Saturday, 8 December 2012

Sourcing new ribbons for old printers

There's nothing quite like a document printed from an 8 pin dot matrix printer. The kind that would be connected to an 8 bit computer, and made no attempt at hiding the blocky nature of the characters. We lived in a world of visible pixels, and we were proud to show them. Sometimes, I'd leave the tractor feed sides on the paper just for that added touch of mechanical technology. In these days of dirt cheap, razor sharp inkjet printers, it's fun and whimsical to send correspondence printed off one of these ancient but reliable printers. Problem is, getting replacement ribbon cartridges is becoming increasingly difficult, expensive, if not downright impossible, and re-inking can only go so far.

Dot matrix printers are here to stay, except these days they're marketed as "Impact" printers. Multi-part forms, the kind used in shipping where you have a white, red, and yellow copy, ensures the business need for an impact printer; laser and inkjet can't do multi-part forms. They're just not as common as they once were, so these days, industry makes ribbon cartridges for dozens instead of thousands of different makes.

My first printer ever was an MPS 802 connected to my Commodore 64. When I got a Commodore Amiga system, I sold the MPS 802 to buy an Epson LX-810, as the MPS 802 didn't work with the Amiga. The LX-810 model printer It always occurred to me that the printer ribbon cartridges looked very similar; but, as is the way with printer technology, there are slight differences in the ribbon cartridge design that prohibits interchanging the two.

I recently acquired an MPS 802 printer. It occurred to me that, while there may have been differences in the printer cartridge design, I assumed that the ribbons themselves would be of standard dimensions. It would have been cheap and easy enough for manufacturers to stamp out their own plastic ribbon cartridge cases en masse, but they likely bought the ribbons from a common source, as is typical in manufacturing. I checked. The dimensions of the ribbon in the cartridge of the MPS 802 are pretty much identical to that in the Epson LX-810 cartridge (and probably others).

To test, I took an old Epson LX-810 cartridge that still works but is slightly faded, and removed it from that cartridge. Next, I carefully pried the top off the MPS 802 cartridge, and removed that ribbon. Then I wound the ribbon from the LX-810 cartridge around the spools, snapped the lid back into place, and wound the ribbon back in. The result? Success.



This is good news, because Epson still sells a printer that takes the same ribbon as my old LX-810; it's the LX-300 printer. Ribbons for this printer are available at Staples for a reasonable $13 or so. I think I'll buy a brand new Epson printer cartridge to cannibalize for my MPS 802 now, but I probably should wear latex gloves this time.

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