Weee Weee Wrrr Wrrr ( Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat )
June 2, 2019 4:54 PM   Subscribe

no joke. I had a C64, and even printing a simple black-and-white image on a a dot matrix black-ink-only printer took an incredibly, meticulously long time. (It was quicker with actual text, but you know, a page every 90 seconds or so.)

I also had a program that would print gibberish, but instead could make the dot matrix printer head produce musical notes. (Same with the floppy disk. Those were fun.)

Anyway, things took a long-ass time back in them days. I do not care to watch this video—the first 15 seconds were painful enough. Thank you for posting it, though!
posted by not_on_display at 5:07 PM on June 2 [9 favorites]

It seems much slower than how I remember printers were back in the day. Is my memory failing me or is this printer slow even by dot-matrix standards? Anyway, here's Eye of the Tiger played by a dot-matrix printer.
posted by Ampersand692 at 5:18 PM on June 2 [10 favorites]

Maybe your memory, I was having flashbacks of a dot matrix printer trying to print a 20 page paper overnight and it overheating. I may be the year of your printer.
posted by zabuni at 5:21 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it's slow because it's doing 4x the number of passes to get colour.

I have an OKI DMP. It's very loud, but sometimes it's the only tool for the job
posted by scruss at 5:39 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]

This is the point in human history we're at. There is no better description of our precise place in the grand scheme of things than "I just watched a thirty year old dot matrix color printer print a hot dog banner while the world burns".
posted by phooky at 5:42 PM on June 2 [20 favorites]

Hah, you kids and your fancy dot-matrix printers. I had a daisy-wheel impact printer for my C-64 that took half an hour to print on side of a letter-size sheet of paper and sounded like a jackhammer. I had to build a styrofoam enclosure for it or my roommates would have killed me.
posted by octothorpe at 5:56 PM on June 2 [12 favorites]

True, although in the ‘80s we were actually printing hot dog banners while only partially aware of how frequently the world was nearly burning
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:14 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]

I remember putting together letter combinations to record our Coleco Adam’s daisy wheel printer for “gunfire sound effects” on our homemade videos. I wanted a color printer badly but we couldn’t afford one.
posted by meinvt at 6:36 PM on June 2 [2 favorites]

I grew up playing with computers in the 1980s but I don't think I ever encountered a color dot-matrix printer. It looks like another LGR video claims the printer is from 1990; at that point, laser printers were becoming more accessible, and inkjets had debuted.

In the 1990s, after dot-matrix printers had been thoroughly eclipsed for civilized office work, I used one to print a resume. On fan-fold, green-bar, tractor-feed paper. In draft mode. My hideous printout definitely stood out. It was a tech job. And I got it.

If this printer strikes you as slow, you may be remembering something more like this.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:00 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]

My work used dot matrix printers until 2006. We had to print retail shelf (price) tags on it almost every night, and a few times a year, we’d need to print literally thousands. It would take like 10 hours. You couldn’t do office work like answer phones with it screeching so we would set it up before leaving at night and pray to the printer gods it didn’t jam, because if you came in the next morning to like 200 tags instead of the 3,000 you were expecting, well... you’d have to send all your tag-hanging employees home and try again the next day. It was a labor-planning nightmare.

We used the Oki-Data Turbo. Soon after we got rid of ours, I was in a hotel and I noticed they used a dot matrix. I commiserated with the concierge about the printer blues. When I said, “Yeah, I had to use the Oki-Data Turbo for years.” His face completely fell and he said, “I would LOVE a Turbo!”

I should have told him the truth. The turbo was a lie.
posted by greermahoney at 7:06 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]

> "I just watched a thirty year old dot matrix color printer print a hot dog banner while the world burns".

yeah but the video was 4K 60 fps.
posted by glonous keming at 8:44 PM on June 2 [4 favorites]

Now I want to see that rendered by aalib and fed back frame by frame into the printer being filmed.
posted by flabdablet at 8:56 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]

Dot matrix printers remain in use in many businesses to this day. Carbon paper forms are still the best tool for some jobs, or at least are worth maintaining relative to the cost of new software and a laser printer that can take a MICR cartridge.

