dot matrix printer If you're old enough to remember printing off banners on continuous feed paper using Print Shop and a loud dot matrix printer, you may be as shocked as I am right now.

Shocked by what?

I'm glad you asked. Two things, really:

  1. The age of printing your own banners is long, long gone. If you had told me back in the late 80s that after the year 2000, banners would be something of a lost art? I'd have laughed at you.
  2. Broderbund, the software company that made Print Shop is still around! Broderbund has been in the PC software business for over 20 years. Few companies can make that claim.

I wonder what other stuff we use frequently today will seem just as... quaint in another 15 to 20 years.

Speaking of which, why are keyboards still the primary interface? Aren't we supposed to have something far superior by now, not to mention flying cars?

The pace of technology is so... uneven!

Posted by jzawodn at August 08, 2006 10:03 AM

Reader Comments
# Ken Norton said:

This post really takes me back. Print Shop banners were a fixture in my househould growing up. My Dad bought an Apple ][+ in 1979 and for the next 7 or 8 years every birthday, anniversary, party and sporting achievement was greeted with a giant dot matrix banner in the dining room.

I remember sitting and watching it print line after line, letter after letter for thirty minutes, only to realize you'd included a typo in the last word.

on August 8, 2006 10:59 AM
# pjm said:

Didn't Broderbund also make Choplifter, the best Apple ][ game ever?

on August 8, 2006 10:59 AM
# Charles said:

Oh how wrong you are. Today is the golden age of banners. For example, here is a photograph of a Tokyo building with vertical banners:

Look at the red banners on the frontmost corner building. Those banners appear to be 4 or 5 stories tall.

This sort of banner was impractical before the invention of modern wide-format inkjet printers with roll-fed media, which for the first time allowed printing of banners of almost infinite length. The Japanese are quite wild for these banners, they are a fixture in every shopping center, almost every tall building is covered with banners, and they are cheap enough to produce that they change them every month (or even faster). These banners are inkjet-printed on lightweight fabric, using special waterproof ink so they stand up to weather for a month or so.
If you haven't seen these banners in use at trade shows or shopping malls lately, you just haven't been looking. These long banners are just expensive enough to produce here in the US that the users tend to mount them on backing board, so they look like signs, and they don't tend to be several stories tall like in Japan, they are smaller scale for indoor presentation.

But I see plenty of regular fabric horizontal banners too. There are plenty of sign-making places that have machines to cut stencils for silk-screening onto canvas, they look like traditional old-style banners but they have distinctively bad computer-ish typography, stuff no self-respecting signpainter would ever do.

What is truly disappearing: handpainted signs, and signpainters. It's a damn shame too. I used to buy art supplies at a shop where all the old signpainters hung out, I learned more about typography and how to do oil paintings properly from these old guys than I ever learned in college while doing my BFA. Now they're all retiring and there's nobody to replace them.

on August 8, 2006 11:03 AM
# Adrian Holovaty said:

Whoa, Print Shop! That takes me back. Print Shop banners were a must-have for birthday parties when I was growing up.

Broderbund also made a program for the Commodore 64 called Music Shop. It was awesome.

on August 8, 2006 11:08 AM
# Dan Isaacs said:

Ah. the dot matrix of love.

on August 8, 2006 11:14 AM
# Aaron Brazell said:

Interestingly, I was thinking about this a few weeks ago in terms of - why do I feel so limited by my computer screen. Can't we figure out a way to move past 19"?

on August 8, 2006 11:15 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


Yeah, I've seen stuff like that on my trips to Japan, but never stopped to think about how they were made. I assumed it was the Japanese version of Kinkos that did it. :-)


Easy. Get a 24" monitor!

Oh, wait. I'm missing the point, aren't I?

on August 8, 2006 11:20 AM
# Arnab said:

Broderbund was quite the rockstar company back in the VGA days -- I remember the name from "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego", amongst other great software titles.

