sheet of Paper

The drum now rolls onto a heated sheet of paper. The toner powder transfers onto the sheet with the heat and becomes fixed into place, which is appropriately called ‘fixing'. When the sheet of paper with its photocopied image rolls out of the machine, it still feels warm from the final part of the process.

And there you have it. Now you know exactly how a photocopier works and have a great conversation starter for your next company event!

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Photocopier health & safety

As with any big piece of machinery, there are certain health and safety precautions to remain aware of throughout the life of the copier. By following the tips below, you can extend the life and effectiveness of your machine for years to come.


You should ensure that your copier has plenty of space around and, if up against a wall, that the ventilation shafts have room to expel air. If the copier room is small or the office not particularly well ventilated, then we suggest using electric fans to keep a cool and steady temperature.


Following on from ventilation, you should also ensure that your copier is placed at a suitable height. This means a height that does not encourage excessive bending and stretching to insert/change paper, or collect finished prints.

Read the Manual

When installing a new copier, you should do your best to encourage those who will be using it regularly to take a look at the manual and familiarise themselves with how to use it safely. This may include reading up on any heat emanating from the machine, the replacement of lamps and toner material. You also ensure that those responsible keep the copier clean and tidy as build ups of dust and debris can cause issues and shorten the lifespan of the copier.

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Next steps

If you are interested in hearing more about photocopiers, pricing or suppliers for your business, then fill out the form at the top of this page and a select group of excellent suppliers will get in touch with you.

Dan Barraclough

Dan’s a Senior Writer at Expert Market, specialising in digital marketing, web design, and photocopiers, amongst other topics.

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