A computer usually displays its answers on a screen. If you want the computer to copy the answers onto paper, attach the computer to a printer, which is a device that prints on paper.

The typical printer looks like a typewriter but lacks a keyboard. To feed information to the printer, you type on the computerís keyboard. The computer transmits your request through a cable of wires running from the back of the computer to the back of the printer.

A computerís advertised price usually does not include a printer and cable. The cable costs about $8; the typical printer costs several hundred dollars.

Printers are more annoying than screens. Printers are noisier, slower, cost more, consume more electricity, need repairs more often, and require you to buy paper and ink. But youíll want a printer anyway, to copy the computerís answers onto paper that you can give your computerless friends. Another reason to get a printer is that a sheet of paper is bigger than a screen and lets you see more information at once.

Printer dealers

To get a printer cheaply, phone these mail-order discount dealers:

Tri State Computer

650 6th Ave. (at 20th St.)

New York NY 10011

800-433-5199 or 212-633-2530

Harmony Computers & Electronics

1801 Flatbush Ave.

Brooklyn NY 11210

800-441-1144 or 718-692-3232

USA Flex

444 Scott Dr.

Bloomingdale, IL 60108

800-USA-FLEX or 708-582-6206

Midwest Micro

6910 U.S. Route 36 East

Fletcher OH 45326

800-972-8822 or 513-368-2309

Midwest Micro offers the greatest variety of printers, a free catalog, and toll-free technical help but charges more than the other three companies. To get special attention, ask Tri State for David Rohinsky at extension 223 and tell him youíre reading The Secret Guide to Computers.

To get low prices locally, walk into chains of discount superstores, such as Comp USA (which sells all kinds of computer equipment) and Staples (which sells all kinds of office supplies and some computer equipment).

Reconditioned printers Another way to get a printer cheap is to phone a printer manufacturer, Epson, at its Accessories Division (800-873-7766) and ask for a catalog of Epson printers that are factory-reconditioned (which means "used but fixed up by the manufacturer to be like new"). Theyíre usually older models, at reduced prices. You get a 30-day money-back guarantee and 2-year warranty. Customers who got those printers were thrilled by the fine quality at ridiculously low prices! But alas, Epson recently raised its prices for factory-reconditioned printers; now they cost just slightly less than new ones.

Three kinds of printers

Three kinds of printers are popular.

A dot-matrix printer looks like a typewriter but has no keyboard. Like a typewriter, it smashes an inked ribbon against the paper. Like a typewriter, itís cheap: it typically costs about $150.

An ink-jet printer looks like a dot-matrix printer; but instead of containing a ribbon, it contains tiny hoses that squirt ink at the paper. It prints more beautifully than a dot-matrix printer and costs more. It typically costs about $250.

A laser printer looks like a photocopier. Like a photocopier, it contains a rotating drum and inky toner. It prints even more beautifully than the other two kinds of printers. Like a photocopier, itís expensive: it typically costs about $400.

Special requirements

As you progress from a dot-matrix printer to an ink-jet printer to a laser printer, the quality tends to go up, and so does the price. But here are exceptions.Ö

Color If you need to print in color (instead of just black-and-white), get an ink-jet printer. (Dot-matrix printers produce colors too crudely and slowly. Color laser printers cost too much ó about $8,000.) Ink-jet printers that can print in color cost about $300.

Mailing labels Although you can print mailing labels on all three kinds of printers, the easiest way to print mailing labels is on a dot-matrix printer.

Multi-part forms If you want to print on a multipart form (using carbon paper or carbonless NCR paper), you must buy a dot-matrix printer.

Old accounting software Some old accounting software requires that you buy a dot-matrix printer. It also requires that the printer be an expensive kind that can handle extra-wide paper.

Cost of consumables

After youíve bought the printer and used it for a while, the ink supply will run out, so you must buy more ink.

In the typical dot-matrix printer, the inked ribbon costs about $5 and lasts about 1000 pages, so it costs about a half a penny per page. Thatís cheap!

In the typical ink-jet printer, the ink cartridge costs about $20 and lasts about 500 pages, so it costs about 4 cents per page. Thatís expensive!

In the typical laser printer, the toner cartridge costs about $80 and lasts about 4000 pages, so it costs about 2 cents per page. Thatís expensive, but not as expensive as the ink in an ink-jet printer.

Those prices assume youíre printing black text. If youíre printing graphics or color, the cost per page goes up drastically. For example, full-color graphics on an ink-jet printer cost about 50 cents per page.

For all three kinds of printers, you must also pay for the paper, which costs about 1 cent per sheet if you buy a small quantity (such as a 500 sheets), or a half a cent per sheet if you buy a large quantity (such as 5000 sheets). For low prices on paper, go to Staples.

You must also pay for the electricity to run the printer; but the electricityís cost is negligible (much less than a penny per page) if you turn the printer off when youíre not printing.

Warning: if you leave a laser printer on even when not printing, its total yearly electric cost can get high, since the laser printer contains a big electric heater. (You might even notice the lights in your room go dim when the heater kicks on.)

Daisy-wheel printers

Although the most popular kinds of printers are dot-matrix, ink-jet, and laser, some folks still use an older kind of printer, called a daisy-wheel printer. Itís cute! Hereís how it works.Ö

Like a typewriter and a dot-matrix printer, a daisy-wheel printer smashes an inked ribbon against paper. To do that, the daisy-wheel printer contains a device called a daisy wheel, which is an artificial daisy flower made of plastic or metal. On each of the daisyís petals is embossed a character: a letter, a digit, or a symbol. For example, one petal has the letter A embossed on it; another petal has B; another petal has C; etc.

Notice that each character is embossed. (The word "embossed" is like "engraved", but an "embossed" character is raised up from the surface instead of etched into the surface.)

To print the letter C, the printer spins the daisy wheel until the C petal is in front of the inked ribbon. Then a hammer bangs the C petal against the ribbon, which in turn hits the paper, so that an inked C appears on the paper.

