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Dot-matrix printers in Windows

I had e-mail today about running dot-matrix printers in Windows, which confused me at first because fundamentally, getting one type of printer to work in Windows is no different from getting another one to work: You load the right driver and you go.

what does dot matrix mean

This Star Micronics dot matrix printer from the 1980s emulates an Epson printer, so if Windows doesn’t have a driver for it, you can use an Epson FX or MX driver in a pinch.

I guess people are used to having a disk or CD from the printer maker that they have to load, but if you go into the Printers control panel and punch through the options and tell Windows you want to set the printer up manually, eventually you’ll get a list of printer makes and models. I’ve never run a dot-matrix printer from Windows (I bought an inexpensive Panasonic laser printer with my first PC) but Windows includes drivers for a lot of printers that I remember from the past, including the Epson MX-80, which was common in the 1980s. I used one of those in high school, but this was the same school that was using manual typewriters to teach typing as late as 1990.

Besides that, all you need is a cable to adapt the parallel port to USB, assuming your PC doesn’t have a parallel port.

I remember that during at least one of my stints selling computers at retail in college, we sold Epson and Panasonic dot-matrix printers. People bought them too, because they were cheaper than inkjets. I remember demoing a Panasonic unit under Windows 3.1 and possibly even Windows 95.

If you have an off-brand printer that Windows doesn’t include a driver for, there’s still hope. Find out what printer(s) your printer emulates. If you happen to still have the manual for the printer, it used to be common for the manual to include that kind of information. If you don’t, you may still have a chance. Epson was the de facto standard for dot-matrix printers, so just about every 24-pin printer could emulate an Epson LQ-1000, while most 9-pin printers could emulate either an Epson FX-80 or an IBM Proprinter, and most 7-pin printers could emulate an Epson MX-80. And most printers could step down and emulate 9-pin and even 7-pin printers, making the Epson MX-80 the lowest common denominator, but it had really lousy resolution, so it should be a last resort.

If the printer still doesn’t work, you can use Windows’ Generic Text-Only driver. You’ll be limited to whatever fixed-pitch font the printer uses by default (which will probably display onscreen as Courier), but it’s better than nothing, and should work with anything you can manage to connect to a PC.

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2 thoughts on “Dot-matrix printers in Windows”

  1. Emulation also happens on the Laser printer side of things. A Laserjet III or IV driver will work great with most laser printers in the past 10 years. I always heard, epson for dots and hps for lasers. I forgot all of that until today.

  2. For that matter, an early Laserjet driver (III is usually safest) will always work with an HP inkjet too.

    With other inkjets, who knows. If I remember right, early Canons (circa 1992-94) would emulate Epson LQ dot-matrix printers. I have no idea about Lexmarks or recent Canons.

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