Line printers were always better for spreadsheets and the like, but good dot matrix printers are still faster for non-graphics mode print jobs than many low end laser printers and have been affordable since the 80s. It was only recently that decently fast laser printers got cheap, and there are still times I think fan fold paper would make life easier when there isn't a singing and dancing copy machine/printer that can do stapling and/or binding at hand.

This particular print job is terribly slow because it's in color, in graphics mode, and set for highest quality, so it's doing two passes per dot rather than just one.

I spent my childhood enjoying a wide format dot matrix printer. I may have been the only child entertained by printing spreadsheets on the green and white stuff and seeing how the different modes affected speed and quality.
posted by wierdo at 8:59 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]

Our first printer was a cheapo Gorilla Banana 7 pin (seven?!?) that would have to make two passes for every line of text. So noisy yet comforting to have.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:12 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]

Also, suggested videos led me to this one of a guy making a bunch of 3d printed helical gear meshing cups that spin together on little printed platforms.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:24 PM on June 2

I use a dot matrix printer weekly, because it’s hooked up to our scintillation counter at work that I use for surveying the auxiliary room to make sure no one’s gotten radioactive material all over the place. I really need to figure out how to get MS Print Shop and make some banners sometime.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:28 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]

One of the nice things about 80s dot matrix printers was the fact that the control codes you had to send to them to make them print in various modes were all documented in detail by the manufacturers.

I had an Epson MX-100 printer attached to my Apple II+, and being able to drive it directly let me write a little program that used it as the display device for rectangular mazes at a size that the Apple had no hope of rendering as on-screen graphics. The maze program itself fitted into less than 256 bytes IIRC and represented each maze room as two bits, one to say whether the north wall was present and one for the east wall. Packing four rooms per byte let my 48K Apple generate mazes that slowly but completely filled ten pages of 15" greenbar with teensy little maze cells in graphics mode.
posted by flabdablet at 9:48 PM on June 2 [5 favorites]

while only partially aware of how frequently the world was nearly burning

We didn’t start the fire...
posted by amanda at 9:51 PM on June 2 [1 favorite]

I remember page printing systems that could print as fast as fan-fold paper could move. Those things were beasts. I mean, the paper was still warm when you got it off the printer.

I assume similar things still exist today for specialized purposes, e.g. mass mailings, but I suspect that two things in modern technology have made it less relevant:

- interactive terminals: not needing to wait until your batch job returned a printout to iterate your development process. (Yeah, I am that old.)

- email and other direct-marketing systems that made mass-mailing less attractive.

Still, these machines were a wonder to behold. They could move a box of paper through the printer so fast that you needed a small team to feed it and to deal with the output.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:17 PM on June 2 [3 favorites]

there are still times I think fan fold paper would make life easier

As a college student, it was nice to be able to hook up however much was left of the fuck-you big box of fanfold (2500 sheets? more?) just once at the beginning of the year and that's paper sorted for the school year.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:02 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]

there are still times I think fan fold paper would make life easier
I worked on printers most of my life, and I sometimes said, "if God had wanted man to print on paper, He would have made little holes on the sides of the paper."
(Sorry- these days I would use gender-neutral pronouns)

I remember page printing systems that could print as fast as fan-fold paper could move
I'm not sure this was ever true. The first laser printer did 120 ppm, which was pretty impressive, but the first commercially available laser printer (IBM 3800-fanfold) did 216 ppm in the same size paper. I've been away from that stuff for a while, but last I was working on them, Xerox was up to 145 ppm, while the IBM 4000 was doing I think around 600 ppm (actually 2 4000's running duplex, 2-up).
... and then, you factor in the time to clear jams, which happen about 10x more often in cut-sheet printers.

Dot matrix printers remain in use in many businesses to this day.
Toward the end of my career, almost the only places I saw dot-matrix printers were in distributors and shipping companies, where multi-part forms were needed. I was also seeing dot matrix printers being replaced by shuttle-matrix printers like the 6400.
posted by MtDewd at 4:44 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]

Oh, and the video (which I did not watch in its entirety)- I don't recall color dot-matrix printers, although I have a sense that I might have.
That speed, though, reminds me of the first dot-matrix printer I was trained on (in 1973), which was uni-directional. And text-only.
posted by MtDewd at 4:55 AM on June 3

Back in the late 70s/early 80s I would sometimes visit UC Irvine and hang out in the computer lab with the geeks while Mom was in nursing school classes. There I was encouraged to play games. This was before they had CRTs hooked up to their mainframes and "mini" computers (small because they were the size of washing machines instead of rooms). So naturally I played games on a terminal where output was printed to the dot matrix printer in front of the keyboard.

