The Star NX-1000 Rainbow is the first affordable and practical graphics-capable dot-matrix color printer. First there was the Epson JX-80 dot-matrix, which cost about five times more than the Rainbow. Then there were the more affordable Okidata thermal-transfer color printers, which used very expensive ribbons, were extremely slow, did not work with many popular printing programs and did not do a very good job of printing normal all-text pages. The NX-1000 Rainbow provides all the practicality of a standard dot-matrix printer plus the beauty of vivid color--all at a reasonable price.
Except for color printing, the Rainbow is nearly identical to the standard NX-1000 printer reviewed by Gregg Pearlman in the October 1988 Antic. The Rainbow also has several type-styles and fonts, all selectable via multiple panel-button presses --including draft and near letter-quality Courier, two Orators and Sanserif.
Unfortunately, color selection was not added to the panel for the Rainbow. Most software does not directly support color printing, this would have been a very convenient enhancement. The Rainbow is completely Epson JX-80 compatible, and for Atari ST users a DEGAS printer-driver called JX80. PRT is already available on CompuServe's SIG-Atari.
Atari 8-bit owners can print color graphics on the NX-1000 Rainbow or the JX-80 with YEMACYB/4 software ($29.95) by Electronical Software, P.O. Box 8035, Rochester, MI48063. This color screen dump utility is capable of printing your favorite Micro Illustrator formatted pictures in full color. Naturally, the 8-bit needs a printer interface such as ICD's P:R: Connection to work with the NX-1000.
The Rainbow has a rear tractor feed mechanism, giving it the ability to perform a reverse form feed. I'm willing to put up with the nuisance of a rear tractor feed (it's difficult to get to and load paper properly) for this added feature, which greatly simplifies color separation printing.
Using Publishing Partner Professional software, the Atari ST can print images in color separation style, each color requiring a separate pass through the printer, followed by a reverse form feed. The entire page is printed first in magenta, then cyan, yellow and black. The original YEMACYB program (Reviewed in the July 1987 Antic, also available for $29.95 from Electronical Software.) supports multi-color printing like this on single-color printers, prompting you to change the color of the ribbon between each pass. With the NX-1000 Rainbow and YEMACYB/4, you get faster and more convenient one-pass color printing.
I was able to find some classic DEGAS pictures and print them on the NX-1000 Rainbow. Since I have been playing with Lightspeed C on the 8-bit Atari growing Mandelbrot set fractals (Antic, November 1988), I had a lot of fun dumping color fractals to the Rainbow as well. The Rainbow does a very good job, much better than the Okidata thermal-transfer printers. And pictures are much less expensive to generate, thanks to the Rainbow's multi-pass fabric ribbon.
The ribbon has four color bands: black, cyan (blue), magenta and yellow. It seemed to wear out rather quickly. Many of the newer printers using cartridge ribbons have small reinking rollers built in, but the multiple color bands of the Rainbow's ribbons make such re-inking impossible. NX-1000 color ribbons cost about $11 each and the black-only ribbons run approximately $6.
Colored text is quite simple to access from any word processor. Color and font commands are sent to the printer by placing the letter C for color, or F for font selection, within a pair of double parentheses followed by a single ASCII digit indicating the font or color selected. ((C))1 would tell the Rainbow to print RED text. ((F))0 would select the near letter quality Courier font.
The only drawback with these five-character command codes is that your word processor treats those characters as text, but the printer gobbles them up as a command. This may cause some margin problems in your text, but you can work around this by keeping color and font commands on lines separate from the main body of the text. Colors such as green are created by the printer in two passes, first in yellow and then reprinting the line in cyan. When NLQ printing is enabled, all text is printed twice to get the higher resolution. If you have a rather tired ribbon, you may wish to enable double-strike printing for a darker output. Printing green, NLQ, double-strike text on the NX-1000 Rainbow will require six passes of the printhead per line of text! The output is beautiful, but slow.
I have found that you can select a single color, say green or red, from a simple BASIC program and then run the Hi Tech Expressions 8-bit programs Print Power or Sesame Street Print Kit. All your cards and posters will print in that chosen color.
Other features of the NX-1000 Rainbow include some niceties like a power switch at the front, where it belongs. The printer connector and power cord are on opposite sides of the printer, not hanging off the rear where they can obstruct the paper path. Print and graphics quality of both black and color are very acceptable.
The rear tractor feed also provides for a feature called Paper Park. The Rainbow will reverse feed the paper, extracting it completely from the platen. Changing from tractor to friction feed, you can insert single sheet paper from above the printer. When done, simply return to tractor feed and press the panel buttons for a form feed. The Rainbow will automatically reload your paper. Unfortunately, the printer does not find the precise top of form upon reload, requiring manual adjustment.
The NX-1000 Rainbow has added a whole new dimension to my personal computing.
$379. Star Micronics Inc., 200 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10166. (212) .986-6770.