Boldface The printer can print each character extra-dark or regular. To print a character extra-dark, the printer prints the character, moves to the right just 120th of an inch, and then reprints the character. Since the second printing is almost in the same place as the original character, the character looks darkened and slightly fatter. Those darkened, fattened characters are called boldfaced.

Different wheels You can remove the daisy wheel from the printer and insert a different daisy wheel instead. Each daisy wheel contains a different font. For example, one daisy wheel contains italics; a different daisy wheel contains Greek symbols used by scientists.

The printer holds just one daisy wheel at a time. To switch to italics in the middle of your printing, you must stop the printer, switch daisy wheels (a tedious activity that requires your own manual labor!), and then press a button for the printer to resume printing.

Manufacturers The most famous daisy-wheel printer manufacturer was Diablo, founded by Mr. Lee in California. He sold the company to Xerox, then founded a second daisy-wheel printer company, Qume (pronounced "kyoom"), which he sold to ITT. In 1988 he bought Qume back. Other companies (such as Brother and Juki) invented imitations that claimed to be Diablo & Qume compatible.

Variants of the daisy wheel Over the years, many variants of the daisy wheel have been invented.

For example, Nippon Electric Company (NEC) invented a "wilted" daisy wheel, whose petals are bent. The wilted daisy wheel is called a thimble. Computerists like it because it spins faster than a traditional daisy and also produces a sharper image. Itís used just in NECís Spinwriter and Elf printers.

Another variation of the daisy wheel is the plastic golf ball, which has characters embossed all over it. IBM calls it a Selectric typing element. IBM uses it in typewriters, typesetting machines, and printers. It produces better-looking characters than daisy wheels or thimbles. Since it spins too slowly and needs too many repairs, IBM is discontinuing it.

Gigantic printers used by maxicomputers and minicomputers have characters embossed on bands, chains, and drums instead of daisies. Those printers are fast and cost many thousands of dollars.

Look closer

Now letís take a closer look at each of the three popular kinds of printers: dot-matrix, ink-jet, and laser.Ö

Dot-matrix printers

A dot-matrix printer resembles a daisy-wheel printer; but instead of containing a daisy wheel, it contains a few guns, as if it were a super-cowboy whose belt contains several holsters.

Each gun shoots a pin at the inked ribbon. When the pinís tip hits the ribbon and smashes the ribbon against the paper, a dot of ink appears on the paper. Then the pin retracts back into the gun that fired it.

Since each gun has its own pin, the number of guns is the same as the number of pins.

9-pin printers

If the printer is of average quality, it has 9 guns ó and therefore 9 pins. Itís called a 9-pin printer. The 9 guns are stacked on top of each other, in a column thatís called the print head. If all the guns fire simultaneously, the pins smash against the ribbon simultaneously, so the paper shows 9 dots in a vertical column. The dots are very close to each other, so that the column of dots looks like a single vertical line. If just some of the 9 pins press against the ribbon, you get fewer than 9 dots, so you see just part of a vertical line.

To print a character, the print headís 9 guns print part of a vertical line; then the print head moves to the right and prints part of another vertical line, then moves to the right again and prints part of another vertical line, etc. Each character is made of parts of vertical lines ó and each part is made of dots.

The pattern of dots that makes up a character is called the dot matrix. Thatís why such a printerís called a 9-pin dot-matrix printer.

Inside the printer is a ROM chip that holds the definition of each character. For example, the ROMís definition of "M" says which pins to fire to produce the letter "M". To use the ROM chip, the printer contains its own CPU chip and its own RAM.

When microcomputers first became popular, most dot-matrix printers for them were built by a New Hampshire company, Centronics. In 1980, Japanese companies took over the marketplace. Centronics went bankrupt. The two Japanese companies that dominate the industry now are Epson and Panasonic.

Epson Epson became popular because it was the first company to develop a disposable print head ó so that when the print head wears out, you can throw it away and pop in a new one yourself, without needing a repairman. Also, Epson was the first company to develop a low-cost dot-matrix impact printer whose dots look "clean and crisp" instead of looking like "fuzzy blobs". Epson was the main reason why Centronics went bankrupt.

Epson is part of a Japanese conglomerate called the Seiko Group, which became famous by timing the athletes in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. To time them accurately, the Seiko Group invented a quartz clock attached to an electronic printer. Later, the quartz clock was miniaturized and marketed to consumers as the "Seiko watch", which became the best-selling watch in the whole world. The electronic printer, or "E.P.", led to a better printer, called the "son of E.P.", or "EPís son". Thatís how the Epson division was founded and got its name!

Epsonís first 9-pin printer was the MX-80. Then came an improvement, called the FX-80. Those printers are obsolete; theyíve been replaced by Epsonís newest 9-pin wonders, the FX-870 ($280) and the FX-1170 (which can handle extra-wide paper and costs $370). Epsonís cheapest and slowest 9-pin printers are the LX-300 ($169) and the Action Printer 2250 ($100). You can get those prices from discount dealers (such as Tri State and USA Flex).

Panasonic For a 9-pin printer, I recommend buying the Panasonic 1150 instead, because it prints more beautifully and costs just $125 from discount dealers such as Tri State. Too bad it canít handle extra-wide paper!

Other Japanese Besides Epson and Panasonic, four other Japanese companies are also popular: NEC, Oki, Citizen, and Star.

Compatibility Printers from all six of those Japanese companies are intended mainly for the IBM PC, though they work with Apple 2 and Commodore computers also.

Apple The most popular printers for the Mac were the Imagewriter and the Imagewriter 2. They were designed by Apple to print exact copies of the Macís screen. They even print copies of the screenís wild fonts and graphics. Apple stopped marketing them, but you can still buy a refurbished Imagewriter for $127 and a refurbished Imagewriter 2 for $199 from Computer Town in New Hampshire at 603-898-3200. (Refurbished means "used but fixed up to be as-good-as-new".)

