, , , , ,

Remember dot matrix printers? I do.

Granted, most of my experience with dot matrix printers came when they were about to be phased out of existence by inkjet printers, I still suffered alongside an entire generation who thought that the dot matrix printer represented the pinnacle of printing.

If you’ve had no experience dealing with a dot matrix printer and you took a good look at one you’d think it was a benign beast, and yes, later models weren’t much bigger than some printers today, but the thing with a dot matrix is you don’t get the full effect until you actually put it to use.

The first thing you’ll notice is how the ink works. Loading the ink wasn’t as easy as snapping in a toner or ink cartridge, no, the ink for a dot matrix machine comes on a ribbon housed in a black box that’s almost width of the printer. Not only that, when you snap the ribbon cartridge in you also had to weave the ribbon through the necessary bits so the darn thing prints properly. This meant getting your fingers all black with ink and possibly getting the ribbon snagged on something and yanking a good bit of it out of the cartridge, forcing you to wind the cartridge forward to restore the tension (and effectively making some of that ribbon unusable because it’s in the “used” end of the cartridge).

At this point you’ll probably think to yourself, sarcastically, “gee, printing technology came a long way between this and the Smith Corona typewriters in high school,” and that assessment would be pretty spot-on.

Now, if you thought the ink situation was a throwback, dot matrix paper is going to be something totally alien to you. When you buy dot matrix paper you’ll see that all the sheets are still connected to each other with perforations between each one, and what’s more, there are two endless rows of holes on either side of the paper. These holes are designed to be pulled in by the teeth that sit at the edges of the roller in the printer to ensure clean, straight and even printing.

The idea is after you’ve printed your document you get to enjoy the riveting pleasure that comes with tearing your document apart at the perforations AND tearing off the thin edges on either side where the holes are. This isn’t much of a problem unless you printed out your graduate thesis the same morning it’s due as you would undoubtedly find yourself spending as much time painstakingly tearing at all the perforations as it took to print your document in the first place.

Wait, that’s not entirely correct.

If you had started printing your thesis the morning it was due there’s absolutely no chance it would be finished by supper because the dot matrix printer is slower than an anesthetized snail. Printing on a dot matrix printer is slow and printing on a dot matrix printer with “high quality” print settings enabled is exponentially slower. The print head will slide back and forth across the sheet of paper twice before advancing 2 millimeters to repeat the process, again. That’s right, folks, you have no idea how good you’ve got it until you’ve experienced the blistering 0.5 ppm output of a dot matrix.

The good news is that you will never be waiting around for your document to finish. This is because the dot matrix printer creates an INCREDIBLY HUGE AMOUNT OF NOISE as it prints. So much that you will not want to be in the same room for fear of succumbing to permanent hearing loss. From the pins striking the page through the ribbon to the motor pulling the print head back and forth, you will feel like you’re in the cabin of a fighter jet taking off. Over and over and over again.

That’s my personal story of the dot matrix printer. For those of you who have never had to work with one before, consider yourselves among the fortunate and growing many. The few of us with direct, first-hand experience, have sacrificed hours, nay days, of our lives using these printers to produce the equivalent of 200 pages… tops.