Restoring Dot Matrix Printer Cartridges For 2023

The noise of a dot matrix printer is probably as synonymous with 1980s computing as the modem handshake would become with the desktop experience a decade or more later. But unlike the computers that would have driven it, a dot matrix printer can still be a very useful device here in 2023. And why not? They’re cheap to operate and can produce surprisingly good quality when paired with suitable drivers. There is a snag though; while cartridges for popular models can still be found, there are plenty whose consumables are long gone. [Drygol] had an Apple ImageWriter II with exactly that problem, and after finding all his cartridges were non-functional, took a look at how to bring them back.

Inside a dot matrix cartridge is a fabric ribbon similar to the one that might once have been found on a typewriter. It’s not on a roll but folded into the space, and it’s drawn through by a pair of rollers. Not only had the ink on the fabric dried out, but the foam on the rollers had also disintegrated. Some careful dismantling, and a solution presented itself in the form of O-rings to replace the rollers. Those and a bit of mineral oil to soften the ink had the vintage Apple printing again as though it was the ’80s once more.

It’s a subject we’ve looked at before, as it turns out WD-40 makes a good ink solvent.

17 thoughts on “Restoring Dot Matrix Printer Cartridges For 2023

  1. I still have my ImageWritter II from the 2e days. It’s been awhile since I had it out but it was still working enough to show off the thunder scanner.
    The a2m0077 cartridges are still being produced, both in “scrunchy” continuous feed and newer(?) “spooled” versions, the latter usable with current day ribbon reinking machines.

    I’m not sure if I even have my last color ribbon. I lost track of it after numerous wd-40 treatments and no straight forward ways in sight to reink the thing.
    I just assumed its color printing days were long lost to the past together with memories of printshop banners and massive 100-page binders of clipart previews

  2. I confess to a deep desire to return to dot matrix, sturdy, reliable, cheap per page, permanent ink.
    Even looked on auction sites intending to buy one, but cannot justify it for the few documents I print.

      1. i just scored a KX-P1121 for free off facebook marketplace, untested hadnt been used in years, fired right up and the ribbon was still good – time to retire my inkjet i think.

  3. WD-40 was sometimes able to revive a dried out ribbon, though it was easy to over do it and end up with oily printouts.

    Even if you had a dot matrix printer, I’d be surprised if fan-fold tractor feed paper could be found anywhere. Some dot matrix machines had friction feed, but I think those were relatively rare.

    Also, for a long while even after ink jet was essentially forced into a subscription model, you could still pick up laser toner cartridges for way less than the cost of ink jet ink. But at some point in the last couple of years, the laser printer toner suddenly quadrupled in price. No doubt we’re supposed to believe that the cost per laser page jumping from about 1/4 of ink jet, to on par with it, was just a coincidence. Yeah. Ok.

      1. :P I confess… I keep a whole box of tractor feed paper, with exactly the same reason. :)

        I still have 3 dot-matrix printers: an old Star SG-15, the ubiquitous Stat NL-10. And a Philips VW 0030, which was originally an MSX printer.

        The VW 0030 was basically a rebranded Seikosha SP 1000 with less onboard buffer ram and an MSX character set. And it was easy to convert back. Used it to print out any documentation I wanted in print, and of course used it with my thesis. It had a great output quality for a 9-pin printer, when you printed in NLQ. It just took ages to finish a print. ;)

        Oh, what nostalgia! But well, my current Epson XP-8505 inkjet just prints even better, and much, much faster. Just also quite a bit more expensive. But I’m no student anymore, so I can afford it. :D (actually: that’s maybe the worst reason of all, to justify wasting of money :P)

  4. Recalling those printers, then creating custom fonts for a laserprinter… getting a high speed parallel port.. now wondering when in used a printer for the last time. but yes i still use WD40

  5. I used to fix those old Apple printers back in the 90’s, along with the industrial strength impact printers that every government office here in Canada seemed to have. One had to really be a MacGyver to fix those things. They would send out replacement parts without instruction on how to fix them.

  6. Thanks for the trick with the o-rings! I have a few color ribbons I think I can resurrect with this!
    I did get a batch of new ones that were made a few years back, but even a couple ribbons out of that lot were bad out of the box. This gives me hope I can revisit those and my old ones and get them going. It’s always a head trip for kids and others to see the ImageWriter II doing color. I like setting up my IIGS with a program that can actually print color, so people can paint or make banners/such! (Always a good activity!)

    1. As dot-matrix printers are impact printers, I’m sure it’s possible to coat paper in something that turns black upon impact.

      I have no clue, I’m by far not deep enough into chemistry. But my intuition tells me that, with a little research by someone with knowledge, it might be possible to do with common household chemicals.

      1. I didn’t think about it, but I guess that a chemical that turns from transparent to dark under impact is intrinsically not such a stable chemical. So maybe such paper can be made. But the chemical will probably degrade even without being impacted, and your printouts might not be readable anymore within a year or so.

        Similar to thermal paper, which will even degrade from just ambient heat (which is why you should always photograph your receipts if you buy anything with an extended warranty period).

  7. Surprisingly, this topic came up just a couple of days ago discussing the need for an impact printer to handle multipart forms required for ARRL amateur radio exams. Epson still makes a dot matrix printer, model C11CC24001, which typically sells for around $200 US. The consumable is the LX-350 Black Fabric Ribbon, Model Number: S015631 which sells for less than $10 US.

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