7-pin printers

Although the average dot-matrix printer uses 9 pins, some older printers use just 7 pins instead of 9. Unfortunately, 7-pin printers canít print letters that dip below the line (g, j, p, q, and y) and canít underline. Some 7-pin printers print just capitals; other 7-pin printers "cheat" by raising the letters g, j, p, q, and y slightly.

24-pin printers

Although 9 pins are enough to print English, theyíre not enough to print advanced Japanese, which requires 24 pins instead.

Manufacturers The first company to popularize 24-pin printers was Toshiba. Its printers printed Japanese ó and English ó beautifully. 24-pin Toshiba printers became popular in America, because they print English characters more beautifully than 9-pin printers.

Epson and all the other Japanese printer companies have copied Toshiba. Here are the cheapest wonderful 24-pin printers:

The Epson Action Printer 3250 has a black ribbon and costs $150.

The Panasonic 2130 has a black ribbon and costs $169 ($199 minus $30 rebate).

The Panasonic 2135 has a multicolor ribbon and costs $239.

The Epson LQ-570+ is sturdier, easier to operate, has a black ribbon, and costs $240.

You can get those prices from Tri State, Harmony, and USA Flex. While supplies last, Tri State has an even better deal: get a refurbished Panasonic 2135 for just $139! Phone Tri State at 800-433-5199 or 212-633-2530.

The cheapest 24-pin printer that handles wide paper is the Epson LQ-1070+ ($380).

Pin arrangement In a typical, cheap 24-pin printer (such as the Epson Action Printer 3250), the even-numbered pins are slightly to the right of the odd-numbered pins, so you see two columns of pins. After firing the even-numbered pins, the print head moves to the right and fires the odd-numbered pins, whose dots on paper overlap the dots from the even-numbered pins. The overlap insures that the vertical column of up to 24 dots has no unwanted gaps.

In fancier 24-pin printers (such as the Panasonic 2130 & 2135), the 24 pins are arranged as a diamond instead of two columns, so that the sound of firing pins is staggered: when you print a vertical line you hear a quiet hum instead of two bangs.

Beyond 24 pins

The fastest dot-matrix printers use multiple print heads, so that they can print several characters simultaneously.

Why the daisies died

During the 1970ís, daisy-wheel printers were popular, but theyíve died out. Computerists have switched to dot-matrix printers instead, for the following reasons.

The mechanism that spins the daisy is expensive, slow, and frequently needs repairs.

Dot-matrix printers can easily print graphics by making the pictures out of little dots. Daisy wheels cannot.

Although the first dot-matrix printers had just 7 pins and printed ugly characters, the newest 9-pin and 24-pin printers from Epson and Panasonic print prettier characters than the average daisy wheel. Moreover, you can make the typical 9-pin printer imitate an 18-pin printer by doing 2-pass printing, in which the printer prints a line of text, jerks the paper up very slightly, and then prints the line again so the new dots fill the gaps between the old dots.

If you have a daisy-wheel printer and want to change to a different font (such as italics), you must spend your time manually switching daisy wheels. If you have a dot-matrix printer instead, just tell the printer which font you want (by pressing a button on the printer or on your computerís keyboard), and the printer will automatically switch to different patterns of dots to produce the different font, since the printerís ROM contains the definitions of many fonts. To make a daisy-wheel printer print so many fonts, you must buy several dozen daisy wheels, costing a total of several hundred dollars.

So daisy-wheel printers died because of competition from dot-matrix printers ó and from ink-jet and laser printers, which print even more beautifully! Letís examine those super-beautiful printers now.Ö

Ink-jet printers

An ink-jet printer resembles a dot-matrix printer but contains hoses instead of guns. The hoses (called nozzles) squirt ink at the paper. There are no pins or ribbons.

When you use an ink-jet printer, you hear the splash of ink squirting the paper. That splash is quieter than the bang produced when a dot-matrix printerís pins smash a ribbon. If you like quiet, youíll love ink-jet printers!

Most ink-jet printers can print in color. They mix together the three primary ink colors (red, blue, and yellow) to form all the colors of the rainbow.

The most popular ink-jet printers are made by Hewlett-Packard (HP). Recently, Epson and Canon have started making ink-jet printers also.

The ink-jet printers from all three of those companies are excellent. Usually, HPís printers produce the best-quality black; Epsonís printers produce the best-quality color; and Canonís printers cost the least.

HPís ink-jet printers are called Desk Jets. Canonís ink-jet printers are called Bubble Jets. Epsonís ink-jet printers are called Styluses.

Most printers are designed for the IBM PC. Most printers can be attached to a Mac also. Special Mac-only models are also available: HPís Mac-only models are called Desk Writers; Canonís Mac-only models, called Stylewriters, are marketed by Apple.

How does the ink get out of the nozzle and onto the paper?

In ink-jet printers by HP and Canon, a bubble of ink in the nozzle gets heated and becomes hot enough to burst and splash onto the paper. Epsonís ink-jet printers use a different technique, in which the nozzle suddenly constricts and forces the ink out.

When using an ink-jet printer, try different brands of paper.

Some brands of paper absorb ink better. If you choose the wrong brand, the ink will wick (spread out erratically through the strands of the paperís fiber). Start by trying cheap copier paper, then explore alternatives. The paper brand you buy makes a much bigger difference with ink-jet printers than with dot-matrix or laser printers. Canonís printers are the best at tolerating paper differences, but Canonís ink is water-based and smears slightly if the paper or envelope gets wet (from rain or a sweaty thumb).

You can buy from discount dealers:

Tri State tends to have the lowest prices on HP printers.

Harmony has the lowest prices on Canon & Epson printers.

USA Flex has the most informative ads.

Ink-jet printers are divided into several categories.Ö

Dual-cartridge color

The most popular category is dual-cartridge color. If you buy an ink-jet printer in this category, you can insert two ink cartridges simultaneously, side by side.