Obligatory wikipedia link:

on August 8, 2006 11:32 AM
# dt said:

Choplfter was cool especially the squirt of 'blood' when a soldier got shot...

on August 8, 2006 11:48 AM
# Aaron Brazell said:

"Oh, wait. I'm missing the point, aren't I?"

Heh... Yes... You are. :)

on August 8, 2006 11:57 AM
# Richard Safran said:

Oh, man PrintShop was too new-fangled. I thought I was nifty-keen printing ASCII art on a TTY ASR33 connected to the DECSystem 10. Long rolls of yellow paper spitting out at the breakneck speed of 10cps.

When the alternative is card decks, a terminal at 10cps is as whiz-bang as it gets.

Nurse, you can wheel me back to Matlock now.

on August 8, 2006 12:01 PM
# Mike said:

Flying cars are fine and dandy, but I'll be holding out until they make the model that folds into a nice convenient little brief case. I'm tired of finding a parking space at the mall around Christmas.

on August 8, 2006 12:01 PM
# Aaron Brazell said:

"I'm tired of finding a parking space at the mall around Christmas."

Just to beat Jeremy to the punch and because I have nothing better to do (like work!) than kiss ass, this is why they invented Yahoo! Shopping ( - so that you can Christmas shop by only finding a parking spot for your ass in your chair. :)

on August 8, 2006 12:18 PM
# Jason Golod said:

NICE! The worst was when your ribbon went out in the middle of a long banner. The good ole days, when you didn't know how much ink ribbon you had left. I did manage to pick up an Apple Imagewriter II (COLOR BABY) a few years back in the pennysaver. I paid $20...and I know I overpaid for it. But, I always dreamt of having a color imagewriter to go with my Apple IIc. My mom still has that thing somewhere along with all of my games...including Choplifter. Man, that was a good game. Thanks for taking me back.

on August 8, 2006 01:11 PM
# Jason Scott said:

I think calling Broderbund "still around" is a bit like calling a bearskin rug "still prowling".

on August 8, 2006 05:55 PM
# JohnC said:

I still proudly use my Panasonic 2123 with my Linux box. I use to only to troubleshoot code but it's still kinda fun listening to the zip, zip, zip of the printer head stamping out each letter.

on August 8, 2006 09:26 PM
# Abu Hurayrah said:

To quote Calvin:

"I mean, look at this. We still have WEATHER!"

on August 9, 2006 08:22 AM
# Star3night said:

here's your new 'keybord'

a guy I work with got one, and he's getting pretty good at it.

on August 10, 2006 12:13 PM
# Steve Bukosky said:

A few times I have wished for my old Epson dot matrix back and trash my current Epson inkjet with it's super expensive cartridges and print heads that like to clog up from disuse.

Which brings to mind, I'd like a program that upon power-up, does a short multi-color print out to keep the heads clean.

Oh, the heck with even dot matrix and the ribbons. I'll settle for an old thermal printer!!

on August 18, 2006 09:21 AM
# wertex said:

A few times I have wished for my old Epson dot matrix back and trash my current Epson inkjet with it's super expensive cartridges and print heads that like to clog up from disuse.

Which brings to mind, I'd like a program that upon power-up, does a short multi-color print out to keep the heads clean.

Oh, the heck with even dot matrix and the ribbons. I'll settle for an old thermal printer!!
on August 18, 2006 09:21 AM

on August 26, 2006 11:48 AM
# Pete Prodoehl said:

Ah yes, Choplifter! A classic if ever there was one...

(Broderbund was cool, but Beagle Bros. was cooler!)

