My, how you’ve changed: how HP inkjets have grown up in 30 years

It’s 30 years since HP launched the world’s first mass-market inkjet, the HP Thinkjet, in 1984. Optimising the nascent thermal inkjet technology, HP revolutionised the printer industry, paving the way for the demise of the noisy, inefficient dot-matrix printer and the rise of quiet desktop printers; not to mention affordable, full-colour, photo-quality printing in the home. 

My, how you’ve changed: how HP inkjets have grown up in 30 years


In that time, neither HP’s inkjet printers nor inkjet technology have stood still, and today’s models are almost unrecognisable from their early ancestors. Yet look at today’s inkjet printers and you can still find the same desire to innovate and do things better. 

In those 30 years, we’ve seen progress in every area: print quality, resolution, colour reproduction, design, inks technology, features, connectivity and speed. We could go on. These advancements ensure that today’s printers print pages of a quality and at a speed that would have seemed beyond belief in 1984.


The original 1984 Thinkjet (pictured below) printed at a speed of just one page per minute – fast by the standards of dot matrix printers, but not by those of HP’s ground-breaking LaserJet printers. Even by 1993 the HP Deskjet 1200C was only reaching speeds of 6ppm in black and white, or less than 1ppm in colour, with 1995’s Deskjet 1600C the first to go above 8ppm.


By the turn of the century, however, speeds were picking up. 1999’s Deskjet 970C could print at 12ppm in black and white and 10ppm in colour, while the following year’s Deskjet 990C increased that to 17ppm and 13ppm. By 2005, the HP Deskjet 6980 could print monochrome pages at 36ppm and colour pages at 27ppm; a four-fold improvement on the inkjets of ten years before.

These days that’s nothing. Using HP’s PageWide technology, where a 42,000 nozzle print-head stretches across the whole width of the page, printers in the HP Officejet Pro X range can reach monochrome and colour speeds of up to 70ppm, outpacing even the fastest laser printers. How’s that for progress?


The 1984 Thinkjet had a 300dpi resolution, matching the resolution of contemporary laser printers, if not their text quality. By 1993, though, the Deskjet 1200C was producing black and white pages at 600 x 300dpi, using HP’s innovative Resolution Enhancement Technology, REt, to get closer to laser quality text and graphics.

Successive models featured more advanced versions of REt, before the Deskjet made the leap to 1,200dpi with 1999’s Deskjet 970C, which used PhotoREt III to hit an optimised 2,400 x 1,200dpi. Today’s Deskjet, Officejet and Photosmart printers offer native resolutions of up to 2,400 x 1,200 dpi: 32 times that of the early Thinkjet and Deskjet printers.


The first mainstream colour inkjet, 1991’s Deskjet 500C, made do with one three-colour cartridge, mixing cyan, magenta and yellow inks together to make a murky green process black. The next year’s Deskjet 550C put that right, adding a dedicated black cartridge to create punchy, full-colour pages that brought business graphics to life.

1996 heralded a revolution in photo printing with the Deskjet 690C. This incorporated an optional photo cartridge, replacing the black cartridge with one that dispensed lighter cyan and magenta inks. Combined with HP’s PhotoREt and ColourSmart technology, lifelike photos could be produced from a desktop printer for the first time.


In 2002, HP did it again, moving to seven inks with the Photosmart 7550, and eight with the 7960. 2004’s HP Photosmart 8750 introduced a nine-ink system, adding a photo grey cartridge to the CMY and photo cartridges or an optional blue photo cartridge. With the latest colour inkjet technologies behind them and HP’s advanced Vivera pigment inks, today’s HP photo printers are capable of delivering exhibition-quality photo prints.

Design and features

It’s not just the technology that has changed in 30 years. Today’s sleek inkjet printers are a million miles away from the beige block designs of the early Deskjets. In that time we’ve had slimline portable models, home-friendly black and two-tone styles and the replacement of push-button controls with slick, colour LCD touchscreens.


In 1994, meanwhile, HP transformed the home office printer with its first HP Officejet, combining printing, scanning, copying and faxing facilities in one compact, affordable unit. Today, all-in-one printers dominate the home printer market, while printers in the Officejet Pro X line match laser printers for capacity, monthly workloads and advanced management features. Who would have thought that the Thinkjet could ever come so far?


For a long time, network connectivity was the sole preserve of laser printers, but by 1993’s Deskjet 1200C, HP’s business inkjets could be fitted with optional Ethernet modules. 1995’s Deskjet 1600CN came with networking built in, while 2001’s added infrared and Bluetooth wireless printing. 2003’s Deskjet 5850 was the first Wi-Fi inkjet, connecting with up to five PCs over an 802.11b network. You were no longer tied to your printer by a cable; you could print from anywhere within Wi-Fi range. 

In 2009, HP launched its first web-enabled printer, connecting directly with web services through a colour touchscreen, and printing news digests, Google maps and more. Today’s Deskjet, Officejet and Photosmart printers are nearly all connected to the web, accepting print jobs from cloud-printing services or even emails sent to a dedicated email address. 

We’ve come a long way in 30 years. Who knows what’s yet to come?

Image sources: HP Museum

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