Choosing The Right Printer
The Easy Way To Hard Copy
Selby Bateman, Features Editor
If you're thinking about buying a printer, remember that what you don't need in a printer can be as important as what you do. Save yourself time, money, and major headaches by following a few well-planned steps.
How can you choose the printer that's right for you? Listen to some experts:
"The most important thing you need to know when buying a printer is what in the world you're going to do with the thing," says Craig Ringuette, merchandising manager for Okidata. "That's the key. Once you know that, then there are clearly a lot of ways to be directed."
"You have to decide the quality of the print you want," states Rick Osgood, national technical support manager for Star Micronics. "Do you want dot matrix—which is going to print just draft quality—or do you require something a little better, like near-letter quality?"
"A buyer's first question will be, 'Will this work with my system?'" says Charles Srogus III, product line manager for Micro Peripherals, Inc. "And the second question will probably be, 'Will it print graphics? Will it do the fun things I see them demonstrating on television or at the local computer fair?'"
"You need to consider whether you want fully formed letter characters or whether dot matrix is adequate," adds Ken Bosom worth, president of International Resource Development, Inc., a market research firm. "And you should certainly think about whether or not you want color; and whether, if you get color, you can do anything with it."
Lower Prices, Better Quality
These printer manufacturers agree that buying a printer which works with your computer doesn't have to be a confusing or frustrating process. Lower prices and better quality are trends which have been accelerating during the past year. Computer owners now have a greater choice of reasonably priced printers than ever before. (See "The Inexpensive Printers Of 1984" in this issue.)
Axonix Corporation's ThinPrint 80, a $279, four-pound, battery-powered, portable, thermal printer that fits into one side of a briefcase and prints full-page text and graphics.
Computer printers are now a $2.4 billion industry. Leading printer companies such as Okidata, Epson, Ricoh, Canon, Micro D (Abati), Micro Peripherals, Star Micronics (Gemini), Diablo, Axiom, Alphacom, and others are competing fiercely to make their printers the most versatile, dependable, and cost-effective.
But with so many choices, you need to have a basic understanding of what kinds of printers there are. Then define your specific needs.
The two most popular types of printers for microcomputers are the dot matrix impact systems and daisy wheel printers. Thermal printers are another category. There are also several newer types of printers—ink jet, thermal transfer, and laser—which are already beginning to affect the personal computer printer market.
Dot matrix printers are less expensive, and produce images on paper much like those displayed on your computer monitor or television set—patterns of dots arranged to form characters or graphic figures.
Stacked Wires That Strike
There are several types of dot matrix systems, the most common of which uses stacked wires that strike in various configurations against an inked ribbon to form characters on paper.
The early dot matrix printheads usually were limited to five wires horizontally by seven vertically. This resulted in crude, often difficult-to-read rectangular characters, with ill-formed descending arms on the letters q, y, p, g, and j, for example. More recently, more wires have been added, producing more fully formed characters.
Cardco's LQ/2 is a $349.95 letter-quality portable printer which prints 12 characters per second, and has built-in interfacing for all Commodore personal computers. It is also compatible with the PC, PCjr, TRS-80, and other computers with parallel Centronics printer output.
A daisy wheel printer, on the other hand, has a printhead composed of formed characters which are located on the ends of spokes—or petals—emanating from a central, spinnable hub. The printhead looks like a high-tech daisy, hence the name. Daisy wheels leave an image very similar to a good typewriter, but print much more rapidly.
Closing The Gap
Daisy wheel printers generally are more expensive than dot matrix impact printers. And some newer dot matrix printers even rival the high-quality printouts from the daisy wheel printers.
Thermal printers actually burn off a coating on special thermal paper. Their costs are relatively low and their quality good. But thermal printers require special heat-sensitive paper, which is more expensive in the long run and subject to eventual decay.
How Fast Is Fast?
Different printers operate at different speeds. Generally, the faster the printer, the higher the cost.
"At the entry level, you're looking at a low-end 100 to 140 characters-per-second (cps) printer, for anywhere from $400 to $600," says Star Micronics' Osgood. "That can go all the way up to a printer with 200 to 250 cps at upwards of a thousand dollars."
