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Sheila Keller, Marketing Strategist

Throwback Thursday: Dot Matrix Printing


When I was little, there was always one thing I would do every time I visited my grandma’s house. I would make my way into her basement and steal some paper from her dot matrix printer, carefully rip the perforated edges off, and make fun doilies out of them.

But what makes that printer different than the printers we have today, and why did it have those weird perforated edges?

How Dot Matrix Printers Differ from Modern Printers

Dot matrix printing is a bit like a mix between typewriters and modern printing.

It uses a punching motion with an ink ribbon like a typewriter, but the information is transferred from a computer rather than a keyboard attached to the printer.

Each of the letters is made of a combination of dots (hence the name). Because of the limited typography, letters could only be typed in uppercase.

Most dot-matrix printers were only available with black ink, but a few manufacturers also had multi-color ink ribbons available. However, the multi-colored ones never had as much success as their mono-color counterparts.

Nowadays, printers are much faster, and many use toner rather than ink. Dots are still used to create images and typography, but they are much smaller, allowing for variations in font and extremely detailed imagery.

Why the Perforation?

The perforated paper, or continuous paper, wasn’t only used in dot-matrix printing. However, dot-matrix printing is what caused it to grow in popularity.

The paper was fan-folded in a continuous sheet, which decreased the likelihood of paper jams. It also made printing faster, because it could continue without having to stop at the end of each page.

The perforations allowed for the user to rip the paper into customary 8.5″ x 11″ sheets.

The holes on the edges are what allowed the paper to be moved through the machines. Knobbed belts interacted with these edges to pull the paper through the machine.

Do you remember using dot-matrix printing?