Whether you’re an aspiring novelist who goes through reams of paper printing 18 versions of your latest manuscript, a student racing to finish a last-minute paper, or a design professional fiddling with various layouts for a piece of print collateral, there are a variety of scenarios in which home printing technology is a godsend in our modern day and age.
Today, we take the ability to print documents easily and in the comfort of our own homes for granted. But even as recently as 30 years ago, home printing was considered a luxury — and 50 years ago, it was unheard of.
Let’s dig into the evolution of this highly useful technology, and how it has made its way into our homes and (printed) history books.
The advent of home printing
You probably learned about Gutenberg, the printing press, and the birth of commercial printing in school — but the history of home printing is less well-known.
Although some earlier methods of home printing such as silk-screening and phototypesetting existed on a niche basis in the early 20th century, the origins of home printing technology as we think of it today date back to the 1930s.
In 1938, American physicist, inventor, and patent attorney Chester Carlson invented the dry printing process, otherwise known as electrophotography or xerography. The six-step process involved exposing photoconductive materials of opposite electrical charges to one another in order to create images when the material was exposed to light.
Printer technology played integral behind-the-scenes roles in history throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The fundamentals of this process laid the groundwork for the future of laser printing — although the first laser-integrated printer wouldn’t actually come along until sometime in the 1970s. The first high-speed laser-printer, developed in 1976, hit an impressive (for the time) printing speed of 100 impressions-per-minute.
In addition to laser printing, both inkjet printing and dot matrix printing techniques rose to popularity in the 1970s. Most of these devices were so pricey, however, that for the better part of a decade, only businesses could afford to install them.
Printer technology played integral behind-the-scenes roles in history throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, too. At the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, for example, the “printing timer,” a device that worked by combining time measurement tools with printing functions, was used to gauge results of speed competitions. This piece of technology synchronised pistols, photo-tubes, and photo-finish equipment in order to record and print Olympias’ race times and determine the winners. This technology would later become foundational to the EP101 digital printer, one of the world’s first compact and lightweight digital printers, made by Epson.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s, however, that liquid inkjet printers found a market as a home consumer item — and initial models still cost upwards of $1,000. (The very earliest consumer models cost more than triple that, and boasted just 300 dots per inch — or dpi — resolution.) By the early 1990s, home printing was becoming more common, although resolution was still quite low: One popular model of early ’90s printer advertised 600-by-600dpi resolution, and was considered top-of-the-line for its day.
Epson helped proliferate the popularity of home printing in the 1990s, with its release of machines like the Epson Stylus Color, a 70-dpi color inkjet printer that could produce high-quality photos. In 1997, the company also released the Epson Stylus Photo, a printer that could let people print near-photo-quality images at home.
By today’s standards, though, the printers of the 1980s and 1990s were cumbersome. These machines were massive — some models took up entire industrial-sized desks and weighed as much as 32 kilograms — and printed at a rate of around eight pages per minute (ppm).
As liquid inkjet technology and laser printers continued to advance, the devices became smaller, faster, more manageable, and, as a result, more marketable. Today’s printers are relatively low-cost, have very high quality output, can print in vivid color, and can be operated easily with just a few clicks of a mouse or presses of a button — a far cry from the highly technical, six-step process involved in the early stages of the printer’s development.
Modern printing tech is cutting-edge
Today, modern home printers are leaps and bounds more advanced than their early ’80s counterparts, and it’s rare that you walk into a home without spotting at least one sleek printer perched atop a desk.
Take, for example, the Epson EcoTank, one of today’s highly advanced models for hassle-free home printing.
This printer is more than a handy machine for getting your affairs in order — it also contains a revolutionary, integrated high-capacity ink tank system, which supplies users with two full years’ worth of use. That means there’s no need to constantly run to the store for new ink cartridges — which is a benefit both for the environment and for your entire family. With the Epson connect app, too, wireless printing has never been simpler. Print from anywhere in the world by sending documents, pages, and photos directly to your printer.
As home printers like the EcoTank continue to push the boundaries of this everyday piece of technology, it’s worth taking the time to appreciate just how far printing tech has come in fewer than 40 years — and to revel in its capacity to bring a project from electronic ephemera to the printed page.