Printers You Can Use with Your Apple II

The ImageWriter and ImageWriter II are ubiquitous in the Apple II world. You can often find them in schools and homes where Apple II's are used. But they are far from being the only printers that the Apple II can use. While I am not even going to try to cover every printer compatible with the Apple II, I do want to explore some of the latest printers to market that you can connect to your computer, along with the software you need to use the printers.

Types of Printers

First of all, lets examine the three major kinds of printers: Impact, Ink-Jet, and Laser (there are a few other types of printers, thermal transfer, LED, and plotters, for example, but they are not as common, and are not included in this discussion).

Impact printers create a character on the page in the same way a typewriter striking a ribbon which leaves ink on a page. There are two major types of dot matrix printers: Dot-matrix and daisy wheel. A daisy wheel printer is even more like a typewriter: it has a round printhead with all of the alphabet and other characters (numbers, punctuation, etc.) engraved on a ball that spins and hits the ribbon with just the right letter. These printers tend to be noisy, but they do produce excellent quality printing. The downside is that they can't be used to print graphics. Dot-matrix printers, on the other hand, use small pins which strike the ribbon in varying patterns to produce letters, numbers and graphics (the ImageWriters are dot-matrix). These are also pretty noisy, and their quality is not usually as good as daisy wheel printers.

The next type of printer is the Ink-Jet. These printers literally spray ink on the page in the shape of letters or graphics. Typically they have higher resolutions than impact printers, producing 300-720 dots per inch (dpi), compared to the 72 dots per inch of the ImageWriter II in normal mode. The problem with InkJet printers is that the ink tends to spread into the fiber of the paper, causing a fuzziness in text and graphics. This can be greatly lessened by using special, coated paper. Even so, the results of printing to a InkJet printer are far superior to those of an impact printer.

The third major class of printers are the laser printers. These printers usually have an embedded controller (read computer) and a photocopier engine, which uses toner to produce an image on a page which is then heated to fix the toner on the page. LaserPrinters have resolutions of 300-2400 dpi, although most consumer printers are in the 300-600 dpi range. This results in great looking output, and it doesn't have the spreading problem of inkjets.

Making the Connection

So, which printers can you use with your Apple II? Well, there are a few more things to take into consideration. The first is the type of connection: parallel or serial. A parallel connection allows data to be sent from computer to printer 8 bits at a time, whereas a serial connection allows the computer to send only 1 bit at a time. As you can imagine, parallel connections are usually faster. In fact, for the first 8 years that Apple II's were produced, parallel printers were the usual choice. That began to change in 1984, with the addition of the Apple IIc to the product line, which has only serial ports. A quick look at the Apple IIc's rear panel (or the rear panel of the Macintosh, which was introduced at the same time) will show two small serial connectors. The reason Apple went with serial connections is that the connections are smaller, 8 or 9 pins, instead of the usual 25 pins of a parallel connector. Putting in a parallel connector would probably have required a larger case!

If you have an Apple IIc, then, you have to look for a serial printer: an ImageWriter, one of the older DeskJet printers (DJ 500, 500C, 550C) or a Laser printer with a serial port such as the LaserWriter II series from Apple or the LaserJet II, III and IV series from Hewlett Packard. (Although it is possible to connect a IIc to a Parallel printer using a Grappler type serial to parallel converter, these are pretty expensive, and wouldn't be very cost effective, unless you were trying to tie a IIc into a printer being shared with several other computers.)

If you have an Apple IIe or IIGS however, you have more choice. Because these computers have expansion slots, you can install a Serial or Parallel Card in one of the slots (typically slot 1 or 2). With a IIGS you don't even need to install the serial card, as it has 2 serial ports built-in, with the added bonus of both being AppleTalk ports, meaning you can connect to an AppleTalk network via the printer or modem port. Therefore you have the widest variety available with these two models of the Apple II.

Serial and Parallel cards are available from Quality Computers, Sequential Systems, Alltech Electronics, Sun Remarketing, and other mail order houses. Prices range from about $35.00 to $65.00 depending on the model.