And what about banner?

on August 28, 2006 01:01 PM
# Cami said:

So is there no way to still print banners?? I have been looking for this option for a few years now as I still use Print Shop (v12)! I can't seem to find out anything from either Broderbund or HP (the printer I currently use, 932C). I get in a continous loop trying to get to someone in technical or customer service to find out what printer I can use with Print Shop to still do banners. Anyone know?

on August 18, 2007 04:43 AM
# Alfred Rolan said:

25 years ago or so, I had a small noisy printer and made banners that went all around the room where my wife was conducting Childrens Church. Every week, there was a new banner and oh, the banners when one of the children had a birthday. She has returned to that activity and it is without the banners because I can't locate a program that will produce one. Incidentally, are there any more continous feed printers that will hook up to a Window's machine? Is there any continuous paper that is 8 1/2 inches wide?

on January 19, 2008 03:20 PM
# Myself said:

Alfred, I just picked up a couple dot matrix printers on Craigslist and ran some test banners using Bannerific. It works fine in a CMD window under XP, with the printer plugged into LPT1. Windows has no problem with this.

Handy tip: You can rejuvenate dried-out or spent ribbons by opening the top, lightly fogging the scrunched-up ribbon with WD-40, and letting it sit for a day or so. The solvent will redistribute the ink from the margins of the ribbon into the active portion in the middle, so it'll be good for a few more passes. (Eventually the middle will stretch due to repeated impact, but I usually get 3 or 4 rejuvenations, for a total of 10 passes or so, before a ribbon becomes unusable.)

This also moves more ink from the front of the ribbon to the back, which fouls the printhead more quickly. Cleaning most printheads is easy, as they're usually easily removed and disconnected. Perch the printhead pins-down on the top of a shot glass, and pour alcohol into the glass until it just immerses the pin face. Let it steep for an hour or two, then daub it off on a paper towel and thump out the remaining crud. Replace the printhead and run a few lines of test-pattern with no ribbon installed, letting the pins rattle themselves clean against the paper.

Most printers can be put into test-pattern mode by holding a button at power-on.

Finding continuous tractor-feed paper may be the tricky part. Some offices still use it for certain reports, so you might find it at the office supply store. Office Depot has it, search for "continuous" on their website. For smaller quantities, check with a local computer recycler or thrift store, who might have a box sitting around.

Software seems to be the tricky part. Given that all these printers are dot-addressable, we should be able to get amazingly high-quality renditions of modern vector fonts, stretched over several feet of paper. Maybe there's software I just haven't found yet. Perhaps modern software for large-format printers could work with an old dot-matrix?

on March 21, 2008 06:13 AM
# suraya said:

Type your comment here.

After you submit the comment, check your email. There will be
a link you need to click to make your comment visible.

Your email address WILL NOT appear on the site, so don't worry
about being anonymous, even if you think you are.

on May 30, 2008 01:54 AM
# Professional Printers said:

Dot Matrix printers.... I sit next a epson dfx8000 at work. I think it is 15 years old now.

on July 7, 2009 07:36 AM
# Mike G said:

Broderbund also produced a very good family tree program which I still use and from which you can produce family tree diagrams which can spread sideways by "miles".

I was able to print these out on a continuous roll of paper (no glueing A4 sheets together), using an HP Officejet V40 which has a "banner" option in the paper size setting.

I should say "had" because I upgraded to Vista on my PC and HP do not provide an updated driver. The only driver available is the one that is provided by Windows Vista and this doesn't have the banner setting option.

I am now looking for a multi-purpose inkjet printer with a banner setting option. Can anybody help?

Don't suggest Hewlett Packard as I don't want to buy from a company that can't be bothered keeping its drivers up to date.

on March 17, 2010 05:59 AM
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone. My current, past, or previous employers are not responsible for what I write here, the comments left by others, or the photos I may share. If you have questions, please contact me. Also, I am not a journalist or reporter. Don't "pitch" me.


Privacy: I do not share or publish the email addresses or IP addresses of anyone posting a comment here without consent. However, I do reserve the right to remove comments that are spammy, off-topic, or otherwise unsuitable based on my comment policy. In a few cases, I may leave spammy comments but remove any URLs they contain.