PRINTING ON A BUDGET
For most of us all we require from a printer is that it will cope with our listings and do a reasonably legible job of printing out wordprocessed documents. Curiously enough speed is rarely nominated as a highly significant factor.
In this survey we have deliberately limited ourselves in two ways. First, none of the printers here costs more than £175. Second, all of them are fairly widely available either through high street chain stores or the larger specialist shops.
The idea is to give a simple guide to relatively straightforward printers for those with a limited budget.
All the printers here will do the job, but any considerations that may be a particular plus or minus are highlighted.
CHOOSING A PRINTER - VITAL QUESTIONS
Ask yourself the following questions:
Q: Will I be using it for formal letters?
A: You probably need a printer with a near letter-quality (NLQ) mode or equivalent
Q: Will I be using it with a program or programs where a high degree of Epson compatibility could be important or particularly useful?
A: Epson compatibility can be significant because some programs have special features that will only work using Epson character code conventions eg screen dumps
Q: Does speed matter?
A: It probably won't unless you intend using it quite intensively for business
Q: Serial or parallel?
A: Seemingly obvious but many people don't realise that if you already have an Interface One you already have a serial interface suitable for connection to some of the printers here. You may not want to buy a new one. Most commercial Spectrum interfaces however, are Centronics ie parallel as are the majority (marginally) of printers
Q: Normal paper?
A: Thermal printers are often cheap and quite effective but they require special paper which, aside from having to be bought specially, may not be suitable for letters
A: Some printers use unconventional kinds of print ribbon that you may find difficult to replace except from the original manufacturers. This may be very inconvenient
Q: Dot-matrix versus daisywheel - does it matter?
A: A simple generalisation: even a simple daisywheel will almost certainly have a better text print quality than most dot matrix (even those with NLQ). But a daisywheel will probably be slower and it definitely won't be able to cope with any sort of graphic dumps. If you want graphics you must choose dot-matrix.
There are good bargains to be found if you know where to look and don't mind having a model that has been superceded (which usually only means slightly improved and put in a different box).
The following printers are available at various prices. We indicate a target price found in a weary trek up the Tottenham Court Road. You may be able to do better by keeping your eyes open.
Brother HR-5 - an early printer from Brother with standard dot-matrix features. Good enough for most purposes. Target price: £69.99
Citizen 1200 - good all-round dot-matrix from a company fairly new to the market. Tractor Feed as standard. Target price: £169
Seikosha GP500A - bulky but effective dot-matrix. Target price: £115.95
Centronics GLP printer - recently superceded, neat little dot-matrix. Target price: £125
Quendata Daisywheel - unusual in that it's a daisywheel. Slow (18cps) but neat print. Target price: £135
Sinwa CPA-80 - 80-column dot-matrix with NLQ. Target price: £145
Juki 6000 - another daisywheel. Slow (10cps) but sturdy and reliable. Target price: £170
Star Gemini 10X - dot-matrix with impressive spec (120cps). Includes tractor feed and is Epson compatible. Target price: £150
Mannesann Tally MP80 + - good general purpose dot-matrix. Target price: £175
Epson P40 - small thermal, small-width printer. OK for listings. Target price £45.
Make/Model: Star STX-80
Typical Price: £79
Print speed (char/sec): 60
Print quality: Average dot-matrix
Printing style: Thermal
Founts: Standard ASCII/International/Block graphics
Other Features: Programmable line spacing, excellent manual
Verdict: A very high quality thermal printer, which is to say that it has lots of special features but it still isn't suitable for any but the most informal letters. It uses a continuous roll of special thermal paper. Imagine a Rolls Royce version of the ZX Printer and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect.
If you can accept using special paper then the STX-80 is really very good value for money. It can do most of the clever things Epsons can, including print at different heights and widths. It also has various special character sets accessed through dip switches which give, amongst other things, special graphic shapes and the possibility of customising your own fount designs.
Make/Model: Saga LTR-1
Typical Price: £139.95
Print speed (char/sec): 12
Print quality: Letter quality
Printing style: Daisywheel
Founts: Elite only
Other Features: Simple RS232 interface included
Verdict: A very cheap printer with quite a few unusual features. It uses a special form of daisywheel printing in which an embossed roller is linked via an ink roller. The end result is as good as most daisy-wheel printers. It has no special features like international character sets or tractor feed but can nevertheless be recommended where print quality has a fairly high priority but other factors, like speed, are unimportant.
Make/Model: Star Delta 10
Typical Price: £161.50 (available at this price from Flightpath, 43 Hithermoor, Staines, Middx TW19 6AH)
Print speed (char/sec): 160 (10 & 12 chars/inch), 137 (17 chars/inch)
Print quality: Good dot-matrix
Interface: Centronics & serial RS232
Printing style: Dot-matrix 9x9 pin
Other Features:Wealth of other options and facilities accessible via control codes.
Verdict: An impressive dot-matrix machine - it's an absolute bargain if you can get hold of it. It is a full featured dot-matrix with external controls for Line-feed, Form-feed, On/Off line etc. A large number of alternative character sets include block shapes and international letters, customised character set facilities which can be downloaded into special printer Ram, variable line settings and so on. There are three density (characters per inch) settings. Print quality is certainly good enough for almost all purposes although there is not an NLQ setting as such. The printer has both RS232 serial and parallel Centronics interface ports and easily accessible dip switches. The manual is excellent.
Make/Model: Epson P-80
Typical Price: £
Print speed (char/sec):
Verdict: An unusual printer. Thermal, but it prints on a special kind of paper that looks to all appearances like conventional A4. If you don't mind being locked in to buying the special paper this could be a good option. It is very neatly designed. The biggest advantage is that, being an Epson, it has certain control code conventions that should make it easy to use with most commercial software. A serial interface version is also available and the printer can also be powered by batteries.
Make/Model: Brother M1009
Typical Price: £
Print speed (char/sec):
Verdict: Extremely popular low-cost dot-matrix printer, quite well supported by commercial software. Although it doesn't specifically have an NLQ mode it is certainly capable of a print quality more than adequate for most purposes. A large number of special features include various print densities, tab settings, emphasised print, double-width and many other print options. Recommended but at the top of our price range.
There are two kinds of interface which will enable you to connect your spectrum or QL to a printer.
Make sure you choose the right sort for your printer. For practical purposes there is no special advantage between serial or parallel (RS232 or Centronics) interfaces. An RS232 interface may be more useful for other things - like modems - but Centronics is the rather more common standard.
Interface One - Sinclair's own.
Networking and Microdrive interfacing as well. The most common RS232 used in commercial programs.
Kempston - a sophisticated Centronics interface which has the advantage of having all the customising/driving software on Rom ie, there is nothing to load in. Supported by almost all commercial software using printers
Tasman - A neat interface with driving software on tape. Well supported. The standard interface for Tasword wordprocessor and associated packages
Euroelectronics ZXLPrint III - well supported and also provides an RS232 port. No additional software is needed and on quite a wide range of printers standard LPrlnt List and Copy commands will work
S-Print intended specifically for the Kempston Centronics Spectrum 128
Comes with RS232 as standard
Miracle Centronics interface - one of the first and so quite well supported. No additional software needed
Q-Print - similar to the above. Does not require driving software
ZXL Print III