Dot-matrix printers: the tech that won’t die


Dot-matrix printers: the tech that won’t die

My column in last month’s PC Pro magazine praised a seven-year-old internet radio for being the longest serving piece of technology in my home. This morning, I came across a piece of tech that I suspect was in its awkward teens before my internet radio was even born: a dot-matrix printer.

Said printer was located in a branch of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which already looked like a 1980s tribute act, with its drab grey décor and greased-back salesmen wearing last season’s C&A suits. The whining sound of the dot-matrix printer taking five minutes to fill out the details on one of the company’s carbon-copy forms, makes Enterprise not so much the first port of call for car rentals, but for remakes of Juliet Bravo.

It led me to speculate idly on Twitter that Enterprise must be the last bastion of the dot-matrix, clinging to perforated printouts long after everyone else had upgraded to lasers and inkjets. It seems I couldn’t have been more wrong, with my phone chirping away with replies telling me that they were still in widespread use for printing payslips, receipts and all manner of other business forms.

Why is the dot-matrix still in active service when much faster, quieter and higher-quality options exist? It’s not merely the parsimony of companies not bothering to pay for upgrades. According to our Real World contributing editor Jon Honeyball, it’s because “a surprising number of businesses still need multi-part forms” and laser printers don’t handle them well. The carbon-copy forms, which the Enterprise people also scribble details over, wouldn’t work with contactless inkjet or laser printers either, presumably.

MacFormat editor, Chris Phin, even confessed to hunting down dot-matrix printers on eBay because he loves “the physicality and analogueness”.

Is this some retro-fetishism that completely passes me by? Or would I be the only one happy to never hear the chuntering of a dot-matrix ever again?

(Photo courtesy of Anitakhart under Creative Commons licence)

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