Whatever happened to …

… daisywheel printers?

Peter Beens recently sent me this image asking if it was OK to recycle the magazine.

Looking closely at the cover reveals that this magazine was from 1984. I’m guessing that it’s probably safe to let it go. We’re all doing a little cleanout these days.

I can say that I definitely never owned one of these. But, we did have at least one of them in the Practice Office which was located across the hall and down one room from my room at school.

It was an interesting process – if you look at the wheel in the magazine cover, there were essentially little keys in a circular arrangement. When you wanted a letter, it would spin to the appropriate key and then a little hammer would smack it onto a ribbon and then your paper. Every letter, upper and lower case, and character had its own key. I could sit there and watch it spin and print for hours! And that was pretty much all that it would do. No graphics – unless ASCII graphics counted. It was suprisingly fast. Ours were, if I remember correctly, unidirectional whereas there were more expensive ones that printed in both directions and so were faster. You could send a code to print boldly which basically meant print the same letter a couple of times.

Like any typewriter, they’d have to be cleaned periodically. I recall using toothbrushes for the task. Their big claim to fame was speed and quality of the output. (just like a typewriter!) Their lifespan was pretty short as dot matrix printers came along with good quality, lower prices, and networking capability.

For a Sunday, your thoughts…

  • did you ever own a daisy wheel printer?
  • can you imagine a piece of office equipment that would make more noise?
  • what was your first printer – at school, at work, and at home?
  • how important is print quality to you?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below. “I’ve never heard of this before” is an OK answer too!

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Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

3 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …”

  1. Good morning Doug!

    I never had (or even used) a daisywheel printer. I did use a Selectric typewriter, which as you recall, had an interchangeable golf-ball sized sphere with the raised letters distributed over its surface instead of the usual fixed arms found in traditional typewriters. I believe the Selectric was also faster (perhaps it was also a quieter?), but the significant benefit was that you could purchase different spheres with different fonts, and “select” the letter style that you wanted to use at any given point.

    When I went off to university, the labs all had huge impact printers that printed on fan-fold paper that was at least 18 inches wide, maybe more? The impact printers were enclosed in a case to help deaden the noise. “Help” being relative. They were still mighty noisy.

    When I purchased my first computer, a Mac Classic in the early 90s, it would have had either an HP Deskwriter or an Apple StyleWriter II. Both were inkjets printers (black ink only, colour inkjets came later) with the Mac serial cable as a connector.

    Fonts were an important thing to Steve Jobs, and as a result, the ability to not only see them on the screen of the computer (recall WYSIWYG) but also print them was important consideration. Before inkjet printers, the dotmatrix printer allowed for more than just the usual Times Roman, or whatever the standard font of the day was. Earlier, everything was monospaced, but kerning became an important consideration when fonts appeared.

    Print quality goes hand-in-hand with fonts and images. I’ve always vacillated between laser and inkjet printers. With special inkjet printers for doing photographs (and six colours plus black rather than the usual three colours plus black) ink cartridges can get awfully expensive, Coupled with the fact that if your ink cartridges dry out (or worse yet, the nozzles on the printer get clogged), you can go to print and find you get nothing. A black-and-white laser printer, on the other hand, is valuable for quickly and cleanly printing text documents. However, these days, I print VERY rarely, and usually leave the laser printer turned off. The all-in-one Workforce ink jet printer is used 99% of the time as a scanner. If I need something done with good print quality, these days I just go to Staples and use their self-serve colour laser printer.

    Printers are still useful to have around, but, like typewriters, they may one day no longer be necessary as part of a school or home office set up. With the ability to make PDFs, and send documents via email, it’s rare that you need to commit something to paper and then send it via snail mail — or carry it with you to show to personnel on a train or airplane. I know I printed out some papers to take to the bank in the last year.


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