I remember playing trek. The one with the grid of sectors that was more in common with Zork than with, eg rogue or hack or mtrek that I would play in the late 80s in computer labs in UCSC in college myself.

(Although to be fair, back then if you wanted speed and quality for text output, you would go daisy wheel instead of dot matrix. And if you wanted tight, professional looking illustrations, a multi pen plotter was the way to go.)
posted by kalessin at 5:14 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

jams, which happen about 10x more often in cut-sheet printers

Personally I'm astonished by the fact that they don't occur on every single sheet. Paper handling inside a modern high-throughput laser printer is unadulterated occult magicks.
posted by flabdablet at 5:25 AM on June 3 [4 favorites]

I remember running a program on my work's system that printed out a Christmas tree whilst playing Away in a Manger on the print heads.
Such things were quite common in the 70's
posted by Burn_IT at 5:35 AM on June 3 [3 favorites]

Very evocatively titled!

My 1980 dot matrix printer could not make descenders, so lowercase g, j, p, q, and y would get their baselines scooted up to fit inside the matrix grid. My teachers would grudgingly accept papers printed on it, but levy a 10pt inconvenience fee.
posted by apparently at 6:12 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

I love LGR, and this video is peak LGR. When I was in 7th grade, we got a 9-pin color dot matrix printer. New to us, it was surplused from stepdad's work. I think it was a Star-Micronics? It had that huge 4-color ribbon and took forever to print a color image at 360dpi. It ran well in DOS, there were drivers available for WP5.1, and it later ran under Win 3.1 as well. I remember being super disappointed by the color performance in Windows, though; the way Win3.1 did "sorta" colors when at lower color depth, that sort of cross-hatching with super obvious patterns, ugh. It just looked so half-assed. I also remember the junior engineer in me thinking "Wow, they really should have optimized the color driver better, because the yellow part of the ribbon keeps getting smudged up with darker colors."

We also had a dot-matrix printer for the C64, and it was either the printer or the C64's data buffer was so small, that in graphics mode, the printer would print like a fourth of a row, the head would home, it would silently travel to where it left off and print the next fourth, home again, and so on until it finished the line. A page in graphics mode took YEARS.
posted by xedrik at 6:50 AM on June 3 [1 favorite]

This all reminds me of the time back in the dark depths of the early 90s when I did my very first English 101 paper on the clunky old electric typewriter I owned at the time.

I went out and bought my first computer and dot matrix printer the very next day.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:52 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]

I still remember when my father brought home an HP Inkjet printer, the first model I believe. It seemed so fast, even taking into account the endless unclogging of the cartridges.
posted by davejay at 8:27 AM on June 3

Back when I was in college in the 80s we weaponized a daisy wheel printer in the TA room. If someone was giving you a hard time and made the mistake of trying to work in there you could just whip up about six years of ASCII calendars and queue them to the loudest printer on the planet located in a concrete room three floors below the earth. It wasn't just obnoxiously loud, but slow AND pretty useless if you chose your dates with care.
posted by Cris E at 8:35 AM on June 3 [2 favorites]

I used to love the crisp, loud noises the daisy wheels would make, compared to the dot matrix models which sounded kind of grumbly/growly to me.
posted by kalessin at 9:17 AM on June 3

 the crisp, loud noises the daisy wheels would make

ms scruss wrote her PhD thesis on an Amstrad PCW 9512: an 8-bit computer with an attached daisywheel. So. Loud.

