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 computer's 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 computer's 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 you'll want a
printer anyway, to copy the computer's 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 you're 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").
They're 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, it's 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, it's
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.... 
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 -
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 you've 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. That's 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. That's 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. That's expensive, but not as expensive as the ink in an ink-jet
Those prices assume you're printing black text. If you're 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 electricity's cost is negligible
(much less than a penny per page) if you turn the printer off when you're 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. It's cute! Here's how it works....
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 daisy's 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. It's used just in NEC's Spinwriter and Elf
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 let's take a closer look at each of the three popular kinds of printers: dot-matrix, ink-jet, and

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 pin's 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 - and therefore 9 pins. It's called a 9-pin printer.
The 9 guns are stacked on top of each other, in a column that's 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 head's 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 - and each part is made
of dots.
The pattern of dots that makes up a character is called the dot matrix. That's why such a printer's
called a 9-pin dot-matrix printer.
Inside the printer is a ROM chip that holds the definition of each character. For example, the
ROM's 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
- 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
"EP's son". That's how the Epson division was founded and got its name!
Epson's first 9-pin printer was the MX-80. Then came an improvement, called the FX-80. Those
printers are obsolete; they've been replaced by Epson's newest 9-pin wonders, the FX-870 ($280)
and the FX-1170 (which can handle extra-wide paper and costs $370). Epson's 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 can't
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 Mac's screen. They even print copies of the
screen's 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
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 can't print letters that dip below the line (g, j, p, q, and y) and
can't 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, they're 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 - and English - 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
Why the daisies died
During the 1970's, daisy-wheel printers were popular, but they've 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 computer's
keyboard), and the printer will automatically switch to different patterns of dots to produce the
different font, since the printer's 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 - and from ink-jet
and laser printers, which print even more beautifully! Let's examine those super-beautiful printers

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 printer's pins smash a ribbon. If you like quiet,
you'll 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, HP's printers
produce the best-quality black; Epson's printers produce the best-quality color; and Canon's
printers cost the least.
HP's ink-jet printers are called Desk Jets. Canon's ink-jet printers are called Bubble Jets. Epson's
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: HP's Mac-only models are called Desk Writers; Canon's
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. Epson's 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 paper's 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. Canon's printers are the best at tolerating paper
differences, but Canon's 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....
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.
Epson's main such printer is the Stylus Color 600, which costs $279 (from Harmony). Of all
printers being made by all manufacturers, Epson's Stylus Color 600 is the most appropriate 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). It's reliable: it comes with a 2-year warranty and
typically prints 75,000 pages before wearing out. The cartridges are long-lasting: they'll 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 ($449). 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
Epson also sells the Stylus Color 400.
It's cheaper ($229) 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
To compete against Epson, Canon offers the Bubble Jet Color 4200 (BJC-4200).
It costs $259 minus a $50 rebate, bringing your final cost down to $209. For $20 extra, Canon
will include Photo ink to make photographs print better, but still not as nice as Epson's, since
Canon's resolution is just 720(360. To save money, get a slightly older model (the BJC-4100),
refurbished, for just $159. Those Canon prices are from discounters such as Harmony.
HP offers these:
HP Printer                    Speed (pages per minute)           Discounter's
Desk Jet 692C            5    ppm black,    1.7 ppm color        $289
Desk Jet 820Cxi          6.5 ppm black,    4    ppm color        $366
Desk Jet 870Cxi          8    ppm black,    4    ppm color       $460
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 it's 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 Canon's BJC-240.
It costs $169 (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 - especially if you add $20 for
the photo-ink version. You can get a lower-cost version, the BJC-240L, for $149.
Canon's main competitor is HP's Desk Jet 400.
It costs $170 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: Canon's
BJ-10SX ($149, prints just in black), BJ-30 ($249, prints just in black), Canon's BJC-70 ($339,
colors), and HP's Deskjet 340 ($239 after rebate, just black, upgradable to color for $39 extra).
They work slowly, print less beautifully than desktop printers, and can't handle big stacks of
Instead of buying a portable printer, consider buying Canon's BJC-240. At 51/2 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 81/2 inches wide. To
print colors on wider paper, get Canon's BJC-4550 ($449, 11"-by-17" paper) or Epson's Stylus
1500 ($889, 17"-by-22").
4-cartridge color Suppose you're 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! Canon's
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, that printer is expensive ($359) and slow. To save
money, get an older model (the BJC-610), refurbished, for $199 (from Harmony and Tri State).