Do you need a printer that prints twice as fast as the low-end model, if that means you'll have to pay twice as much or more in order to get it? This is where the tradeoffs start, and a smart shopper will know what his or her needs will be.
"A printer is a very slow device—it's one of the slowest devices you'll hang on your system," says Osgood. "You'll want to take into consideration the amount of buffering a printer has (a temporary storage area in the printer into which the computer can dump your data). If you can only have a one-line buffer on the printer, then you're going to tie up your computer for a long time. If you have a 16K or an 8K or larger buffer, then you can off-load your data from the system in a much quicker time, freeing your computer to do other work."
Okidata's $599 Microline 92 dot matrix printer can print 160 characters per second and, for correspondence quality, 40 characters per second.
Bidirectional And Logic-Seeking
In addition to sizable buffers, the faster printers put characters on paper both forward and backward rather than wasting the carriage-return time that occurs when a printhead must return to the left margin after each left-to-right pass. This is called bidirectional printing. Another advanced speed capability is logic-seeking, in which the carriage covers only the area of the line on which print is to appear rather than running from margin to margin on every return.
Okidata's Ringuette suggests that you ask, "Do I really need 200 or 300 cps? Is that important to what I'm doing? Can I live with 100 cps?"
The answer to those questions will be an important part of your decision on which printer you buy, he adds.
No Irreconcilable Differences
"Compatibility is another key issue," says Ringuette. "In other words, what software packages am I going to run, and what computer am I going to run this on?
Axiom's $299 dot matrix printer with dot-addressable graphics is plug-compatible with the TI-99/4A.
"Does the printer really work with that system? People get amazed by the compatibility problem. You get a printer, you hook it up, and it doesn't do anything because it's not compatible," he adds.
When buying a printer, make certain that the printer will work with your particular computer, or that there is an interface you can buy which will make the two compatible. Printer interfaces are usually Centronics parallel or RS-232-C serial types. If you're buying a printer from a store, have the dealer explain what interface you need to get the full capabilities of the printer for your computer.
Questions To Ask
Before you buy your printer, you should also know the answers to the following questions:
The TTP16 is capable of printing bold face, double-strike, expanded, compressed, superscript, subscript, proportional spacing, underlining, Pica, Elite, and Italicized print as well as hex dumps and graphics.
Many dot matrix printers offer a variety of type styles, as does this thermal transfer printer from Fujitsu.
- What print width do you want? The number of characters that a printer can put on a line varies from 32 to 40 to 80, and even up to 132. The 80-column format is a standard with 8V2 x 11-inch paper for word processing, and is thus one of the most popular widths.
- Do you want to print graphics, or only text? Many dot matrix printers allow you to print an almost unlimited variety of graphic images. Daisy wheel printers, however, use preset, fully formed characters. In addition, there are printers which support high-resolution images from your screen.
There is evidence that personal computer users are becoming more interested in these graphics capabilities as the price of printers comes down. "That's because of the business market," says Micro Peripherals' Charles Srogus. "But people in the home have seen that. The consumer is looking at it and saying, 'Gee, this is fun. I'd like to do that myself.'"
Many More Options
• What special print capabilities do you need for text? Many printers today give you the option of printing elongated type, condensed characters, underlined text, subscripts and superscripts, boldface and italic type, and other special forms. Some printers will also let you print different typefaces in a variety of sizes.
• What kind of paper do you want with your printer? There are tractor-feed printers which precisely advance paper by using teeth that fit into holes on both sides of the paper. The teeth pull the paper through the printer in one continuous feed. But the paper can later be separated into standard sheets. Friction-feed printers operate much like a typewriter, pulling the paper around a cylindrical platen. Friction-fed paper can slip out of alignment more easily than tractor-fed, however.
The Thinkjet Printer by Hewlett-Packard (HP 2225) is a $495 ink jet printer which uses an ink cartridge system and is fully portable.
