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H A R D W A R E

Apple ImageWriter II

If you own a vintage Mac, the ImageWriter II printer would be a great companion for it. ImageWriter II printer is an entry-level, dot-matrix printer. It offers fast drafts, sharp graphics, near-letter-quality output, easy paper handling, and color printing.

By today's standards, the ImageWriter's resolution and print quality might seem inadequate even for correspondence, but when it was first introduced in September 1985, it was a pretty good printer. It was the longest-selling Apple product of all time. It was called "a poor man's laser printer", a low cost dot-matrix printer that can print high quality dots (The 300 dpi LaserWriter cost US$7000 at the time). The most exciting feature of the ImageWriter II printer was its ability to print in "full colour" - well, not quite. 8 colours to be precise, including black and white! - if you install a colour ribbon and use programs with colour capabilities, you can print in colour, even if you have a black and white Mac! Considering colour ink-jet wasn't really around then and an "inexpensive" 200 dpi colour dot-matrix printer cost around US$4500, the US$625 ImageWriter II was a pretty good deal. However, it isn't even considered "letter quality" though. It's "near letter quality." That means its quality is not even as good as a typewriter's. The resolution of the ImageWriter II is 72 dpi normal - the same as the Mac's screen resolution - and, if I remember correctly, 144 dpi for best quality. But no matter what mode you print in, bitmap graphics still print in 72 dpi anyway; but interestingly, bitmap fonts print out smoother at "best" mode. For me personally, I like it at 72 dpi better, because it gives more of a classic Macintosh feel.

You can use an ImageWriter II with any Macintosh programs without any troubles. But one major problem, for me anyway, is that when I print bitmap fonts form PageMaker 3.0, the spacing is all screwed up. Perhaps PageMaker wasn't designed for bitmap fonts. Another problem is, it is almost impossible to have a consistent top margin, especially if you use international fanfold (i.e. continuous) paper. The continuous feed mechanism is also very clumsy to use. There isn't really much point in printing PostScript or PICT-type vector graphics to it. They will come out bitmapped anyway. Same for PostScript outline fonts. Better off using specially designed bitmapped fonts like Geneva, New York or Chicago. You don't really need to worry about the availability of ink ribbons. They are available in all Macintosh dealers here in Vancouver. Black ones cost CAN$7, multi-colour ones cost CAN$14.

You might think there's nothing special about the design of the ImageWriter II. You might even find it boxy, old-fashioned and clunky. But did you know? The ImageWriter II was the first desktop printer of any kind to receive multiple awards for its design! It received the "I.D. Design Review" award and Silver "Industrial Design Excellence" award, both in 1986. Hard to believe eh?

So you may ask, "I have a laser printer and/or a colour ink-jet already, why would I still want a low-tech dot-matrix?" My answer would be, for some things, laser or even ink-jet prints are too good. Seriously. We are really used to type-set materials nowadays. Too used to actually, we take type-setting for granted. Now everyone can do it. But, does it really make sense to type-set my grocery list? Letters to my friends? Notes? Some things look too good to be what they are. Dot-matrix printing is more "physical" and gives a more tactile quality for a printed page. I think dot-matrix prints are good enough even for invoices and business correspondence, if not better than laser prints. Try it out!