Print about printers. (including printer stands) David H. Ahl.
Print About Printers
This month we review one of the most compact full-width printers available and look at some alternatives to an expensive printer stand.
Inforunner Riteman Printer
While leafing through one of the personal computing magazines, we spotted an ad which boasted, "The first 10 printer you can fit into your briefcase.' That sounded pretty attractive, so we obtained a Riteman for evaluation.
Over the past year or so, we have noticed that printers have been getting smaller and smaller, and on occasion we have carried around an Epson MX-80 (14.5 X 12 X 5 ), Gemini Star 10 (15 X 12 X 5 ), or Mannesmann Tally Spirit 80 (15 X 13 X 5 ). Notice that all of them have about the same dimensions--compact, but if you put one in a briefcase there is little room for much else.
However, the Riteman measures only 14 X 10.6 X 3 , small enough to fit in a briefcase with room to spare for a Model 100 and some papers or magazines. The weight is only 11 pounds. These dimensions are for the friction/ pin feed version of the printer; adding the tractor feeder produces an awkward center lump with a height of 4.6 '.
Alternative Feed Mechanism
Alternative Feed Mechanisms Riteman has a friction feed roller for single sheets. It is no joy to load, but patience and practice makes she process go more smoothly.
At both ends of the platen are pin feed rollers for use with continuous forms. On our test sample, the width of the pin feeders could be varied only from 9.4 to 10.2 . This was designed for use with standard European and Japanese 10 (actually 9 7/8 ) wide fan fold paper. We understand from the manufacturer that production models for the U.S. will have a 9 pin feed mechanism for use with standard 9 1/2 paper (which tears down to 8 1/2 X 11 ).
For handling non-standard size paper, labels, or narrow forms, an optional tractor feeder is available. It is designed to handle forms of any width from 4 to 10 , and it does an admirable job. The tractor feeder is easily mounted and removed by simply raising and lowering two tractor locking levers on either side of the feeder. The tractor feeder comes with its own print cover which hinges at the front of the printer.
The ribbon for the Riteman is enclosed in a compact cassette which fits over the moving printhead. It is easily installed and not at all messy. Only a fabric ribbon is available, and, at least at the current time, replacement ribbons must be obtained directly from the manufacturer. Information on ribbon life is not available.
Controls and Connectors
The top panel of the printer has the expected three control buttons (On Line/Off Line, Form Feed, and Line Feed) and three LED indicators (Power On, Printer On Line, and Paper Out).
On the right side in front of the platen is a lever which adjusts the gap between the printer head and platen. For one or two copies, a narrow gap should be selected, while for three or four copies, a wide gap would be selected.
Twelve DIP switches are accessible behind a plastic cover in the rear of the printer. These control such things as linefeed (lines per inch), printing mode (normal or bold), bell sound (on or off), slashed zero, auto feed (on or off), skip perforation (on or off), and selection of international character see (USA, France UK, or Germany).
Also on the rear are the power cord connector and 36-pin male Centronics connector. A rocker power switch is on the right side of the unit.
Print Protocol and Speed
The Riteman uses a standard Centronics parallel protocol and recognizes all of the standard control codes such as carriage return, linefeed, form feed, horizontal tab, busy, signal acknowledge, select, and printer initialize. The "special' control codes are the same as those used on Epson printers, which are becoming more-or-less standard in the industry.
For example, the printer recognizes 34 special control codes to produce double-width, condensed, emphasized, bold, italics, and full graphics characters. The character set and some of these print modes are shown in Figure 1.
In addition, control codes can be used to select various paper feed settings, page lengths, underline, subscripts, superscripts, right margin and one-way printing (instead of the normal bidirectional printing).
The printer has three dot-addressable graphics modes. Single density has 480 printable positions on an 8 line, while double density has 960 positions. A mode with 576 print positions produces a true 1:1 dot ratio which enables the Riteman to produce perfect squares, circles, and other geometric figures.
Normal print speed of the Riteman is claimed to be 120 characters per second, or 60 cps with enlarged or condensed characters.
The Riteman uses a 5 X 9 dot matrix for producing characters. This print format means that normal lowercase letters have two-dot descenders and are very readable. For some curious reason, lowercase italics letters use only a one-dot descender and the tops of the g, j, q, p, and y are one not higher than the other lowercase letters (see Figure 1).