• How much noise can you tolerate? Daisy wheel and dot matrix impact printers can produce quite a bit of noise, something you might also need to consider.
Once you've answered all of these questions, then you're ready to shop around and find the printer that does the best job for your computer.
A printer is so important for most computer users that Okidata's Ringuette sometimes gets the feeling that the purchase of a computer and then a printer is putting the cart before the horse. "You really ought to buy the printer first. Most people buy the thing backwards," he says, not quite tongue in cheek. "Basically, a computer is only worth the paper it's printed on."
|Model Name||Manufacturer/Distributor||Compatibility||Print Technology||Speed||Pitch||Logic-Seeking||Buffer||True Descenders||Max. Paper Width, in.||Feed Type||Suggested Retail Price||Comments|
|Abati LQ-20||Micro D||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (daisy wheel)||18cps||120–180 cpl||Yes||1.5K||Yes||13||Friction standard; pin optional||$479||Special character sets with purchase of additional wheels|
|Alphacom 42||Alphacom, Inc.||Parallel and serial cables available; also Commodore, Atari, TI||Thermal||80 cps||10 cpi||One line||Yes||4.5||Friction||$119.95||Price does not include interface|
|Alphacom 81||Alphacom, Inc.||Parallel and serial cables available; also Commodore, Atari, TI, Apple||Thermal||80 cps||10 cpi||One line||Yes||8¾||Friction||$169.95||Price does not include interface|
|Cardco LQ-2||Cardco, Inc.||Parallel standard; built-in interface for Commodore computers||Impact (daisy wheel)||12–20 cps||Max. 80 cpl||Yes||80 characters||Yes||8.7||Friction||$349.95||Can run on optional battery pack|
|CGP-220||Tandy Corporation/Radio Shack||Parallel standard; TRS-80 Color Computer serial interface included||Ink-jet||2600 dots per second, 37 cps||12 cpi||One line||Yes||8.5||Friction only||$699||• Seven colors • Hi-res color|
|Compumate 2100||Swintec Corporation||Parallel and Serial||Impact (daisy wheel)||20 cps||10–15 cpi||Yes||256 characters||Yes||14||Friction and power||$649||International character sets|
|Commodore 1526||Commodore Business Machines||Serial||Impact (dot-matrix)||45 inches per minute||80 cpl||Yes||One line||Yes||8.5||Friction and pin||under $300|
|Comriter CR-II||Comrex||Parallel and serial available||Impact (daisy wheel)||12 cps||10–15 cpl||Yes||5K||Yes||13.5||Friction standard; pin optional||$649 Serial $599 Parallel|
|Delta 10||Star Micronics||Parallel and serial standard||Impact (dot-matrix)||160 cps||80–136 cpl||Yes||8K standard; expandable to 16K||Yes||9.5||Both friction and pin||$549||
|DMP-120||Tandy Corporation/Radio Shack||Parallel standard; TRS-80 Color Computer serial interface included||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||10–16.7 cpi||Yes||One line||Yes||9.5||Both pin and friction||$499.95||Bit-image graphics|
|DMP-200||Tandy Corporation/Radio Shack||Parallel standard; TRS-80 Color Computer serial interface included||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||10–16.7 cpi||Yes||One line||Yes||9.5||Both pin and friction||$699||Correspondence fonts|
|Epson FX-80||Epson America, Inc.||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||160 cps||10–12 cpi||Yes||2K (with serial)||Yes||10||Friction and pin||$699||International character set|
|Epson MX-80||Epson America, Inc.||Parallel standard||Impact (dot-matrix)||80 cps||80 cpl||Yes||One line||Yes||10||Friction and pin||$494|
|Epson RX-100||Epson America, Inc.||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||100 cps||up to 136 cpl||Yes||2K (with serial)||Yes||15.5||Friction and pin||$699||
