Last week we took a look at the development of the photocopying machine and the laser printer. In our fifth and final post on the history of printing we take a look at the development of dot matrix and inkjet printers and the rise of personal printing.
With the invention of the laser printer, the concept of personal printing started to form. Early laser printers were expensive and large and while laser printers saw enormous success during the 80s, the dot matrix printer was the most widely used printer in the 70s and 80s with home and office printers.
Due to its relative speed and smaller size, dot matrix printers were perfect for small desks.
The first dot matrix printer was introduced in 1970 by the Digital Equipment Corporation. It was called the LA30 and could print up to 30 characters per second.
However, it was quite noisy and the paper feed could be unreliable. The LA30’s successor, the LA36, was quieter and more reliable and became the standard dot matrix printer for a while from its release in 1974.
Dot matrix printer
Dot matrix printers work much like typewriters do, in that characters are formed by a metal rod striking an ink soaked ribbon. Because of this mechanical printing action, dot matrix printers are able to make both carbon and carbonless copies.
The Epson MX-80, released in 1979, sparked the popularity of dot matrix printers. It was cheap, could produce good quality text and was easy to operate. Despite the loudness of the printer and some quality issues, the MX-80 brought the idea of printing into the home.
Personal printing would receive a huge boost with the introduction of the first inkjet printers. Inkjet printers were first released in the 1980s, but had been under development for almost 20 years.
The first modern style inkjet printer was invented in 1976 Siemens but there were some issues, mainly with preventing the printhead becoming clogged with ink when the printer was not in use.
In 1984, HP introduced the ThinkJet, which used HP’s revolutionary new thermal inkjet printhead. This used heat to force tiny drops of ink through a nozzle to deposit ink onto a page. The drops of ink were finer, so the printheads were less likely to clog which meant that you didn’t have to use the printer almost continuously.
HP’s ink cartridge technology, which incorporated a disposable printhead, also made changing the ink cartridge easier than changing a printer ribbon. It was this, and the fact that the ThinkJet was quieter, faster and more economic, which would make the printer incredibly popular.
With the introduction of the colour ink cartridge in 1991, HP’s DeskJet 500C made colour printing more affordable for the average user.
With the invention and rise of personal printing, getting access to information had never been easier. Combined with the power of word processing software, being able to have your voice heard was as simple as pushing or clicking on print. As computer and printer technology evolved, this process became even easier.
Despite claims that the printer is dead, printing and the printer have evolved to meet our changing communication and information needs. From the labour-intensive process of woodblock printing to modern printing processes, the technology will continue to change.