Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 5 NO. 2 / OCTOBER 1990



Epson Emulation for the Atari Laser Printer


Laserbrain version 1.31
Epson emulator
SLM804 laser printer


Like it or not, Epson is the standard for every printer on the market today. In fact, printer manufacturers go out of their way to offer full compatibility with the Epson command set.

Until now, the lack of Epson compatibility has been considered the major shortcoming of the Atari SLM804 laser printer. While most of the higher quality packages available for the ST include dedicated SLM drivers, the majority of the "bread and butter" applications--such as WordWriter--do not. With the release of Laserbrain version 1.31, the SLM offers complete Epson FX compatibility.

To access Laserbrain, double-click on archive file, LAZBRAIN.PRG and choose Extract when the dialog box appears. Select a destination disk and the files will be un-ARCed directly onto that disk. Laserbrain itself is in the file LASER_E.ACC; the fonts are found in ELITE.DRF. The other 12 files are support files.

What It Is

Developed by Germany's Design Marketing Communications (creators of Calamus), Laserbrain is a software-based Epson FX printer emulator for the Atari SLM804 laser printer. It installs as a desk accessory for emulation of the Epson 9-pin ASCII and graphics command sets. While Laserbrain's graphics resolution is limited to that of the 9-pin Epson printer, its solid black output produces a much sharper image than is possible on a dot-matrix printer. Best of all, Laserbrain produces true 300-DPI ASCII text.

Laserbrain is free to the end user, but remains the property of Atari Corp. Since Laserbrain is not a product of Atari U.S., technical support is limited.

In actual operation Laserbrain works much like the Diablo emulator already available for the laser. It installs between the computer and the parallel output port and redirects any system commands from that port to a special buffer. When the final print command is issued, Laserbrain translates the data from Epson command codes into something the SLM can understand.

Trouble-shooting is a cinch: When an error occurs with the printer, Laserbrain presents a dialog box that states the problem and tells you what to do about it.

Laserbrain was designed for monochrome systems. It will install in a color system, but you can't access its control panel and legible screen dumps are virtually impossible. However, if your software's printer driver bypasses the screendump routine there should be no problem running Laserbrain in medium resolution.

Laserbrain's memory requirements are high. While it will install in systems as small as 512K, 2MB is the practical lower limit for anything but simple ASCII printing. A hard drive is suggested.

What about printer drivers? Laserbrain was actually designed as an IBM printer emulator, which also happens to be a subset of the Epson command set. As a result, you can probably use any standard IBM or Epson FX printer driver. Look around on-line services for printer drivers. The Epson 1st Word and WordWriter ST printer drivers can be easily modified to take advantage of Laserbrain. WordPerfect released a custom Laserbrain driver in their last update.

Once installed, Laserbrain is invisible to whatever application you run. Basically, it's there to tell your system that it's talking to an Epson printer.

Open Your Manual to Page 1

Laserbrain's manual is in LASER_E.TXT on your START disk. Print this 38-page document before you do anything else; it gives specific details on how to install and use Laserbrain and should answer most of your questions. In addition to a simple tutorial, the manual provides a breakdown of the various commands available within the program. With these commands, it's possible to customize almost any printer driver. You can even create one that lets you access higher resolutions than an Epson FX normally can.

The manual tends to be misleading as to the size buffer you should set for Laserbrain. Generally speaking, ASCII printing can be done with a 520ST and a 60 to 100K buffer available after your fonts are loaded. Graphics or graphic-based fonts, on the other hand, require from 600K to 1MB. With a little experimentation you'll find the buffer size best suited to your needs. On my Mega4 I reserve 1.5MB of buffer space. This leaves enough room for a fairly large font file and still permits unrestricted graphics printing.

As good as it is, Laserbrain isn't perfect. ST Writer presets its printed output into subscript and will require a printer driver customized for Laserbrain. WordPerfect's Epson driver also has a problem with Laserbrain, but their custom driver reportedly works just fine. With 1st Word and WordWriter you'll need to cut two lines from your document's size to use headers and footers. If you don't do this, these elements will get confused and the page breaks will spread all over the place. You'll also have to tweak their printer drivers a little to access italics and other custom font styles. Migraph's Label Master Elite also works but interprets the label form feed as a full-page form feed and prints only a single address on each page.

The Bottom Line

If you already have an SLM804, or are considering buying one, Laserbrain is a must have. With Diablo, Postscript and now Epson emulation modes available, the SLM804 can go one-on-one with almost any laser printer on the market today. Keep in mind that even with Laserbrain's flexibility, the SLM804's memory requirements remain a problem for systems with less than 2MB of RAM.

Gregg Anderson is a member of the Air Force with a background in electronics repair. He is a former contributing writer for ST-Log.

Laserbrain makes the SLM804 compatible with any Epson-compatible software. Following is a partial list of that software:

1st Word
1st Word Plus
Award Maker
Certificate Maker
Data Manager ST
Easy Draw
Fast Tech's
  accelerator board
Manual Maker
Poster Plus
PrintMaster Plus (needs
    a 1.5MB buffer)
Sticker III
TOS (through 1.4)
Universal Item Selector III
WordWriter ST

-- Gregg Anderson