Understanding dot matrix printers

When it comes to printers, an interesting history can be told about how they came to be. In this history we find that there are some printer types which are still being used today although they can easily be regarded as old school. In this article we take a look at the Dot Matrix Printer and try to understand why it is still being used today. Check detailed review of the best dot matrix printer.

 Definition of a Dot Matrix printer

The term dot matrix referees to the use of dots to form an image where the quality of the image is determined by the number of dots per given inch. Dot matrix printers are such printing equipment which uses print heads thatuse dots to form text or images. Their mechanism is such that the print head shoots ink or strikes an ink ribbon to place hundreds or even thousands of dots on to a paper forming text and/or images.

Today, these printers are utilised far less than they used to be and this is largely because of their low quality images and their slow speed.

History of Dot Matrix Printers

The history of the dot matrix printer dates way back in 1957 when the concept was introduced by IBM. The first printer was then created in 1970 by Centronics. In the same year, a company called Digital Equipment Corporation introduced the printer model LA30 which was priced for its ability to print 30 characters per second although it had its set of draw backs.

Early models of the dot matrix printer had some technical problems which included unpredictable paper feed and very poor quality of printouts. Due to the lack paper feed predictability, papers printed from this printer usually had a lot of alignment errors.

Noise was also a major problem for this printer and could not be efficiently used in an office setting.

In 1979, the Epson MX80 was introduced and this altered the popularity of this printer. The MX80 was priced for compact and versatile design which made it popular among users of printers. The Epson model featured a refined metal rode which was used to strike papers with reduced noise among other things.

Features of a Dot Matrix Printer

The dot matrix printer does not have many special features instead of a print head with pins and an ink ribbon.


Dot matrix printers do serve different purposes although most models are designed to be able to handle large quantities of print work. Dot matrix printers can print an awfully huge amount of papers and still give you little to no paper jamming problems.

Dot matrix printers being an impact printer which exerts mechanical pressure on to a paper while printing is mainly used to print low quality documents. You will find these printers being used in Banks, retail outlets,ATMs and they work well to print such things as receipts, balance sheets and utility statements.

How a Dot Matrix Printer works

Dot matrix printers have moving heads with pins which are used to print anything in a line by line fashion. These heads punch holes through the ink ribbon and go on to leave the ink mark on the paper, which is the final print out.

This printer is not restricted to a pre-set template which makes the yield the ability to print intricate symbols thus producing different fonts in different sections of the paper.

In a more technical manner, the printer uses what are known as ASCII codes and these are sent from the computer to the printer where they are stored in the RAM buffer. In this ROM chip, the printer will convert the ASCII code into bitmap image which is then sent to the printer head.

The printer head contains pins which can either be 9, 18 or 24 and these are vertically aligned with each pin connected through a spring to an individual electromagnet.

When printing the bitmap image, the pin containing electromagnet is charged and the respective pins move forwards and back to strike the ribbon coated with ink thus leaving ink marks on the paper.

Advantages of Dot Matrix Printers

Dot matrix printers are quite advantageous in that they are affordable when comparing with other printers. The cost of maintain this printer is relatively low seeing that it features very few components which might need replacement. The ink ribbon can be used for years without needing replacement.  This could explain why they are still being used today.

Use for carbon copies

This printer gives you the opportunity to make printed carbon copies. Since dot matrix printers are impact printers, making a printed carbon copy is fairly easy when you compare with modern day printers.

Low Printing Costs

Unlike other types of printers where you have to either replace the ink or cartridge, the dot matrix printerproves to be easy and cost effective to do this. The ink ribbon of this printer is easily available and fetches a very low cost. Better still, this ribbon lasts longer.

Long lifespan

This printer is also very robust. This means it will last for many years printing papers without requiring any replacements.


The dot matrix printer is virtually useable in different environments like industrial establishments as well as office set ups.

Ample time to replace ink

Unlike other printers, the dot matrix printer will not become empty all of a sudden. Instead, the ink will begin to fade long before the ribbon Is fully exhausted and this will give you ample time to replace it.


Low quality

The dot matrixprinter is well suited for printing documents of low quality. In as much as you can produce colour print outs, thesewill often be of a low quality and as a result, the dot matrix printer becomes unsuitable for many other kinds of print work.


The printer is generally noisy if one is to use it to print a lot of papers. This makes this printer rather useful in selected office setups.

The types of dot matrix printers

The types of dot matrix printers are categorised following their printing direction, the number of pins/dots per letter, the movement of the print head and the print colour.

Printing Directions

This category features two types of printers where one is unidirectional and the other one is bidirectional. The unidirectional printer uses one direction in printing and this is usually from left to right. Whereas, the bidirectional printer makes use of both directions, that is from left to right and from right to left.

The number of pins/dots per letter

A printer head can either have 9, 18 or 24 pins and this speak the overall quality of print outs. The number of pins are arrange on an per inch basis hence the more they are per means the better quality you will have and the reverse is equally true.

The movement of the print head

This speaks to how many columns a print had will move. Some printers are able to move 80 columns while another printer can move to about 132 columns.

Print colour

Printers are then categorised as either a monochrome or a colour printer. A monochrome printer will only print one colour whereas a colour printer will print at most 4 colours, that is Red, Green, Blue and Black.

Popular brands

Popular brands you will find in the Dot Matrix Printer industry are mainly Epson, Oki and Tally Dascom.


Surely the dot matrix printer has a long history and can be listed as one of the pioneering gadgets in the printing industry. Today, few models are being made but most printers follow the mechanism of the dot matrix printer to produce fascinating print outs.