One cartridge contains black ink. The other cartridge contains the color trio (red, blue, and yellow). The computer mixes together all 4 (black, red, blue, and yellow) to form all possible colors. That method is called the 4-color process.

Epsonís main such printer is the Stylus Color 600, which costs $249 (from Harmony). Itís the most appropriate Epson printer for most folks to buy.

It prints precisely: the resolution is 1440 dots per inch vertically, 720 dots per inch horizontally, and the dots are squirted onto the paper neatly, without splatter. It prints fast: up to 6 pages per minute for black, 4 pages per minute for color; those high speeds are obtained just while printing text in low resolution (360 dots per inch). Itís reliable: it comes with a 2-year warranty and typically prints 75,000 pages before wearing out. The cartridges are long-lasting: theyíll print 540 pages of black text, 300 pages of color text; before the ink runs out and you must insert new cartridges. The black print head contains 64 nozzles; the color print head contains 96 nozzles (32 per color).

Epson also sells the Stylus Color 800.

It resembles the 600 but prints slightly faster (8 ppm black, 7 ppm color), holds a bigger black ink cartridge (printing 900 pages), and costs too much ($369). It accomplishes the high speed by putting twice as many nozzles in each print head, so they can print twice as many characters at a time.

Epson also sells the Stylus Color 400.

Itís cheaper ($189) but much slower (4 ppm black, 3 ppm color), prints less beautifully (just 720´ 720 dpi), and is flimsy (just a 1-year warranty and just 10,000 pages before wearing out). Its black print head contains just 64 nozzles; its color print head contains just 63 nozzles (21 per color).

To compete against Epson, Canon offers the Bubble Jet Color 4300 (BJC-4300).

Canonís price for this nice printer is ridiculously low: just $185. That low price makes it the best bargain of all printers from all companies. For $34 extra, Canon will include Photo ink to make photographs print better, but still not as nice as Epsonís, since Canonís resolution is just 720´ 360. To save money, get an older model (the BJC-4100), refurbished, for just $139. Those Canon prices are from discounters such as Harmony.

HP offers these:

HP Printer Speed (pages per minute) Discounterís price

Desk Jet 670C 4 ppm black, 1.5 ppm color $189

Desk Jet 820Cxi 6.5 ppm black, 4 ppm color $249

Desk Jet 870Cxi 8 ppm black, 4 ppm color $349

Each produces 600´ 600 black, 600´ 300 color.

Single-cartridge color

A cheaper category is single-cartridge color. This category lets you insert either a black cartridge or a color cartridge, but you cannot insert both cartridges simultaneously.

If you try to print black while the color cartridge is in, the computer tries to imitate "black" by printing red, blue, and yellow on top of each other. That produces a "mud" instead of a true black, and itís also very slow. If you try to make such a printer reproduce a photograph, the image produced looks slightly "muddy", "washed-out", with poor contrast.

But the price is deliciously low! The best such printer is Canonís BJC-250.

It costs $139 (from discounters such as Harmony). It produces 720´ 360 black, 360´ 360 color. It does a surprisingly good job of trying to imitate a 4-color printer ó especially if you add $20 for the photo-ink version. To pay less, get refurbished BJC-240 for $119.

Canonís main competitor is HPís Desk Jet 400L.

It costs $150 and has worse resolution (600´ 300 black, 300´ 300 color).

Special printers

The following printers have unusual abilities, for use by unusual folks.

Portable You can buy these portable ink-jet printers, which are tiny and weigh little: Canonís BJ-10SX ($149, prints just in black), BJ-30 ($249, prints just in black), Canonís BJC-80 ($249, colors), and HPís Deskjet 340 ($269, just black, upgradable to color for $39 extra). They work slowly, print less beautifully than desktop printers, and canít handle big stacks of paper.

Instead of buying a portable printer, consider buying Canonís BJC-240. At 5Ĺ pounds, it weighs just slightly more than a portable printer and tends to work faster, print more beautifully, handle paper better, and cost less!

Wide-carriage Most ink-jet printers handle just normal-width paper, which is 8Ĺ inches wide. To print colors on wider paper, get Canonís BJC-4550 ($269, 11"-by-17" paper) or Epsonís Stylus 1500 ($469, 17"-by-22").

4-cartridge color Suppose youíre printing a picture that contains lots of red but not much blue or yellow. When you use up all the red ink in a tri-color cartridge, you must throw the whole cartridge away, even though blue and yellow ink remain in the cartridge. What a waste! Canonís BJC-620 prevents such waste.

It uses 4 separate cartridges (a black cartridge, a red cartridge, a blue cartridge, and a yellow cartridge), so when the red ink runs out you can discard the red cartridge without having to discard any blue or yellow ink. Unfortunately, the printer is slow and expensive ($269 new, $219 refurbished).

Laser printers

A laser printer, like an office photocopier, contains a drum and uses toner made of ink. The printer shines a laser beam at the drum, which picks up the toner and deposits it on the paper.

For the IBM PC, the most popular laser printers are made by Hewlett-Packard (HP).

Laserjet 5

HPís best affordable printer is the Laserjet 5, invented in 1996. It improves on earlier models (the Laserjet 1, Laserjet 2, Laserjet 3, and Laserjet 4), which are no longer sold. I printed this book on a Laserjet 5. Itís terrific!

It can print 12 pages per minute (12 ppm). It can print 600 dots per inch (600 dpi); and it uses a trick called Resolution Enhancement Technology (RET), which can shift each dot slightly left or right and make each dot slightly larger or smaller.

Its ROM contains the definitions of 45 fonts. Each of those fonts is scalable: you can make the characters as big or tiny as you wish. You also get a disk containing the definitions of 65 additional scalable fonts: put that disk into your computer, copy those font definitions to your computerís hard disk, then tell your computer to copy those font definitions to the printerís RAM. So altogether, the printer can handle two kinds of fonts: the 45 internal fonts that were inside the printer originally, and soft fonts that are copied into the printerís RAM from the computerís disks.