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
HP's 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. It's 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
computer's hard disk, then tell your computer to copy those font definitions to the printer's 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 printer's RAM from the computer's 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 $1200. That's the price charged by Tri State (a discount dealer), and it includes a toner

Cheaper printers
For folks who can't afford $1200, 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 5L-FS (which includes a program called Font Smart to help you manage fonts).
To pay even less, buy from one of HP's competitors. Here's how the printers differ:
Laser printer                      Resolution               RAM                                Internal fonts Speed          Price
HP Laserjet 5                      600 dpi + RET       2M   + compression  45 scalable              12 ppm         $1200
HP Laserjet 6P                     600 dpi + RET       2M   +
compression    45 scalable                8 ppm          $719
HP Laserjet 5L-FS             600 dpi + RET       1M   + compression  26 scalable                4 ppm          $375
Brother HL-720                600 dpi                       1/2M + compression  35 scalable                6 ppm          $319
Panasonic KX-P6100       300 dpi + RET       1/4M                                    7 bitmap                   6 ppm          $299
In the cheapest laser printer (by Panasonic), the ROM's 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
computer's hard disk to your printer's 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
81/2 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 paper's edge
(without requiring a margin).
Discount dealers (such as Tri State) sell it for $1800.
When IBM decided to stop manufacturing printers, IBM sold its printer factory (in Lexington,
Kentucky) to the factory's employees, who called their new company Lexmark. IBM let them still
use the "IBM" name in their advertising, even though they'd 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! It's called the Lexmark IBM Optra R+.
It prints 1200 dpi at 8 ppm. It can print 600 dpi faster, at 16 ppm. It includes 4M of RAM. It
costs $1249. That's the price charged by a discount dealer (USA Flex), and it includes a toner
Color printers
You can buy color laser printers, but they're very expensive. For HP's newest laser printer (the
Laserjet 6P), HP is offering an optional color kit. 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 QMS's 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. Here's how the famous old Laserjets compare with modern
Printer                       Resolution               RAM                                Fonts     Speed     Cheaper version
Laserjet 2                    300 dpi                       1/2M                                    bitmap      8 ppm   Laserjet 2P is 4 ppm
Laserjet 3                    300 dpi + RET       1M                                      scalable    8 ppm   Laserjet 3P is 4 ppm, 1/2M
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 - and they're all ugly! If you have a Laserjet 2, I
recommend that you 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). For example, this entire Secret Guide, which you're reading now, was produced on a
Laserjet 2 with the Microsoft Z cartridge (except for the cute pictures and largest headlines). If
you have a Laserjet 3, 3P, 4, 4P, 4L, 4 Plus, 4V, 5, 5P, or 5L, don't 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. It's 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 can't perform as many tricks.
Most IBM-compatible laser printers (such as the ones by Epson, Panasonic, and Sharp)
understand PCL, so that they imitate HP's laser printers, run the same software as HP's laser
printers, and are HP-compatible. But most of them understand just old versions of PCL and can't
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 1980's, PCL was still very primitive. Postscript was more advanced. The fanciest laser
printers from HP's 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, it's 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 Apple's Laserwriter, which comes in many versions:
Printer                                                Resolution               RAM       Fonts               Language  Speed     Price
Personal Laserwriter 300      300 dpi                       1/2M           39 scalable    Quickdraw   4 ppm     $629
Laserwriter   4/600 PS             600 dpi                       2M             64 scalable    Postscript            4 ppm     $870
Laserwriter 12/640 PS              600 dpi                       4M             64 scalable    Postscript          12 ppm    $1599
Laserwriter 16/600 PS              600 dpi + RET       8M             64 scalable    Postscript          17 ppm    $2298
Those prices, which are available from most dealers, include toner.
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   $870
Laserjet 5                    Laserjet 5M                     6M $1700
Laserjet 4V              Laserjet 4MV             12M  $2650
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-4100                  (720(360dpi, $159refurb)
Epson Stylus Color 400     (720(720dpi, $229)
Epson Stylus Color 600   (1440(720dpi, $279)
But remember that ink-jet printers are finicky about what kind of paper you insert, and the ink is
The next major step up is to get one of these laser printers:
PanasonicKX-P6100   (300dpi+RET,     6ppm,   $299)
Brother HL-720      (600dpi,                   6ppm,   $319)
HP Laserjet 5L-FS   (600dpi+RET,     4ppm,   $375)
HP Laserjet 6P           (600dpi+RET,     8ppm,   $719)
HP Laserjet 5            (600dpi+RET,   12ppm, $1200)
Anything beyond them is luxury!

