Epsonow Magazine

Page 30 - Dots: Hard yakka, hard copy

Almost wherever you find a computer today, a laser or inkjet printer is close by. Printing photos, reports, posters, letters; pretty well anything. Without doubt, lasers and inkjets are incredibly versatile, yet the impact they have made on the world lacks one thing; and it's precisely that.impact!

It remains with the ever reliable Serial Impact Dot Matrix (SIDM) printer to take up from where its inkjet and laser cousins leave off. After all, printing seven copies of an invoice with a laser printer calls for seven separate pages to be printed. With the dot matrix, its ability to handle carbon forms of up to seven pages - one original and six carbons means this is achieved in a single "page".

But the multi-form capability of the dot matrix printer is only one reason why this hard copy stalwart remains so popular. It has actually taken the massive growth in laser and inkjet numbers to finally allow the dot matrix to focus on doing what it's best at.hard yakka.

The Hard Yakka

While there have always been people who predict the dot matrix printer's demise, dot matrix shipment figures right across the world relegate such predictions to the realm of fantasy. In absolute reality, the dot matrix is set to play an important role in the world of IT for several decades.

For those who are uninitiated into the world of the dot matrix printer, appre-ciating its continued success calls for a short overview of its unique features.

  • Inexpensive letter quality dot matrix printers, suitable for reports, letters and invoices are relatively inexpensive. Using the Epson LQ-2180 as an example, the cost per page for a letter quality document is around half of one cent. This, in comparison to an average cost of around 3-5 cents for a typical laser printer.
  • Unattended Printing with its ability to manage continuous-feed (fanfold) paper, the dot matrix printer far surpasses the typical inkjet or laser paper holding capacity of between 100 and 500. Feed in the first page of a 2,500 sheet box of fanfold paper and the dot matrix will just keep on going. This means that even an inexpensive dot matrix printer can process enormous batch jobs overnight without requiring constant attention. Added to this the fact that the printer isn't going to stop when ink cartridges or toner cartridges are empty. The worst that will happen is that the typeface becomes lighter - and that's only on the original if you're printing multi-part stationery.
  • Speed in high speed draft mode, Epson's LQ-2180 is capable of printing 480 characters per second (cps) at 10 characters per inch (cpi). This equates to over three pages per minute, which, during an unattended printing session of eight hours, would generate over 1,400 pages. If the documents were printed on seven-part stationery, the session would result in 9,800 pages - and this from a printer with a street price of around $1,729.
  • Incredible Robustness Dot matrix printers will stand up to truly adverse conditions such as dusty, hot, cold or jolting without modification. With many dot matrix printers, the mean time between failure is rated at up to 15,000 operating hours. Even if the printer was generating only two pages per minute, that represents 1.8 million pages!
  • Power Impact Dot matrix printers can process sets of continuous feed forms with one original and six copies without difficulty.
  • Simple Paper Management Various paper paths make paper management easy and guarantee universal deployment. The combination of single sheet and continuous feed paper processing controlled by software and the push-pull tractor combinations ensure a high level of automation even with large volume printing using different media.
  • Network Compatible Because of the open interface concept, Epson dot matrix printers can be integrated into virtually any IT environment. As well as serial and parallel ports, there are other choices, such as 10/100 Base TX, Coax, Twinax, Current Loop and Local Talk.
  • Low Noise due to the hammer and chisel principle, dot matrix printers are by nature no pussyfooters. The use of ultra-modern insulation materials and all-round covering, means that modern dot matrix printers are much quieter than their predecessors.

So What Did Epson Contribute?

Epson's contribution to the dot matrix printer goes back to the Tokyo Olympic Games of 1964 where Seikosha Co. Ltd (Seiko) was the official timekeeper. To produce hard copy listings of event times, the manufacturer of precision watches developed a miniature dot matrix printer: the "Electronic Printer" (EP).

This small printer caused such a sensation that it went into series production in 1968 as the EP-101. Its success was so great that it is often referred to as the "father" of all dot matrix printers. Even the Epson name is derived from the printer. Son of Electronic Printer - Epson.

Ironically, the incredible hardiness of the dot matrix printer was evidenced in a recent service call to Epson Australia - Epsonow Magazine Volume 1. The customer was looking to get a printer repaired. The printer? An EP-101. It took decades of service before the printer "went down".

Another prominent contribution of Epson's to the dot matrix market is the language these printers understand - ESC/P, the abbreviation for Epson Standard Code for Printers. Essentially a system of commands, ESC/P provides a means by which almost total control over every feature of the dot matrix printer can be controlled via software.

It's ease of implementation within software made ESC/P the industry standard and is still emulated by all dot matrix printers.

Dots for Small Business

Like many small business' principals, Medifix's Vince Napoli is the sole IT resource within his company. From network design and user support through to purchasing new PCs and printers, it all rests with him; and as far as he's concerned dot matrix printers will continue to play an important role in the business of Medifix.

In early 1999 Mr Napoli purchased an Epson LQ-2180 to replace an old Epson A4-sized dot matrix printer that he'd been using for several years. "The only reason I bought a new printer was to accommodate paper sizes larger than the A4 sizes we'd been using previously," he said. "If it wasn't for that, the old model would still be here and working without any problem at all."

Even though the Medifix IT infrastructure features two laser printers and an Epson inkjet, the need to print three-part invoices and statements on a daily basis is a job that's best left to the dot matrix. "While we've considered printing invoices on laser printers, it's so much simpler and more professional looking to use pre-printed three-part stationery," Mr Napoli.

"From a maintenance perspective, it really is a case of 'nothing required. The LQ-2180 is used every day without fail and in the two years I've had the printer there has never been a single paper jam or misfeed.

"Added to that, I've never even had to replace the ribbon. While the original copy certainly isn't as dark as with a new ribbon, it's still showing no signs of any substantial fading.

"The only time anyone goes near the printer is to take the print job or change the paper, which is only about once every three months.

"The big thing about dot matrix is that it's there! It doesn't need constant attention and it's a total workhorse."