Now that we have covered printer and connection types, it's time to get down to specific printers.

Impact Printers

The ImageWriter II is a good place to start. It is compatible with the widest variety of ProDOS 8 software, and with Pointless on a IIGS can produce pretty good text using TrueType fonts. It can also be used with a four color ribbon that lets you print in color using programs like the Printshop.

Additionally, it can accept a card that allows it to be placed on an AppleTalk network, so that it can be shared with other computers. The ImageWriter II is compatible with Macintosh and IBM and Clone PC's as well. However, I wouldn't recommend buying a new one, as the price is almost $400.00, which is just too much. However, they can be had on the used market for as little as $50.00, and at that price, I'd pick one up just to have as a back-up printer.

The IIGS includes a driver for Epson dot matrix printers, and many printers include Epson emulations. Look for Epson emulation if you are going to purchase a dot-matrix printer. In addition, many ProDOS 8 applications, such as AppleWorks, have Epson drivers. Most printers marketed for PCs use a parallel interface, since the parallel port is universal on PCs, so you will want a parallel card if you want to get one of these.

InkJet Printers

Hewlett Packard has a reputation for quality and service as a printer manufacturer, and while you won't get direct Apple II support, buying an HP printer is rarely a bad move. There are two classes of HP InkJets: th e DeskJets and the DeskWriters. The DeskJets are marketed for PCs, and have built-in fonts--which means, for the Apple II user, that they can be used with ProDOS 8 programs that print to a slot (such as BASIC or AppleWorks) as well as from IIGS specific applications like AppleWorks GS or DreamGraphix. If you do have an Apple IIGS, then you will also need to purchase printer drivers for a DeskJet...Vitesse sells Harmonie, which support color printing and have drivers for the DeskJet, the DJ 500C, the DJ 550C as well as for other types of printers (there is also a subset of the Harmonie package that includes only the HP printer drivers), and Seven Hills sells Independence which supports greyscale printing on all DeskJet models. The DeskWriter models are marketed for the Macintosh, and do not have built-in fonts (which means that they cannot be used with programs such as AppleWorks); however, they can be used with the IIGS, using the same Harmonie drivers as you would use with the DeskJets, along with a special port driver. DeskWriters have built-in AppleTalk, which means that they can be shared on a network among Macintosh computers. Unfortunately, Haromnie does not support AppleTalk printing at this time, so that capability goes unused on the IIGS.

Color printing with the DJ 500C, 550C, 560C and 540 and the portable 310 and 320 is best when you use IIGS 320 mode graphics [Quick note: The IIGS has 2 graphic modes, the 640 which supports 640 horizontal pixels with 16 dithered colors, and the 320 mode with 320 horizontal pixels and either 16 or 256 "pure" colors.] Programs that suppport 320 mode graphics will give the best results as both David Kerwood and John Holloway noted: "Color is vibrant when doing 320 mode graphics. Color is muddier and requi res more fiddling with 640 mode graphics. Color text is fine," and " Setup of the DeskJet line is easy. David Kerwood wrote in: "I never had to do this [type printer codes into individual programs]. Other than flipping dip switches and making sure the printer port settings were as recommended in the Harmonie manual, setti ng up the DeskJet 500C was simple." Carl Knoblock echoed David's comments about using the DeskJet, and added that setting up his DJ 550C with his IIGS "was pretty easy with a parallel card. The card init code had to be added to AppleWorks to get full width landscape mode printing."

If you want to do special print jobs, like labels from AppleWorks, it may take a bit more work, as John Holloway wrote in: "It took me about 4 tries to find the right combination of codes to get the position just right for printing mailing labels. A more advanced AW [AppleWorks] user could probably have done it faster; someone who had never customized print codes may have a hard time. The code chart in the manual [of the DeskJet] is well presented and gives escape codes, decimal, and hex equivalents."

Some of the programs that the above contributors noted using were AppleWorks Classic (both version 3.0 and 5.0), GraphicWriter III, PublishIt! 4, Platinum Paint, EGOed, Addressed for Success, ProTerm 3.1, WordWorks Pro 2.1 and AppleWorks GS 1.1.