|Facit 4510||Facit Data Products||Both parallel and serial||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||10–17 cpi||Yes||2K||Yes||11||Friction and pin standard||$495||
|Gemini 10X||Star Micronics||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||6–17 cpi||Yes||4K or 8K||Yes||9.5||Both friction and pin||$399||32 block shapes|
|Gemini 15X||Star Micronics||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||136–232 cpl||Yes||8K standard; expandable to 16K||Yes||9.5||Both friction and pin||$549||88 international characters|
|GP 100-TI||Axiom Corporation||Includes cable that plugs directly into TI-99/4A||Impact (dot-matrix)||30 cps||5–10 cpi||Yes||One line||9.5||Pin||$299|
|GP 700 AT||Axiom Corporation||Plugs into serial user port on Atari||Impact (dot-matrix)||30 cps||5–10 cpi||Yes||One line||9.5||Pin||$599|
|IT-4010||Blue Chip Electronics||Serial and parallel standard; no special interface required for Commodore 64||Thermal transfer||120 cps||10–15 cpi||Yes||256 bytes||Yes||9.5||Both pin and friction||$399||
|Image-Writer||Apple Computer||Apple II, III, LISA||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||36–136 cpi||Yes||1K||Yes||10||Friction and adjustable-width pin||$675|
|KX-P1090||Panasonic||Parallel; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||80 cps||Yes||1K standard; 4K optional||Yes||10||Pin and friction||$399|
|KX-P1091||Panasonic||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||Yes||1K standard; 4K optional||Yes||10||Pin and friction||$499|
|KX-P1092||Panasonic||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||180 cps||Yes||1K standard; 4K optional||Yes||10||Pin and friction||$599|
|KX-P3151||Panasonic||Serial standard||Impact (daisy wheel)||22 cps||10–12 cpi||Yes||1K standard; 4K optional||Yes||15.5||Friction only; pin optional||Around $700|
|Legend 800/1000||Legend Peripheral Products||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||Legend 800: 80 cps Legend 1000: 100 cps||40–142 cpl||Yes||1K||Yes||10||Friction and pin standard||800:$349 1000:$359||Eight international character sets|
|M120/10||Blue Chip Electronics||Serial and parallel standard; no special interface required for Commodore 64||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||10–15 cpi||Yes||256 bytes||Yes||9.5||Both pin and friction||$349|
|Microline 80||Okidata||Parallel standard||Impact (dot-matrix)||80 cps||80–132 cpl||No||None||Yes||9.5||Pin and friction; tractor optional||$449|
|Microline 82A||Okidata||Parallel and RS-232 serial standard; IEEE488 optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||80–132 cpl||Yes||2K (optional with serial)||Yes||9.5||Friction and pin||$549||
|Microline 92||Okidata||Parallel and serial standard||Impact (dot-matrix)||40–160 cps||80–136 cpl||Yes||Serial comes with 2K IEEE488 2 or 4K||Yes||9.5||Friction and pin standard; tractor optional||$699||
|Microprism||Integral Data Systems||Parallel and serial||Impact (dot-matrix)||75–110 cps||10–16.8 cpi||Yes||1.2K||Yes||8.5||Pin and friction||$649|
|MPS-801||Commodore Business Machines||Serial||Impact (dot-matrix)||50 cps||80 cpl||No||One line||No||8.5||Pin||under $300||Second serial port on back|
|NEC PC-6021||NEC Home Electronics (USA), Inc.||Parallel standard||Thermal||40 cps||40 cpl||No||None||No||4.5||Friction||$249.95|
|NEC PC-8023A||NEC Home Electronics (USA), Inc.||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||100 cps||80–136 cpl||Yes||2K||Yes||10||Both pin and friction||$499||Greek character set|
|Printelex||Computer Peripherals||Parallel and serial standard; interface cables available for Commodore, IBM PC, Radio Shack||Impact (dot-matrix)||160 cps||40 cpl||No||One line||No||4¼||Friction only||$145||40-column|