Printer technology
Now let's 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 - the "number of dots per inch", which is called the print resolution.
9-pin printers usually print 72 dots per inch vertically. That's called draft quality, because it's good
enough for rough drafts but not for final copy. It's also called business quality, because it's 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. That's called correspondence
quality, because it's good enough for sending pleasant letters to your friends. It's 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. That's called letter quality (LQ), because it looks as
good as the letters printed by a typical typewriter or daisy-wheel printer. It's good enough for
writing letters to people you're trying to impress.
A standard laser printer prints 300 dots per inch. That's called desktop-publishing quality, because
it's good enough for printing newsletters. It's 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 America's popular magazines, newspapers, and books.
HP's 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. HP's
Laserjet 4 and 4P print 600 dots per inch.
Ink-jet printers by Canon and Epson usually print 360 dots per inch. HP's ink-jet printers usually
print 300 dots per inch.

Character size
To measure a character's 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. That's called "10 characters per inch" or 10 cpi or 10-pitch or pica (pronounced "pike
Some printers make all the characters narrower so you get 12 characters per inch. That's 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, 71/2, 8 1/3, 10, 12, 15, 162/3, and 20 cpi. The widest
sizes (5, 6, 71/2, and 81/3 cpi) are called double-width, because they're twice as wide as 10, 12,
15, and 162/3 cpi. The narrowest sizes (162/3 and 20 cpi) are called condensed or compressed;
they're 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; that's 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, you're 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
character's height is measured in points. Each point is 1/72 of an inch. A character that's an inch
tall is therefore called "72 points tall". A character that's 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, it's 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. It's 12 points high and 10 cpi.
This is Courier Bold. This is Courier Italic.
This is Courier Bold Italic.
This is Letter Gothic. It's 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. It's 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. It's 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. It's 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
This is Line Printer. It comes in just one size: 81/2-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 it's the Epson LQ-570. The Canon's imitative printing looks better than Epson's
original, since Canon's printer is an ink-jet instead of a dot-matrix. Look at how pretty Canon's
printing is:

Canon doesn't imitate Epson's 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 printer's 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. Here's how....
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 method's 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 - by friction and by pins - 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 that's folded. Since it comes folded but can later be unfolded ("fanned out"), it's
also called fanfold paper. It's perforated so you can rip it into individual sheets after the printer
finishes printing on it. If the paper's fancy, its margin is perforated too, so that after the printing is
done you can rip off the margin, including its ugly holes, and you're 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 81/2
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 (91/2 inches wide), so that the margins are wide enough to
include the holes.
Some printers can handle pin-feed paper that's extra-wide (15 inches). Those wide-carriage
printers typically cost about $130 more than standard-width printers.
The typical printer's advertisement brags about the printer's 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
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 Don't trust any ads about speed! To discover a printer's 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 printer's 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 computer's printer port.
If you open your computer, you'll discover which part of the computer's 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 computer's 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: they're 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 computer's port is serial, just one of the wires transmits the data
itself; if the computer's 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 computer's port. If your computer's
port is parallel, you must buy a parallel printer; if your computer's port is serial, you must buy a
serial printer instead.
If your computer has two printer ports - one parallel, one serial - you can attach the computer to
either type of printer; but I recommend that you choose a printer that's parallel, because parallel
printers cost less, and because many word-processing programs require that the printer be
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, you'll get a surprise when you try attaching
it to a parallel printer (which expects 36 wires): your computer's parallel port contains just 25
wires instead of 36! To attach the computer's 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), you'll get a surprise when you try attaching it to a standard serial printer
(which expects 25 wires): your computer's 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.
Buyer's guide: printers

Buyer's guide: printers

Return To The The Secret Guide to Computers Main Menu

Return To The COMPUTERCRAFT Main Menu

Your Great New Jersey Web Site