The 32 built-in graphics characters use a 6 X 9 dot matrix; thus they butt againat one another when printed on a line. By using a 7/72 vertical line spacing, graphics characters will also butt against one another in a vertical direction.
Various print modes (expanded, condensed, etc.) are selected by means of control codes. In a Basic program such codes can be sent by CHR$ (n). Several of the examples in the printer manual assume a version of Basic that permits hexadecimal numbers in the argument of the CHR$ function, i.e., CHR$ (&H14) for hex 14. Most Basics do not accept this format and require a dedimal argument such as CHR$ (20).
As with so many computers and peripherals today, the documentation is the weak point in an otherwise excellent product. Admittedly, the 80-page manual is better than many, but is a far cry from the outstanding 200-page tutorial manual supplied with Epson printers.
The Riteman manual is excellent in the sections on unpacking and setting up. However, it begins to fall short in the use of control codes. In its favor, we should note that examples are given to demonstrate most of the features. Three short graphics examples are included, but we get no clue how to reproduce a hi-res graphics image from, say, an Apple computer.
The Last Line
We were very impressed with the small size, many features, and admirable performance of the Riteman. Its simplicity of design should result in good reliability. We were disappointed in the documentation which falls short in several areas. However, at the suggested list price of $499 (tractor feeder $40), the Riteman printer is a good value, and should find favor with the executive on the move.
We have also heard that Star Micronics will market this model as the Gemini 10X, and in that incarnation will include redrawn documentation and the ability to handle standard paper sizes.
Although we generally prefer to place our printers on roll-around printer carts that have room on a lower shelf for a full box of paper, this may ot always be convenient. If you do have the room, we particularly like the stands from FineTech (P.O. Box 280, Woodbury, TN 37190), American Innovations (10428 Product Dr., Rockford, IL 61111), and System Furniture (P.O. Box 427, Lafayette, OR 97127).
However, if your printer is sitting on a table or desk, it is a problem knowing what to do with the paper. Do you put it on the floor which tends to lead to dirty and torn paper? Or do you put it on the table behind the printer so the printed output can jam the paper feeding? In this situation, we feel the best solution is to raise the printer a few inches above the surface of the table with either a commercial or home-brew stand.
Typical of the commercial stands is the Standard from Kensington Microware. It is 16 wide X 14 deep X 3 high. A larger size for 132-column printers is 23.5 wide. It is constructed of an attractive smoky acrylic plastic.
With a stand, the paper is stored under the printer, which saves space and protects the paper against dust and dirt. Furthermore, proper paper feed is ensured, eliminating tears and jams. We found it necessary to allow about 0.5 between the paper stack and the top of the stand, particularly with heavier (20#) paper.
Suggested list price of the small Standard is $49.95. The manufacturer is Kensington Microware, 919 Third Ave., New York, NY 10022.
The all-time cheapest home-brew stand for some, but not all printers is made of four short pieces of dowel. Some printers such as the Epson and Riteman have recessed screws on the bottom near the four corners. The holes in the case into which these screws are recessed are usually about 1/4 or 3/8 in diameter.
Get a dowel rod just slightly larger than the holes. Cut four 3 1/2 pieces and sand one end so that it fits tightly into the hole in the printer base. Be sure the printer rests evenly on all four legs. Even when everything is balanced correctly, the printer will tend to "walk' on a table top and you may wish to put rubber or felt feet on the bottom of each dowel.
A much more satisfactory stand for only a little more money can be made from a piece of 1 pine board. You will need a piece of nominal 12 width (actually 11 1/4 ) board two feet in length, two 2 angles, and some screws and nails.
Cut two pieces of board 4 1/2 wide for the side uprights; this will leave a piece 15 long for the top. Attach the top to the sides with finishing nails. Since printers tend to rock from side to side, screw an angle bracket to the top and each side on the inside.
You can spruce up the appearance with a coat of stain and polyurethane finish. Total cost, about $3.00 and a half hour of work.
Photo: Inforunner Riteman printer on the Standard from Kensington Microware.
Photo: Controls on Riteman printer and printhead.
Photo: Figure 1. Character set and print samples from the Riteman printer.
Photo: Figure 2. Printer on el cheapo home-brew dowel stand.
Photo: Figure 3. Printer on stand built from 1' pine.
Products: Inforunner Riteman Printer (computer apparatus)