|PrintMate 99||Micro-Peripherals, Inc.||Both parallel and serial||Impact (dot-matrix)||100 cps||5–17 cpi||Yes||1K standard; expandable to 2K||Yes||9.5||Friction and pin standard||$599|
|Prowriter 8510-AP||C. Itoh||Parallel and serial available||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||10–17 cpi, 80–136 cpl||Yes||1K||Yes||13||Both friction and pin||Parallel: $495, serial: $755||Five additional character sets|
|Sprinter||Micro-Peripherals, Inc.||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||160 cps||10–17 cpi||Yes||4K||Yes||9.5||Friction and tractor standard||$695||
|Seikosha GP-100A||Axiom Corporation||Axiom Corporation||Impact (dot-matrix)||64 cps||32 cpl||No||None||10||$389|
|Seikosha GP-250X||Axiom Corporation||Parallel and serial available||Impact (dot-matrix)||50 cps||80 cpl||No||80 bytes||10||$499|
|Thin-Print 80||Axnoix Corporation||Parallel and serial available||Thermal||40 cps||80–136 cpl||Yes||2K||No||8.5||Friction feed||$279||
|Transtar 120||Silver Reed||Parallel and serial versions available||Impact (daisy wheel)||14 cps||10, 12, 15 cpi||Yes||2K serial, none on parallel||Yes||13||Friction standard; pin optional||$550||Portable|
|Transtar 130||Silver Reed||Parallel and serial versions available||Impact (daisy wheel)||18–20 cps||10–20 cpi; also supports proportional spacing||Yes||None on parallel; 2K on serial||Yes||17||Friction standard; pin optional||$599|
|Transtar 315||Seikosha||Parallel standard; serial optional||Impact (dot-matrix)||38–50 cps||10–13.3 cpi||No||Serial: 2K standard; additional 2K optional None on parallel||No||11||Both friction and pin||$599||Prints seven colors, more than 30 shades|
|TRS-80 DMP-110||Tandy Corporation/Radio Shack||Parallel standard; TRS-80 Color Computer serial interface included||Impact (dot-matrix)||120 cps||10–16.7 cpi||Yes||One line||Yes||9.5||Pin and friction||$499.95||
|TTP-16||Fujitsu America, Inc.||Parallel and serial available||Thermal transfer||45 cps||80–96 cpl||No||None||Yes||10||Friction||$625||
|Thinkjet (HP2225)||Hewlett-Packard||Parallel, HP-1B, and HP-IL available||Ink-jet||150 cps||40-142 cpl||Yes||1000 bytes||Yes||9.5||Pin and friction||$495||
Major Printer Manufacturers And Distributors
If you are interested in finding out more about a particular printer, it's best to check with a local computer dealer first. If they don't have the information you need, contact the manufacturer or distributor listed here.
2323 S. Bascom Ave.
Campbell, CA. 95008
20525 Mariani Ave.
Cupertino, CA 95014
1014 Griswold Ave,
San Fernando, CA 91340
417 Wakara Way
Salt Lake City. LT 84108
Blue Chip Electronics
7406 E. Butherus Dr.
Scottsdale, AZ 85260
Legend Peripheral Products
14722 Oxnard St.
300 S. Topeka
Wichita, KS 67202
Commodore Business Machines
1200 Wilson Dr.
West Chester, PA 19380
6400 Canoga Ave.
Woodland Hills, CA 91367
3701 Skypark Dr.
Torrance, CA 90505
Epson America, Inc.
3415 Kashiwa St.
Torrance, CA 90505
Facit Data Products
235 Main Dunstable Rd.
Nashua, NH 03060
Fujitsu America, Inc.
3055 Orchard Rd.
San Jose, CA 95134
3000 Hanover St.
Palo Alto, CA 94304
Integral Data Systems
Milford, NH 03055
225 Turnpike St.
Canton, MA 02021
Micro Peripherals, Inc.
4426 S. Century Dr.
Salt Lake City, UT 84123
NEC Home Electronics (U.S.A.), Inc.
Personal Computer Division
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Mt. Laurel, NJ 08054
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094
200 Park Ave.
Pan Am Building
New York, NY 10166
23 Poplar St.
P.O. Box 421
East Rultherford, NJ 07073
Tandy Corporation/Radio Shack
1800 One Tandy Center
Fort Worth, TX 76102
P.O. Box C-96975
Bellevue, WA 98009