The SiPix A6 Pocket Palm Printer is a mobile printer that can receive IrDA signals.

Courtesy Amazon

IrDA Printers

Early wireless printers used technology standardized by the Infrared Data Association (IrDA). The IrDA is a nonprofit organization in charge of creating standards for devices that use infrared signals to transmit and receive information. Without these standards, different companies might produce devices that used the same signals to operate. That could result in signal interference and the affected devices might not work correctly.

IrDA devices, whether they are printers or other gadgets, communicate by transmitting and detecting pulses of light from the infrared spectrum. To the human eye, light in the infrared spectrum is invisible. We can only see infrared light by using gadgets like night vision goggles. But we can sense infrared radiation -- rather than see it, we feel it as heat.

The IrDA has standards for several data rates -- the amount of data a device can send or receive per second -- ranging from 115.2 kilobytes per second (kbps) to 16 megabytes per second (Mbps) [source: IrDA]. Communication between IrDA devices relies on transceivers -- a combination of a transmitter and a receiver. That means IrDA devices are capable of sending and receiving data using infrared signals. Microprocessors in the devices translate electronic commands -- such as a print job -- into pulses of infrared light. The receiving device detects and decodes these pulses, changing them back into the original electronic command.

In order to use IrDA technology to print, you need the following elements:

  • An infrared transceiver connected to your computer (or other device)
  • An infrared transceiver connected to your printer

Some printers have built-in infrared transceivers. Printers without native infrared transceivers need infrared adapters. Typically, an adapter plugs into either a serial port or a USB port on the printer. Many infrared adapters have short cords that connect the infrared transceiver to the adapter's plug. This makes it possible for the user to position the transceiver so that it's pointing toward the transmitter.

That's one of the downsides to IrDA technology: It relies on a line-of-sight configuration. Because IrDA devices use light to transmit information, they need an unobstructed path between the transmitter and receiver to work. This limitation means that you can't print to an IrDA printer if you're too far away from it or if there are walls or doors between your computer and the printer.

On the other hand, as long as the two transceivers aren't blocked, IrDA devices can be reliable and secure. They aren't prone to suffering interference problems, and they aren't as susceptible to hackers as other wireless solutions. But many manufacturers have abandoned IrDA technology in favor of another popular alternative: Bluetooth technology.

What's the difference between Bluetooth and IrDA printers? Keep reading to find out.