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July 7, 2014

My First Printer, Part I

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

Today everyone complains about the ink being expensive. It is. What’s taken for granted, however, is that printer is cheap. It’s in color. The quality is excellent. And the printers do more than print, many are scanners, copiers, and fax machines. That wasn’t always the case.

Back in the early days, having a printer in your computer system was considered a luxury. That’s not only because of their price, but with the low quality of the early printers, you had to really justify the purchase.

When I bought my first computer, I didn’t think about a printer. I wanted a floppy drive — mass storage. (Forget hard drives!) Then I wanted more software. As a budding writer, I knew that a printer would come, I would just have to write and print later.

Office 2003

Figure 1. My computer set up in 1983. Look: No printer!

The basic computer printer in the early 1980s was a dot-matrix printer. They were slow. They were noisy. The quality was terrible. In fact, it was so bad that most publishers wouldn’t accept dot-matrix hard copy. (Accepting files on diskette was almost unheard of, and this time predated the Internet so online submissions were nonexistent.)

The king of the dot-matrix printers was the EPSON MX-80. The 80 implied that the printer could muster 80 characters on a line of text. The MX stood for God-knows-what. The printer used 9 pins to generate text, to create the matrix. The results were useful, but not pretty.

By the way, EPSON isn’t a Japanese word. Their first printer was the Electric Printer, or EP. The EPSON MX-80 was the “son” of the EP, which is where the name EPSON came from.

I wanted an MX-80, but instead I obtained a C-Itoh 8510, which was probably on-sale. I believe it cost me $800. The C-Itoh was useful for printing stuff, but not the best choice for submitting articles. For that, I saved up even more money to purchase another type of impact printer, the daisy wheel.

A daisy wheel printer was effectively a typewriter. The daisy wheel was a disk with letters on it, which you inserted into the printer. The device then “typed” the text, making it look exactly like a typewriter.

I probably paid over $1000 for that printer, and I rarely used it. It was loud and slow, and to print things properly I had to feed each sheet of paper one at a time.

Soon after that, I purchased an Epson NLQ 24-pin printer. It output text at Near-Letter Quality (the NLQ part).

When laser printer prices dropped below $2000, I picked up a Canon printer and used it from then on. I still have that old printer, out in the boneyard. Don’t know why I haven’t tossed it out.

And, of course, it was years later that I bought my first color printer, some inkjet I’ve long since retired. Still, it all started with that C-Itoh 8510 back in the 1980s. It was loud and slow, but it got the job done. Well, it got the job done after a bit of work, which you’ll read about on Wednesday.


  1. In the UK when I was a lad the classic UK printer in most schools was the Citizen 120D & later Citizen 120D+, loud? like a firing range! a small class room with about 20 of those bashing out NLQ (what a joke!) you would be taking at twice the volume for a good hour!

    Comment by glennp — July 7, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

  2. The 9-pin printers had an “NLQ mode,” where they either passed over the same line twice or just crept along at a snail’s pace. That was also tremendously loud. Remember the printer cases? For an extra few hundred dollars (or £50) you could purchase a sound-proof cocoon for your printer. Those things sold very well.

    Comment by admin — July 7, 2014 @ 4:43 pm

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