Demise of the dot-matrix

Printers have come a long way from the dot matrix. Ink-jet and laser printers now offer high-quality inexpensive options for the home office
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The Independent Culture
Once upon a time, the dot-matrix printer ruled the SoHo roost. Today it has gone the way of the 286 and 386 and now accounts for but a tiny percent of the printer market. The printer responsible for the early demise of the dot-matrix has been the ink-jet, which works by firing microscopic droplets of ink at the page. These are cheap to buy, easy to use and deliver printed output that now commonly rivals low-end laser printers. Ink-jet printers have made dramatic progress over the past two years, combining improvements in print quality, with increased print speeds while at the same time dropping in price.

Today, a 600dpi ink-jet printer isn't unusual, and such printers are capable of creating documents almost indistinguishable from laser printers. Most are colour, with the addition of a second tri-colour ink cartridge, which gives four-colour process output. The very latest ink-jet printers now offer six colour printing, which, coupled with the right paper, is virtually photo-realistic.

HP OfficeJet and Canon MultiPass combine a printer, fax machine, `convenience' copier and scanner in one device. These are built around ink-jet printer designs. Take the OfficeJet 350. Priced at around pounds 400 + VAT on the street, it combines all the above features that would cost perhaps double if bought separately. It's also a compact solution, taking up not much more desk space than an ordinary printer.

While ink-jet printers offer not only great print quality and versatility, coupled with low purchase price, they do have one major drawback - they can be dear to run, particularly if you want to do colour printing.

Laser printers rule the home office roost, however. As many as two business printers out of three are lasers - they're reliable, quiet, fast and offer the best print quality. A couple of years ago, an 8ppm laser printer would service a whole department - today, such is the progress of lasers that it's not uncommon to find affordable 8ppm personal printers. A handful of manufacturers continue to dominate the laser printer market. In recent years, the cheapest laser printers have been the so-called `GDI' (aka Windows Printing System) printers, which rely on the PCs processor and memory to do the donkeywork of processing. These printers cost less to manufacture. Such printers closely match their conventional rivals in speed and print quality but work out cheaper to buy. A word of caution - it helps to have a well-specified PC, with plenty of RAM and a fast processor if you want to run a GDI.

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