Inkjet Printer

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In this activity, learners investigate how inkjet printers produce tiny, precise drops of ink. They examine printed paper with magnifying glasses, see a few demonstrations of how liquids behave differently at small scales, and see an explosive demonstration of how ink is forced out of an ink cartridge. This is a fun way to talk about how phenomena like surface tension become more important at small scales. Safety note: the demonstration involves fire—use appropriate caution.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 4 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • A broken inkjet printer with empty ink cartridges
  • A bucket of water (a clear bucket is best)
  • Washable watercolor paint or food coloring
  • Magnifying glass
  • Flyers printed in color, especially with photos
  • Glass capillary tubes
  • Mason jar
  • Wire screen cut to fit mason jar lid (screen with holes 2 mm wide at most)
  • Wide tube that doesn't show capillary action (meniscus)
  • Toothpicks
  • Butane lighter or matches
  • Scrap paper
  • Assorted relevant photos or powerpoint presentation and projector.
  • Possible extension (optional): Xyron Design Runner handheld printer


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Computing
      • Information Technology
    • Engineering
      • Manufacturing Engineering
      • Nanotechnology
    • Technology
      • Manufacturing
  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
      • Heat and Temperature
      • Heat Transfer
    • Motion and Forces
      • Gravity

Informal Categories

  • Computers


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation, 0532536
  • National Science Foundation, 0940143