I had an IBM Wheelwriter 10 Series II typewriter/daisywheel printer quite recently, and I'm kicking myself for giving it away. Not merely did it have a real IBM clicky keyboard, but it had a parallel port to make it a printer and what looked like an almost complete IBM PC motherboard to do the clever stuff. Massive retro nerd cred, but you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

 control codes you had to send to them to make them print in various modes were all documented in detail by the manufacturers

If you wish to geek out to printer control without making noise, taking up ungodly amounts of space or spending too much money, may I recommend one of the many cheap USB thermal receipt printers for fun? They speak a subset of ESC/POS, Epson's point-of-sale print language that's quite close to the old DMP codes. Even the smaller ones do 384 dots across a 48 mm print width, and some of the more clever ones do sticker media too.
posted by scruss at 2:17 PM on June 3

FWIW I've serviced 2 different new car dealership in the last two years and each still had a dot matrix that they used to do the "financials" on.
posted by glonous keming at 4:06 PM on June 3

This does seem much slower than the dot matrix printers I remember from my 8-bit Atari days (Epson MX-80 represent), but it seems to be printing in multiple colors and at super fine resolution, so that may be expected.

I <3 that the closed captioning is just 40 minutes of "[dot matrix printer sounds]"
posted by hanov3r at 4:15 PM on June 3 [1 favorite]

One of the nice things about 80s dot matrix printers was the fact that the control codes you had to send to them to make them print in various modes were all documented in detail by the manufacturers.

OMG. You just gave me CHR$ flashbacks. When you'd just send ascii text (I assume, or something like it) to the printer and if you wanted to control the font size or print a few words in italics you had to manually insert a font code at the right place in your text and print the whole page (or the whole document) all over again if you got the wrong code or forgot to put in the code to end italics. And of course your computer had no idea what the font codes meant; you had to look them up in the printer manual and all the fonts and the code for controlling them were stored on the printer itself.

Yep, kids. Imagine trying to fiddle around with fonts for your document but you have to wait for a printer maybe only twice the speed of this one to print a whole page before you can actually see what it looks like.
posted by straight at 5:29 PM on June 3

the time back in the dark depths of the early 90s when I did my very first English 101 paper on the clunky old electric typewriter I owned at the time

My late mother's first electric typewriter had a 20x1 character side-scrolling LCD display just above the keyboard, and a mode that would let you enter and correct a whole line of text before committing it to the daisywheel by hitting Enter. She loved it.

It was some odd brand I'd never seen before and haven't heard of since (most likely built around a Towa mechanism) but it also had a parallel port on the side, and it came with a manual that documented a set of control codes you could use for low-level direct control of the print mechanism. For each character you had to specify not an ASCII code but the actual daisywheel index number, an impact strength for the daisywheel hammer, and the horizontal position in 1/120" steps at which to perform the hammer strike. There were also codes for controlling vertical paper movement.

I wrote an Apple II+ driver based on those codes and got it working as an output device for the Zardax what-you-see-is-what-you-mean word processor. It worked really well, better than any of the normal ASCII-mode daisywheel printers I'd seen at the time because my driver properly supported variable-width spaces to achieve full justification rather than inserting extra whole spaces as all the ASCII-based printers of the day had to do, plus it could do boldface by printing the same character twice with a 1/120" offset between the two strikes.

Mum never really took a shine to Zardax, mainly because ceding any control over how her pages were laid out was frustrating for her; needing to type a whole page into a computer before seeing any of it on the paper was just not her thing. The one-line correction buffer built into the typewriter was way better than Liquid Paper, and that was enough.
posted by flabdablet at 8:45 PM on June 3 [2 favorites]

One of the nice things about 80s dot matrix printers was the fact that the control codes you had to send to them to make them print in various modes were all documented in detail by the manufacturers.

Not just dot matrix printers! As late as, say, the LaserJet 4 in the early 90s, HP still included printer control codes in their laser printer manuals. At my very first actual real-world job, I wrote a small program (in Turbo Pascal 6, no less--I am old) for the accounting department. It sent the right codes to their printer to spit out daily reports in the tiny-font landscape mode they wanted but couldn't get from any of their applications for some reason.

(That program was also where I had my first experience of optimization, and one of my proudest. The accountants complained the program was taking too long, so I ran it through a profiler. The way I first wrote it, it would give you a running count--something like:
Now printing EXPENSES.TXT...2576 of 5382 characters printed
...as it turns out, the program was spending around 90% of its running time figuring out where the cursor was so it could jump back and write "2577 of", etc. So I replaced the running count with a simple blinking character to show the program was actually doing something, and the whole thing ran in less than a third of the time it had taken before. Go, me.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:13 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]

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