The printer contains 4 megabytes of RAM, so it can handle lots of soft fonts and graphics on the same page. Moreover, the printer uses a trick called data compression, which compresses the data so that twice as much data can fit in the RAM (as if the RAM were 8 megabytes).

It costs $988. Thatís the price charged by Tri State (a discount dealer), and it includes a toner cartridge.

Cheaper printers

For folks who canít afford $988, HP has developed a cheap Personal version (called the Laserjet 5P) and an even cheaper Lower-cost version (called the Laserjet 5L).

HP is always inventing improvements. When this book went to press, HP was selling a slightly improved Laserjet 5P, called the Laserjet 6P; and it was selling a slightly improved Laserjet 5L, called the Laserjet 6L.

To pay even less, buy from one of HPís competitors. Hereís how the printers differ:

Laser printer Resolution RAM Internal fonts Speed Price

HP Laserjet 5 600 dpi + RET 2M + compression 45 scalable 12 ppm $988

HP Laserjet 6P 600 dpi + RET 2M + compression 45 scalable 8 ppm $709

HP Laserjet 6L 600 dpi + RET 1M + compression 26 scalable 6 ppm $379

Brother HL-720 600 dpi ĹM + compression 35 scalable 6 ppm $319

Panasonic KX-P6100 300 dpi + RET ľM 7 bitmap 6 ppm $259

In the cheapest laser printer (by Panasonic), the ROMís fonts are bitmap, which means "non-scalable", which means you cannot make those fonts bigger or smaller: to get bigger or smaller fonts, you must use Windows and wait for Windows to copy scalable fonts from your computerís hard disk to your printerís RAM.

Laserjet 4V

Back in 1994, HP invented the Laserjet 4V. It resembles the Laserjet 5 but prints 16 pages per minute (instead of 12) and can accept Very-large paper (11 inches by 17 inches, instead of just 8Ĺ inches by 14 inches). That very-large paper, called tabloid size, is big enough to be the entire page of a tabloid newspaper! Moreover, the Laserjet 4V can print even at the paperís edge (without requiring a margin).

Discount dealers (such as Tri State) sell it for $1729.


When IBM decided to stop manufacturing printers, IBM sold its printer factory (in Lexington, Kentucky) to the factoryís employees, who called their new company Lexmark. IBM let them still use the "IBM" name in their advertising, even though theyíd become an independent company.

They became the first company to manufacture a 600 dpi laser printer. When HP copied their idea and invented the HP Laserjet 4, they upped the ante and invented a 1200 dpi laser printer! Moreover, it comes with 86 fonts! Itís called the Lexmark IBM Optra R+.

It prints 1200 dpi at 8 ppm. It can print 600 dpi faster, at 16 ppm. It uses 2M of RAM for 600 dpi, 8M of RAM for 1200 dpi. Discount dealers (such as USA Flex) sell the printer for $850. That price includes a toner cartridge but just 2M of RAM.

Color printers

You can buy color laser printers, but theyíre very expensive. The cheapest is the QMS Magicolor WX, which lists for $3999. It prints 600 dpi. Black printing is 12 ppm; color printing is 6 ppm.

The advertised price includes just 4M of RAM. To print a page that contains a lot of color (so very little white space is left), you must buy extra RAM to help the printer remember the colors. The RAM is expandable to 32M.

Print engines

Each monochrome HP laser printer contains a photocopier print engine manufactured by Canon. In fact, each monochrome HP laser printer is just a modified Canon photocopier!

In many of QMSís color laser printers, the print engine is made by Hitachi. Brother, Panasonic, and Lexmark make their own print engines.

Older Laserjets

Many offices still use older Laserjets. Hereís how the famous old Laserjets compare with modern ones:

Printer Resolution RAM Fonts Speed Cheaper version

Laserjet 2 300 dpi ĹM bitmap 8 ppm Laserjet 2P is 4 ppm

Laserjet 3 300 dpi + RET 1M scalable 8 ppm Laserjet 3P is 4 ppm, ĹM

Laserjet 4 600 dpi + RET 2M + compression scalable 8 ppm Laserjet 4P is 4 ppm

Laserjet 4 Plus 600 dpi + RET 2M + compression scalable 12 ppm

The Laserjet 2 contains just a few bitmap fonts ó and theyíre all ugly! If you have a Laserjet 2, you can add extra fonts to it by inserting a font cartridge, which contains ROM chips holding the definitions of extra fonts. The most popular font cartridges for the Laserjet 2 are the Microsoft Z cartridge (manufactured by HP) and the 25-in-1 cartridge (manufactured by Pacific Data). If you have a Laserjet 3, 3P, 4, 4P, 4L, 4 Plus, 4V, 5, 5P, 5L, 6P, or 6L, donít bother buying font cartridges, since those Laserjets include many good scalable fonts already.

PCL versus Postscript

When your computer wants to give the printer an instruction (such as "draw a diagonal line across the paper" or "make that scalable font bigger"), the computer sends the printer a code.

HP laser printers understand a code called Printer Control Language (PCL). It was invented by HP. The newest version of PCL is called PCL 5e. Itís understood by the Laserjet 4 (and by the Laserjet 4 Plus, 4V, 4P, 4L, 5P, and 5L). Older HP printers understand just older versions of PCL and canít perform as many tricks.

Most IBM-compatible laser printers (such as the ones by Epson, Panasonic, and Sharp) understand PCL, so that they imitate HPís laser printers, run the same software as HPís laser printers, and are HP-compatible. But most of them understand just old versions of PCL and canít perform as many tricks as the Laserjet 4 series.

Some laser printers understand a different code, called Postscript, which was invented by a company called Adobe.

Back in the 1980ís, PCL was still very primitive. Postscript was more advanced. The fanciest laser printers from HPís competitors used Postscript. The very fanciest laser printers were bilingual: they understood both Postscript and PCL.

