Tearing Through Floppy Drives To Build A Small-format Dot Matrix Printer

The accuracy which [Mario] achieved in his pen plotter dot matrix printer is very remarkable. He tore through a pile of floppy drives to get the parts he wanted, and chose to go with a fine-point Sharpie marker as a print head. In the video after the break he flatters us with a printout of the Hackaday logo, but you also get a look at one problem with the build. The ink doesn’t always flow from the felt tip and he has to coax it (almost like priming a pump) with a piece of scrap paper.

He was inspired by the pen printer we featured back in June. This rendition features a printing area of 1.5×1.5 inches that can accommodate 120×120 black and white pixels. He’s not a microcontroller type of guy and is driving the printer from the parallel port of his computer.

The best printing technique puts the pen down and moves it around just a bit (helps prevent the ink flow problem we mentioned earlier) and produces images like one in the lower right. We love the 8-bit nature of the result and would use this all the time to make our own greeting cards.


26 thoughts on “Tearing Through Floppy Drives To Build A Small-format Dot Matrix Printer

  1. Really clean build! The mounting board and spacers give it a professional look.

    Things like this make me regret recycling the box of floppy drives I had a few years ago..

    1. Indeed it is. ;) That was back when I was still figuring out how I should convert bitmaps to be used, so there was a color version as well, hence the black and white distinction in the filename.

  2. Nice build, but I see that carriage movement is very suboptimal.

    Gotta find 110/112 mm thermal paper to run a Mefka-1 thermal printer I salvaged. Unusually it features moving head – never seen such construction in the wild. I consider plugging a BT module inside to interoperate with Android smartphone.

  3. I’ve tried using floppy disk controllers in a similar fashion in the past but I had an issue where the controller would stop after 80 or more steps “outward” (just over the number of tracks on an HD disk) and would only retract until home position was indicated.

    I tried with several different drives.

    Anyone else ever encountered or better yet overcome this limitation?

    1. I had that exact problem, actually. Unfortunately, the only solution was to keep looking through my pile of floppy drives until I found one without that limitation, then find another of the same drive.

      You could try looking up the datasheet for the chip on your boards, though. It’s possible that limitation is hard-coded into the chip, but it could be a setting that’s toggleable with a pin.

  4. Fantastic, have you considered replasing the ink pen with a single pin and a rolling carbon tape with a mechanism which every time the head going up rolls like a dod matrix printer ,it is going to be more fun like a miniature printer and you wont have the starting problem!

  5. It’d be nice to make a plotter like this out of just 1 floppy drive. Similar to how Lightscribe works. Have a disc of paper, spinning with the drive motor, with the head going back and forth and a pen up / down mechanism. IE pretty much a floppy drive with ink instead of magnetism.

    They squeeze them bits pretty small on there for magnetic disks, so resolution might be high. I suppose you’d need tracking, perhaps a simple mark on the outer radius of the paper, with an optical pickup. Either just a mark, or a series of pulses.

    Heat-sensitive paper might be a way to do it. Replace the drive’s write coil with a tiny heating element. More compact and reliable than using ink.

    Would be nice to open up a 3.5″ disk’s casing, load the paper, then stick it in the drive to print. The head’s travel range would be limited, but that might be ok. Circular printing, a new art-form!

  6. I have a pair of old full height 5.25″ single sided floppy drives. Pretty much worthless unless one has a really old micro that only supports single sided drives.

    The controller boards have connections for the second head so someone could upgrade them to double sided, if they were desperate… I did have one that was built single sided, no dual side support at all.

    They each have a pretty good sized stepper motor and a quite large normal DC motor that runs the belt drive for spinning the disk. IIRC there’s more than two wires to those motors so they may have tachometer signals for feedback.

    I wonder if there’s any project build for using the parts for a robot or??? There’s tons more power and torque available than from the wimpy half height drives.

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