The Apple ImageWriter is the greatest printer in the world.
The ImageWriter is a printer from Apple first intended for use with the Apple II series of personal computers. It is also the title for the entire line of the ImageWriter series printers which include the ImageWriter ImageWriter Wide-Carriage, ImageWriter LQ and ImageWriter II. However, I am going to concentrate on the printer itself, the original ImageWriter.
The ImageWriter (studlycaps intended) was introduced in June 1982, around the same time as the Apple //c to much fanfare. Well, not a whole lot of fanfare as it deserved a lot more than it got. It was theprinter to have until the ImageWriter II and LaserWriter. It was discontinued December 1985.
It is a standard fare printer in most design respects, and has the guts of a C.Itoh model 8510 inside. A basic carriage of about 10 inches (15 inches on the Wide Carriage model), 9 pin head (144 Max DPI), uses ribbons, AC power and serial to communicate to the host computer. The power cable is a standard IEEE style (Apple originally shipped it with a right-angle cord) and a DB-25 serial port on the rear. The front is bare and the top has 3 buttons for power, form feeding and other functions and two LED indicator lamps. There is a manual platten advancement wheel on the right side as well as a paper thickness adjustment lever. Unlike some of it's contemporaries that had a driven feed arm, the paper is instead being pulled in by the platten only. the top panel is removable for access to the print head, ribbon, motor, belt and jumpers.
The jumpers are numerous and only really useful for adjusting the serial port properties (data rate, parity, etc), though for most cases the default 9600-8-N-1 (9600 baud, 8 data bits, no parity, one stop bit) should be sufficient for all but the slowest devices, in which case the printer can go all the way down to a Vic-20 crawl of 300 baud.
The printer itself, while being 9-pin, is fully graphics capable given the correct escape codes are used. It is logic seeking in text mode, and uni-directional in graphics mode. No color option is available, black ribbons only -- using an ImageWriter II color ribbon makes for very funky documents.
Now then... why did I say this was the greatest printer in the world? Because they don't build them like they used to. It, like most printers of it's day, is built like an ugly beige tank; where there isn't metal there is thick, garish ABS platics or structural foam. The motors, while as loud as a Harrier, are basically bulletproof, as is the print head.
Ribbons are as cheap as they can be, and because of the number of ImageWriters and ImageWriter II's still in use in schools, expect there to be a supply of ribbons for the next 10 years. If you're paranoid, you can stock up now -- a ribbon that can handle 500 pages will run you about $2.00 on todays market, probably less if you buy in bulk and know where to shop. These low costs can put the cost per page down to thousands-of-a-cent, as opposed to the 1 cent range that some high-end laser printers command. As you may have gathered, both the original and the ImageWriter II use the same black ribbons and if you are keen on reinking ribbons, you can reuse them till they are threadbare.
The entire ImageWriter line uses fan fold paper where every sheet is connected in a perforated sheet with chad strips down the side, but it can use loose leaf paper with the included chute.
If you have a serial port of some sort and the appropriate adapters you can use and ImageWriter on virtually any computer -- this is because if you aren't treating it like a printer with the right drivers and escape codes, it will still accept ASCII input quite well so in a pinch you can just dump text down the serial port to the printer and it will happily commit it to paper... just don't expect it to look good.
To use the printer in you various OSes is as simple as getting the driver and telling the computer where to look. I'm unsure if the current versions of Microsoft Windows include an ImageWriter driver but I'm sure one is available somewhere. Mac OS 8.1 still includes ImageWriter drivers (unsure about newer OSes, though). If you have to, most OSes have a "generic; text only" printer driver with just sends raw text down the specified port. In MS-DOS you will need to add these lines to you autoexec.bat:
Mode com2 96,n,8,1,b
...where "com2" is the com port
the printer is hooked to. The first line configures the serial port parameters and the second reroutes all data going to lpt
1 down the specified port.
The serial port on the ImageWriter is a host end pinout which means, unlike an external serial modem, that you'll need to cross the RX and TX pins and short the DTD/DTR pins. This is easier then it sounds -- a Radio Shock null-modem adapter will do it for you. For reference, the pinouts of the 25 pin port on the printer are:
I purchased my Imagewriter in 1994 with a used Apple //c system for $50 (whole thing). In the time since I have printed from the Apple //c , my old Apple II+, several Windows-based machines, Macintoshen, a SparcStation and an Apple Newton Messagepad.
While the ImageWriter II has a deserved reputation for foulability and general lossage, the original, while not laser quality, will not fail you. It will live forever if you treat it right.