Now that PCL has improved and become PCL 5e, itís about as good as Postscript. PCL 5e printers cost less to manufacture than Postscript printers.

In Postscript, each command that the computer sends the printer is written by using English words. Unfortunately, those words are long and consume lots of bytes. In PCL, each command is written as a brief series of code numbers instead. Since PCL commands consume fewer bytes than Postscript commands, the computer can transmit PCL commands to the printer faster than Postscript commands, and PCL commands can fit in less RAM.

Mac printers

For the Mac, the most popular laser printer is Appleís Laserwriter, which comes in many versions:

Printer Resolution RAM Fonts Speed List price Rebate Final cost

Laserwriter 4/600 PS 600 dpi 2M 64 scalable 4 ppm $849 $50 $799

Laserwriter 12/640 PS 600 dpi 8M 64 scalable 12 ppm $1599 $150 $1449

Laserwriter 16/600 PS 600 dpi + RET 8M 64 scalable 17 ppm $1799 $100 $1699

Laserwriter 8500 600 dpi + RET 16M 136 scalable 20 ppm $2499 $0 $2499

Each uses Postscript. Most dealers charge the list price (which includes toner), but then Apple Computer Company usually mails you a rebate.

HP makes Laserjets that are modified to work with a Mac:

IBM version Mac version, its RAM, and its price

Laserjet 6P Laserjet 6MP 3M $859

Laserjet 5 Laserjet 5M 6M $1488

Laserjet 4V Laserjet 4MV 12M $2499

Each Mac Laserjet understands both PCL and Postscript. Each attaches to both the IBM PC and the Mac. Those prices are from discount dealers (such as Tri State).

Best Buys

The cheapest nice IBM-compatible printer is:

the 9-pin Epson Action Printer 2250 ($100)

The next major step up is:

the 24-pin Epson Action Printer 3250 ($150)

For a true workhorse, get:

the 24-pin Epson LQ-570+ ($240)

For prettier printing, get one of these ink-jet printers with dual-cartridge color:

Canon BJC-4300 (720´ 360 dpi, $185)

Epson Stylus Color 600 (1440´ 720 dpi, $249)

But remember that ink-jet printers are finicky about what kind of paper you insert, and the ink is expensive.

The next major step up is to get one of these laser printers:

PanasonicKX-P6100 (300 dpi+RET, 6 ppm, $259)

Brother HL-720 (600 dpi, 6 ppm, $319)

HP Laserjet 6L (600 dpi+RET, 6 ppm, $379)

HP Laserjet 6P (600 dpi+RET, 8 ppm, $709)

HP Laserjet 5 (600 dpi+RET, 12 ppm, $988)

Anything beyond them is luxury!

Printer technology

Now letís plunge into the technical details of printer technology!

Impact versus non-impact

A printer that smashes an inked ribbon against the paper is called an impact printer. The most popular kind of impact printer is the dot-matrix printer. Other impact printers use daisy wheels, thimbles, golf balls, bands, chains, and drums. They all make lots of noise, though manufacturers have tried to make the noise acceptable by putting the printers in noise-reducing enclosures and by modifying the timing of the smashes.

A printer that does not smash an inked ribbon is called a non-impact printer. Non-impact printers are all quiet! The most popular non-impact printers are ink-jet printers and laser printers. Other non-impact printers are thermal printers (whose hot pins scorch the paper), and thermal-transfer printers (which melt hot colored wax onto the paper).

Each has its own disadvantages. Thermal printers require special "scorchable" paper. Thermal-transfer printers require expensive ribbons made of colored wax.


If a printer creates characters out of dots, the quality of the printing depends on how fine the dots are ó the "number of dots per inch", which is called the print resolution.

9-pin printers usually print 72 dots per inch vertically. Thatís called draft quality, because itís good enough for rough drafts but not for final copy. Itís also called business quality, because itís good enough for sending memos to your coworkers and accountant.

If you make a 9-pin printer do 2 passes, it prints 144 dots per inch. Thatís called correspondence quality, because itís good enough for sending pleasant letters to your friends. Itís also called near-letter-quality (NLQ), because it looks nearly as good as the letters produced on a typewriter. The typical 9-pin printer has a switch you can flip, to choose either 1-pass draft quality (which is fast) or 2-pass correspondence quality (which is slower but prettier).

A 24-pin printer prints 180 dots per inch. Thatís called letter quality (LQ), because it looks as good as the letters printed by a typical typewriter or daisy-wheel printer. Itís good enough for writing letters to people youíre trying to impress.

A standard laser printer prints 300 dots per inch. Thatís called desktop-publishing quality, because itís good enough for printing newsletters. Itís also called near-typeset-quality, because it looks nearly as good as a typesetting machine.

A standard typesetting machine prints 1200 or 2400 dots per inch. Those are the resolutions used for printing Americaís popular magazines, newspapers, and books.

HPís Laserjet 2P Plus, 3, 3P, and 4L all print 300 dots per inch; but the 3, 3P, and 4L produce prettier output than the 2P Plus by using this trick: they can print each dot at 5 different sizes (ranging from "normal" to "extra tiny") and nudge each dot slightly to the right or left. HPís Laserjet 4 and 4P print 600 dots per inch.

Ink-jet printers by Canon and Epson usually print 360 dots per inch. HPís ink-jet printers usually print 300 dots per inch.

Character size

To measure a characterís size, you must measure both its width and its height.

Width Like an old-fashioned typewriter, a traditional printer makes each character a tenth of an inch wide. Thatís called "10 characters per inch" or 10 cpi or 10-pitch or pica (pronounced "pike uh").

Some printers make all the characters narrower so you get 12 characters per inch. Thatís called 12 cpi or 12-pitch or elite.

