When Should I Consider a Dot Matrix Printer?

Dot matrix printers rely on a printhead in which a grid of 9 or 24 pins forms combinations to produce text, box-drawing characters and symbols made up of closely spaced dots. These devices superseded daisy wheel printers and type-ball typewriters as the computerized era entered the modern office, then largely faded from the scene as laser and inkjet printers offered superior output flexibility and thermal devices provided inexpensive point-of-sale support. Dot matrix printers still offer value in some business applications, particularly those that require enduring performance with minimal operator supervision.

Multi-part Forms
Because dot matrix printers use an impact printhead that strikes the paper surface, they provide a time-tested means of generating multi-part forms on paper coated with micro-encapsulated ink on its reverse side, or sandwiched with carbon paper. This one-pass process generates the multiple copies, sometimes as many as 10 or more, required for repair centers, shipping and warehousing and other facilities that distribute paperwork among divisions or departments and require a copy of the signed original for each.

Harsh Environments
Unlike laser and inkjet devices, dot matrix printers can operate in environments with extreme temperatures and dust and produce a constant stream of reliable output for a long period of time. Inkjet inks and laser toner tolerate heat and cold poorly, and dust causes these devices to jam and produce inferior output. Because dot matrix technology relies on a simple printhead design and a durable ribbon that also provides printhead lubrication, it matches well with the needs of remote locations and unheated, un-airconditioned back rooms.

Cost Considerations
The European Computer Manufacturers Association estimates dot matrix printing costs at 10 percent of those for a laser printer. Dot matrix consumable costs enable these printers to offer a thrifty alternative to other output technologies. With hardware lifespans in the four- to seven-year range, dot matrix printers can keep running twice as long as a laser printer. Depending on usage, a single ribbon may last a year. Although you may pay more for a dot matrix printer than for an inexpensive color laser printer, replacement toner cartridges may cost nearly half the purchase price of the hardware that uses them, whereas dot matrix consumables can cost less than typewriter ribbons.

Monochrome Output
When your printing applications don’t require full-color output — or continuous-tone images such as photographs — a dot matrix device can meet your needs. Although some two- or multi-color dot matrix designs have entered the market over the lifespan of the technology, they gained only limited adoption. Because the printhead makes direct contact with the ribbon and the ribbon with the paper, colors tend to become mixed and muddied before the ribbon wears out.


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