Ink, paper, and magic

I have a confession to make – I actually like printers.

Yes, I realise that’s an odd thing for a person in IT to actually say. I’m supposed to revile the things – printers should be the bane of my existence. I suppose to some degree in a professional capacity they aren’t the most fun thing to deal with. But personally on the whole, I find printers utterly fascinating.

Everything we do on a computer only exists within the virtual world inside the computer. We can create all manner of media, but it’ll only ever exist in that virtual world. Every day, people are creating documents, images, diagrams, spreadsheets, drawings, photographs – but hardly any of it ever escapes that digital realm.

Having cut my teeth on computers in the early 90s, I learned then that anything you did create was often destined to be printed. Usually it was because that was the only way to give that information to a third party. A poster isn’t much use hidden inside a computer, so it had to be printed for example. Or, you were using the computer to create something you’d have otherwise done by hand, such as writing a letter. Ultimately, you were probably going to print that thing.

It’s this transition from digital to physical, I find so fascinating. I like a bit of graphic design – I always have, and my early days of computing were often spent playing with applications that could draw or design something. Whilst I could do it by hand, the flexibility and power of doing the same thing on a computer has always been incredibly enjoyable to me. Finally commiting my efforts to paper was the most rewarding part. All of a sudden my design actually existed: I could sit and hold it, look at it. Not only that, the quality would be far better than anything I could accomplish with a pencil and ruler.

In this day and age of us doing so much on devices, I find it nice to sometimes liberate those things we create into the world of paper. Photographs are a particular favourite, but I’ve recently printed calendars, greetings cards, and paper models on various types of paper stock. It’s not only the printers, but having the right paper to feed into them. I use 80gsm for laser and 90gsm for inkjet, and keep a stock of varying weights and types depending on what I want to do. I like my printers after all, so I’m going to make the best of them!

I’ve owned various printers over the years – as a kid, we started out with a Star LC-10 dot-matrix, and I’ve had a succession of inkjets and lasers ever since. Each one fascinated me in different ways. A few spring to mind:

  • LC-10 – the aforementioned dot matrix. It would colour, and I’d sit and watch as it printed out line by line. Each time it would get to the end, and do a shuffle with the print head as it moved to the next colour. It took an utter age to print, and the quality left a bit to be desired, but it was like magic.
  • Canon BJC-240 – My first inkjet. It was fast, and the quality was pretty damn good.
  • HP DeskJet 5555 – A pretty pedestrian inkjet, but it had a little purple light it used to check the paper and work out the print settings for itself.
  • Epson Stylus 640 – The Stylus range was very impressive. The quality was fantastic.
  • HP Laserjet 4 – It was massive. But it was one of the first lasers I owned (it was a cast-off from work).
  • HP Laserjet 1100 – It was tiny! It did all the same stuff as the Laserjet 4 in a third the space.

There’s certainly others I’ve either owned, or used frequently. I do recall an HP Laserjet of some sort we had at work which had the stacker accessory on top. The fact it not only printed, but it could duplex and staple blew my mind. I’d print long documents just to see it handling the paper.

I currently have two operational printers at home for general use. A Brother HL5250DN (it’s getting on a bit), which just does general mono printing, and a Canon Pixma MX925 which does scan/copy/print, and even fax. It handles all the colour duties, including photo prints. Most normal people would make do with one, but that’s just not my style. Being as I am into the world of retro computing, it wasn’t enough to just have the computers, so I’ve since acquired a few printers too:

  • Canon BJC-250 Inkjet. Ffully operational after I refilled the cartridges (and unblocked them)
  • Citizen Swift 240C 24-pin dot matrix. In box, with all manuals. Fully operational after a little light maintenence.
  • Integrex Colourjet 132 Inkjet. Actually a Canon PJ1080A with a different ROM. There were quite a few of these rebadged models. Mine is semi-functional in that it goes through the motions, but no ink comes out. I think there’s some blockages I need to clear.

The hardware and history of these does fascinate me. Comparing the BJC-250 and the Integrex, they are fundamentally the same thing (an inkjet) but they’re so far removed from eachother. The Canon does all the hard work in a small cartridge, whereas the Integrex has a world of tubes, pumps, and other gizmos inside to achieve the same thing. Printer technologies, be they dot matrix, inkjet, laser, thermal, dye-sublimnation, or something else have always been fascinating to me. The fact this device can effectively draw millions of tiny dots on a page to produce my document, will always remain a curiosity and be fascinating to me.