The typical dot-matrix impact printer lets you choose practically any width you wish. For example, the Epson LQ-850 can print 5, 6, 7Ĺ, 8 1/3, 10, 12, 15, 162/3, and 20 cpi. The widest sizes (5, 6, 7Ĺ, and 81/3 cpi) are called double-width, because theyíre twice as wide as 10, 12, 15, and 162/3 cpi. The narrowest sizes (162/3 and 20 cpi) are called condensed or compressed; theyíre 60% as wide as 10 and 12 cpi.

Some printers make each character a different width, so that a "W" is very wide and an "i" is narrow; thatís called proportional spacing. It looks much nicer than uniform spacing (such as 10 cpi or 12 cpi). The typical modern printer lets you choose either proportional spacing or uniform spacing. Uniform spacing is usually called monospacing.

Height The typical sheet of paper is 11 inches tall. If you put one-inch margins at the top and bottom, youíre left with 9 inches to print on.

After printing a line of type, the typical typewriter or printer jerks up the paper a sixth of an inch, then prints the next line. As a result, you get 6 lines of type per inch, so the entire sheet of paper shows "9 times 6" lines of type, which is 54 lines.

The fanciest printers, such as laser printers, can make characters extra-tall or extra-short. The characterís height is measured in points. Each point is 1/72 of an inch. A character thatís an inch tall is therefore called "72 points tall". A character thatís half an inch tall is 36 points tall.

Like a typewriter, a printer normally makes characters 10 points tall. (More precisely, it makes the top of a capital "Y" 10 points higher than the bottom of a small "y".) It also leaves a 2-point gap above the top of the "Y", to separate it from the characters on the previous line. That 2-point gap is called the leading (pronounced "ledding"). That technique is called "10-point type with 2-point leading". Since the type plus the leading totals 12 points, itís also called "10-point type on 12" (or "10 on 12" or "10/12").


You can make a capital T in two ways. The simple way is draw a horizontal bar and a vertical bar, like this: T. The fancy way is to add serifs at the ends of the bars, like this: T. A character such as T, which is without serifs, is called sans serif, because "sans" is the French word for "without".

Monospaced fonts The most popular monospaced fonts are Courier (which has serifs) and Letter Gothic (which is sans serif). Letter Gothic was invented by IBM in 1956 for typewriters. Courier was invented for typewriters also.

Proportionally-spaced fonts The most popular proportionally spaced fonts are Times Roman (which has serifs) and Helvetica (which is sans serif). Times Roman was invented by The Times newspaper of London in 1931. Helvetica was invented by Max Miedinger of Switzerland in 1954. (The name "Helvetica" comes from "Helvetia", the Latin name for Switzerland.)

Samples Here are samples from the laser printer that printed this book (an HP Laserjet 5 printer):

This is Courier. Itís 12 points high and 10 cpi.

This is Courier Bold. This is Courier Italic.

This is Courier Bold Italic.

This is Letter Gothic. Itís 12 points high and 12 cpi.

This is Letter Gothic Bold. This is Letter Gothic Italic.

This is Letter Gothic Bold Italic.

This is 8-point Times Roman. Itís very tiny, but sometimes nice things come in small packages.

This is 9-point Times Roman, 10-point Times Roman, 11-point Times Roman,

12-point Times Roman, 13-point Times Roman,

14-point Times Roman, 14-point Times Roman Bold,

14-point Times Roman Italic, and Times Roman Bold Italic.

This is 8-point Helvetica. Itís very tiny, but sometimes nice things come in small packages.

This is 9-point Helvetica, 10-point Helvetica, 11-point Helvetica,

12-point Helvetica, 13-point Helvetica,

14-point Helvetica, 14-point Helvetica Bold,

14-point Helvetica Italic, and Helvetica Bold Italic.

This is 14-point Coronet. Itís a kind of script. Capitals are tall, most other letters tiny.

This is 14-point Marigold. Notice that the capital letters are surprisingly short.

This is 10-point Omega, Omega Bold, Omega Italic, and Omega Bold Italic.

10-point Garamond, Garamond Bold, Garamond Italic, Garamond Bold Italic.

10-point Antique Olive, Antique Olive Bold, Antique Olive Italic.

This is 10-point Albertus, and this is 10-point Albertus Extra Bold.

This is 10-point Univers, Univers Bold, Univers Italic, Univers Bold Italic,

Univers Condensed, Univers Condensed Bold, Univers Condensed Italic, Univers Cond. Bold Italic.

This is Line Printer. It comes in just one size: 8Ĺ-point. It's 16.67 cpi.

Here are samples from a 24-pin dot-matrix printer, the Epson LQ-570:













Here are samples from an ink-jet printer, the Canon BJ-200e. In these samples, the Canon is pretending itís the Epson LQ-570. The Canonís imitative printing looks better than Epsonís original, since Canonís printer is an ink-jet instead of a dot-matrix. Look at how pretty Canonís printing is:










Canon doesnít imitate Epsonís OCR-B or Script C.


Laser printers and most ink-jet printers accept a stack of ordinary copier paper. You put that paper into the printerís paper tray, which is also called the paper bin and also called the cut-sheet paper feeder.

Dot-matrix printers Though some dot-matrix printers handle stacks of ordinary copier paper, most dot-matrix printers handle paper differently. Hereís how.Ö

To pull paper into the printer, dot-matrix printers can use two methods.

The simplest method is to imitate a typewriter: use a rubber roller that grabs the paper by friction. That methodís called friction feed. Unfortunately, friction is unreliable: the paper will slip slightly, especially when you get near the bottom of the sheet.

A more reliable method is to use paper that has holes in the margins. The printer has feeder pins that fit in the holes and pull the paper up through the printer very accurately. That method, which is called pin feed, has just one disadvantage: you must buy paper having holes in the margins.

If your printer uses pin feed and is fancy, it has a clamp that helps the pins stay in the holes. The clamp (with its pins) is called a tractor. You get a tractor at each margin. A printer that has tractors is said to have tractor feed. Usually the tractors are movable, so that you can move the right-hand tractor closer to the left-hand tractor, to handle narrower paper or mailing labels.

