Mac Daniel's Advice

Classic Printing for Classic Macs

Manuel Mejia Jr - 2000.06.15

Q. In this era of laser printers, why use a dot matrix printer?

A. Some weeks back, Chris Lawson made some recommendations for choosing a good printer for use with a classic Mac. I found all of the recommendations involved laser printers of one sort or another. From the list of options, an obvious one was missing - the venerable Apple ImageWriter II dot matrix printer.

Of all of the products that Apple has sold, the one that had the long product run was the ImageWriter II. It was the printer of choice for many Mac users from its introduction in the fall of 1985 until the advent of the inexpensive inkjet printers like the StyleWriter I in 1991.

Although the ImageWriter II is no longer being produced, millions of them were made and are still a common sight in schools. It is not uncommon to see an iMac equipped with ethernet operating next to a classic Mac with an ImageWriter II. Some ImageWriter IIs have been in continuous service for 15 years. These machines were built to last a very long time.

The one item that needs to be replaced periodically is the ribbon. Office supply stores like Office Depot sells two black ribbons or one four-color ribbon for about US$13. While the ImageWriter II ribbons do not last as long as a laser printer cartridge, ribbons are less expensive to obtain. The special "fanfold" paper that is used by the ImageWriter II is also easy to find and inexpensive.

The big advantage the ImageWriter II has over any LaserWriter is the fact that the ImageWriter can print in more than one color. Early version of draw and paint software such as Canvas and SuperPaint are able to use the different colors that the ImageWriter II can print. One can even print color images off a compact, black and white Mac! With a LaserWriter, you are limited to black and shades of gray.

While one could argue that the picture quality offered by a LaserWriter is superior to that of an ImageWriter, most classic Mac users are not doing print jobs that require high quality output. That type of work is usually reserved for an inkjet or laser printer. If a classic Mac user is not in a hurry to get a print job completed, an ImageWriter II is a good option.

There are several sources for a good ImageWriter II. A number of Goodwill stores will have them available. You can also order an ImageWriter II on the Internet. ImageWriter II vendors include Sun Remarketing in Utah and Herb's Used Macs in New Jersey. The ImageWriter II that I use came from Herb's, and I have already run a few thousand pages worth of prints through that machine without any trouble.

Classic Macs need a classic printer to accompany them. I can think of no better printer than the ImageWriter II.

Manuel Mejia Jr is familiar with Mac IIs, LCs, and older PowerBooks. He uses his Mac LC, PowerBook 145B, and PB 100 with System 7.1 on a regular basis and recently added a Mac Plus running System 6 to his collection. He's quite familiar with both System 6 and System 7. He also owns the Pina books on repairing compact Macs from 128k through the SE. You can read more about Manuel's computers in Manuel Mejia Jr's Four Old Macs.

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