Apple's original StyleWriter can also be used on an Apple IIGS, using a driver supplied with system 6.0 and 6.0.1. Unfortunately, this driver does not do a great job with graphics, and its word spacing is not perfect either. None of the later Stylewriters are supported on the Apple II.

Laser Printers

To use a Laser printer, it must be a PostScript or a PCL laser. PostScript is a graphics programming language from Adobe, Inc., that is built into most Apple brand LaserWriters (but not all) and HP LaserJets that are marketed for the Macintosh. PCL is a printing language developed by Heweltt Packard, and it is standard on their printers. Many other vendors sell Laser printers that use PCL.

To use a PostScript printer from IIGS programs, you use the LaserWriter driver supplied on the system disks. This allows you to print to the many PostScript LaserWriters that Apple has sold (the LaserWriter II family [except the IISC], the Personal LaserWriter NT, NTR, and 320, LaserWriter 360, 4/600PS, etc.) Many HP printers also have PostScript, and allow you to use this driver. To use a PostScript printer from ProDOS 8 programs you can download the ImageWriter Emulator program (IWEM) to the printer, which makes it behave like an ImageWriter. Programs that can print to a slot instead of a specific printer (again, such as AppleWorks and BASIC) can be used in this way. An exception to this is the ProDOS 8 based program PublishIt, which has a driver for the LaserWriters.

To use a PCL printer you can use Harmonie on the IIGS which has a LaserJet driver, or you can print to the resident fonts from programs that support this such as AppleWorks (There is also a shareware driver for the LaserJet. The driver does not print graphics, but is very fast at outputting text. There are also shareware programs for downloading fonts to the LaserJet.)

My Own Pick

My own preference of the three types of printers is a PostScript Laser. The reasons are: A, PostScript is a graphics as well as a text language, so you can produce stunningly smooth graphics on a PostScript laser and B, PostScript Lasers tend to also have AppleTalk and/or Ethernet networking built-in, so that they can be put on a network and shared among several computers, which can be different types. At home, that feature allows us to share our LaserWriter between the LCIII, the PowerBook 170 and the IIGS--linked together by inexpensive phone wire, which cost, including the special crimping tool for attaching an RJ11 (standard phone) plug at the end of the wire, around $20.00 (for a 100 foot roll). However, despite my preference for Postscript Lasers, I would be remiss to not also mention that color or bitmapped graphics printed on a DeskJet/DeskWriter look far nicer, because the inkjet is able to produce true greys (or color in the case of some models), while the Laser printers only simulated grey with halftones (which means the higher the resolution, the better the graphics on a laser printer).

The downside of laser printing is lack of color. Even though there are now some color Laser printers on the market, they cost at least $5000.00, and even if the price were more affordable, the LaserWriter driver that is part of System 6.0.1 does not support color. If color is something that is important for you, however, by all means look at some of the Color DeskJets (the 500C, 550C, 560C, 660C, and 540, as well ask the portable 310 and 320, all support color). If you use pointless on the IIGS you will get great looking text using True Type fonts, as well as color graphics...and if you use a IIe or IIc, you will be able to get nice graphics using Publish It! (although not in color), as well as good text using the built-in fonts.

Another consideration in purchasing a printer is thinking about how you will use it in the future. Perhaps you only print out short papers and letters now, but is there a chance you will be involved in creating a newsletter? Helping a non-profit organization maintain its mailing list and printing labels? Writing longer documents, or getting involved with computer graphics. If your Apple II died tomorrow, would you replace it with an Apple II or with a Mac or a PC? You need to think about these types of questions before deciding on a printer so that you can really enjoy the value of your investment. While some people like to upgrade their equipment regularly, there is no need for that...many a 10 year old ImageWriter or 5 year old laser continues to chug away at its duties, and there is no reason to expect that your next printer won't do so as well. So buy with an eye to your future needs as well as your present ones.

To view a Netscape compatible table of printers and features, click here

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