A dual-feed printer can feed the paper both ways ó by friction and by pins ó because it has a rubber roller and also has sets of pins. The printer has a lever to the left of the roller and pins: if you pull the lever one way, the paper will pass by the roller, for friction feed; if you pull the lever the other way, the paper will pass by the pins, for pin feed.

Most dot-matrix printers have dual feed with movable tractors.

Paper that has holes in it is called pin-feed paper (or tractor-feed paper).

Like a long tablecloth folded up and stored in your closet, pin-feed paper comes in a long, continuous sheet thatís folded. Since it comes folded but can later be unfolded ("fanned out"), itís also called fanfold paper. Itís perforated so you can rip it into individual sheets after the printer finishes printing on it. If the paperís fancy, its margin is perforated too, so that after the printing is done you can rip off the margin, including its ugly holes, and youíre left with what looks like ordinary typing paper.

The fanciest perforated paper is called micro-perf. Its perforation is so fine that when you rip along the perforation, the edge is almost smooth.

Paper width Most printers can use ordinary typing paper or copier paper. Such paper is 8Ĺ inches wide. On each line of that paper, you can squeeze 85 characters at 10 cpi, or 170 characters at 20 cpi, if you have no margins.

Pin-feed paper is usually an inch wider (9Ĺ inches wide), so that the margins are wide enough to include the holes.

Some printers can handle pin-feed paper thatís extra-wide (15 inches). Those wide-carriage printers typically cost about $130 more than standard-width printers.


The typical printerís advertisement brags about the printerís speed by measuring it in characters per second (cps) or lines per minute (lpm) or pages per minute (ppm). But those measurements are misleading.

Dot-matrix and ink-jet printers For example, Epson advertised its LQ-850 dot-matrix printer as "264 cps", but it achieved that speed only when making the characters small (12 cpi) and ugly (draft quality). To print characters that were large (10 cpi) and pretty (letter quality), the speed dropped to 73 cps.

Panasonic advertised its KX-P1091 dot-matrix printer as "192 cps", but it achieved that speed only if you threw an internal switch that made the characters even uglier than usual!

For dot-matrix and ink-jet printers, the advertised speed ignores how long the printer takes to jerk up the paper. For example the typical "80-cps" printer will print 80 characters within a second but then take an extra second to jerk up the paper to the next line, so at the end of two seconds you still see just 80 characters on the paper.

Daisy-wheel printers To get an amazingly high cps rating, one daisy-wheel manufacturer fed its printer a document consisting of just one character repeated many times, so the daisy never had to rotate!

Laser printers To justify a claim of "8 pages per minute", Apple salesmen noticed that their Laserwriter 2 NT printer takes a minute to produce 8 extra copies of a page. They ignored the wait of several minutes for the first copy!

Like Apple, most other laser-printer manufacturers say "8 pages per minute" when they should really say: "1/8 of a minute per additional copy of the same page".

Keep your eyes open Donít trust any ads about speed! To discover a printerís true speed, hold a stopwatch while the printer prints many kinds of documents (involving small characters, big characters, short lines, long lines, draft quality, letter quality, and graphics).


A cable of wires runs from the printer to the computer. The cable costs about $8 and is not included in the printerís advertised price: the cable costs extra.

One end of the cable plugs into a socket at the back of the printer. The other end of the cable plugs into a socket at the back of the computer. The socket at the back of the computer is called the computerís printer port.

If you open your computer, youíll discover which part of the computerís circuitry the printer port is attached to. In a typical computer, the printer port is attached to the motherboard; but in some computers (such as the original IBM PC), the printer port is attached to a small PC card instead, called a printer interface card, which might not be included in the computerís advertised price.

When the computer wants the printer to print some data, the computer sends the data to the printer port; then the data flows through the cable to the printer.

Serial versus parallel The cable contains many wires. Some of them are never used: theyíre in the cable just in case a computer expert someday figures out a reason to use them. Some of the wires in the cable transmit information about scheduling: they let the computer and printer argue about when to send the data. If the computerís port is serial, just one of the wires transmits the data itself; if the computerís port is parallel, eight wires transmit the data simultaneously.

Parallel ports are more popular than serial ports, because parallel ports transmit data faster, are more modern, and are easier to learn how to use. Unfortunately, parallel ports handle only short distances: if the printer is far away from the computer, you must use a serial port instead.

When you buy a printer, make sure the printer matches the computerís port. If your computerís port is parallel, you must buy a parallel printer; if your computerís port is serial, you must buy a serial printer instead.

If your computer has two printer ports ó one parallel, one serial ó you can attach the computer to either type of printer; but I recommend that you choose a printer thatís parallel, because parallel printers cost less, and because many word-processing programs require that the printer be parallel.

Standard cables The typical parallel printer expects you to use a cable containing 36 wires. Just 8 of the wires transmit the data; the remaining wires can be used for other purposes. That 36-wire scheme is called the industry-standard Centronics-compatible parallel interface.

The typical serial printer expects you to use a cable containing just 25 wires. Of the 25 wires, just 1 transmits data from the computer to the printer; the remaining wires can be used for other purposes. That 25-wire scheme is called the recommended standard 232C serial interface (RS-232C serial interface).

Weird cables If your computer is an IBM PC or clone, youíll get a surprise when you try attaching it to a parallel printer (which expects 36 wires): your computerís parallel port contains just 25 wires instead of 36! To attach the computerís 25-wire parallel port to a 36-wire parallel printer, computer stores sell a weird cable that has 25 wires on one end and 36 wires on the other.

If your computer is small and cute (such as the Apple 2c, 2GS, Mac, Commodore 64, or Radio Shack Color Computer), youíll get a surprise when you try attaching it to a standard serial printer (which expects 25 wires): your computerís serial port contains fewer than 10 wires! You must buy a weird cable that has 25 wires on one end and fewer on the other.