A dot matrix printer is also often referred to as an impact matrix printer and has many similarities with the printing mechanisms found in typewriters. The print head will either run from side to side or up and down and then strikes a cloth ribbon soaked in ink against the paper. However, where it differs from a typewriter is you have a choice of fonts and graphics that you can use. These styles of printer are also capable of producing carbon and carbonless copies. The name derives from a tiny metal rod which produces a dot whenever it is driven forward towards the paper. Although it must be said that the majority of inkjet, laser and thermal printers also produce closely spaced dots rather than specific characters or lines.
Dot matrix printers first came to light during the 1970s and throughout that decade and the next they were generally considered the best printers in the marketplace. They were, without doubt, the most versatile printers and the least expensive. Right up until the 1990s, these printers were most commonly used in conjunction with personal computers. The earliest personal computers and their software were strictly focused on processing text and the use of graphic images had literally become obsolete. The first range of dot matrix printers actually had the capability of producing graphic images however this had not been utilized in their production. It wasn’t until a few years later that the ability to produce images became a standard feature of this type of printer.
As technology advanced, so did the role of dot matrix printers. The hardware improvements allowed the carriage speed to be much faster, there were more font options, the dot density was increased and there were even models that produced pseudo color printing. Many of the top models of the time, such as the Epsom FX series, even allowed user downloadable fonts. This granted far more flexibility and allowed users to print in many different typefaces. However, there seemed to be an ongoing issue with the quality of the ribbon’s ink. This led to single strike and multi strike ribbons being tested with the printer. The dot matrix printer had printer ribbons in very much the same vein as typewriters – the ink would start out extremely dark and eventually fade to a lighter color over time. This prompted the introduction of alternative ribbon formulations, which ensured that the blackness and darkness of the ink remained consistent.
The pseudo color dot matrix printer was soon born and many manufacturers had begun to supply these. However the quality of the color prints produced were not of a very good standard. This led to the color impact printer being used for abstract illustrations and pie charts rather than for printing photos and realistic images. Color printing, as we are now aware, would finally become a universal feature once ink jet printers had been introduced. Ink jet printers gradually replaced the use of dot matrix printers as they were far more advanced in so many respects. They were far quieter, printed much faster and the quality was comparable to that of laser printers. The main use of dot matrix technology nowadays is found within devices such as ATMs and cash registers.
The advantages to using a dot matrix printer are that they can print on multi-part stationery and even make carbon copies. They offer one of the lowest printing costs and you can use continuous paper to print rather than having to worry about feeding it individual sheets. They are known to be reliable and are far more ideal if you have a lot of content to print and are not overly concerned about the quality. You will also find that it is extremely difficult to dry out the printer ribbon, meaning that this printer can be used in just about any environment. There are, of course, some disadvantages to consider. They can create a lot of noise and graphics can only be printed in low resolution and will only provide a limited color performance. They can be prone to paper jams and if you are looking for a text only printer, you have a far wider choice of better quality products.
Dot matrix printers are still used in modern day technology, especially by companies who have a lot of printing to do. The majority of these companies have yet to be convinced by the range of paperless printers of other modern day technological advancements in the printing industry. I would hazard a guess that for the foreseeable future these printers still have an important job to do.