Dot Matrix Printers Buying GuideHide


Dot Matrix Buying Guide



Dot matrix printers use a set of closely spaced pins and a ribbon to print letters or other characters on a page. Unlike laser printers or ink-jet printers, dot matrix printers actually impact the page to print a character, much like a typewriter. This allows them to print through multi-part forms, rather than just printing on the top sheet.

This guide is designed to give you the facts you need to evaluate and choose a dot matrix printer for your business. The various sections are listed in the box above. You can choose to read this guide from beginning to end, or jump directly to a section of interest

Common Applications

While laser printers have become the office standard for letters and proposals, dot matrix printers remain an important part of back-office operations in many firms.

Dot matrix printers are commonly used for printing invoices, purchase orders, shipping forms, labels, and other multi-part forms. Dot matrix printers can print through multi-part forms in a single pass, allowing them to produce more pages than even high-speed laser printers

Choosing A Printer

The first consideration when choosing a printer is the number of pages you expect to run through the machine. Low-volume dot matrix printers sell for only a few hundred dollars; however, these machines are not designed for high-volume printing. If the printer will be used to print more than 50 pages per day, make sure to get a machine designed for high-volume usage.

A second consideration is the number of parts used in the forms to be printed. A good rule of thumb is to look for a printer that can handle just the number of parts you need to print. This will ensure that the printer does not work harder than it must to print through the parts, thereby increasing the life of its printhead.

9-pin vs. 24-pin

The first generation of dot matrix printers used a grid of nine pins to create each character. The print quality from these models is acceptable, but certainly not impressive.

As dot matrix printers began to compete with daisy wheel printers and the first laser printers, firms introduced 24-pin models. By more than doubling the number of pins, printed documents approached typewriter quality.

Today, however, the tide has shifted back to 9-pin designs. Although 24-pin models offer high-quality images, they tend to be slower and more expensive than 9-pin models. In most cases, documents printed on dot matrix printers do not need to offer exceptionally high quality, so 9-pin models do just fine.

There is very little quality difference between 9-pin and 24-pin models if the documents will be printed in draft mode.

Printing Papers

Most dot matrix printers are designed for use with tractor feed paper. This continuous paper is bordered on the right and left sides by paper strips with a series of holes. These holes are used to guide the paper through the printer by aligning pages with two tractor feed belts found in the unit.

Since dot matrix printers are often used with several different forms, many can be equipped with two tractor feeds at once. Forms can then be easily switched in and out of the printer without needing to reload sheets.

Many dot matrix printers can also handle single cut sheets, including bond paper, letterhead, and envelopes. If you expect to print these materials, make sure the model is equipped with a friction-feed mechanism in addition to the normal tractor feed. Friction feed works like a typewriter, holding sheets tightly against a roller.


Most dot matrix printers are priced between $500 and $1,000, with light-duty or older models that cost less, and heavy workhorses that are far more expensive.

Replacement ribbons will be your only consumable cost with a dot matrix printer. Ribbons are not very expensive per page if you do the majority of your printing in draft mode. If you expect to print in very high volumes, make sure to calculate the cost of replacing printer ribbons over the life of the unit before buying.

Special Tips

When printing on thick forms or sheets, look for a printer with a very straight paper path to avoid jamming. In most cases, this translates to a printer that feeds from the bottom and outputs finished documents from the top of the machine.

Dot matrix printers can be quite noisy, so you may want to consider purchasing an optional stand or acoustical cover to lessen the sound.

Wide-format printers are available for offices that print onto 11 x 14 inch computer paper.

While color ribbons are available for many dot matrix printers, take a good look at the output before buying in bulk. The quality is generally not that good.

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