What is an Impact Printer? – A Complete Guide

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Impact printers are a fundamental component of printing technology, employing mechanical contact to produce text and images on paper. Unlike their modern counterparts, such as laser or inkjet printers, impact printers utilise a physical impact mechanism to transfer ink onto the printing surface. 

In this article, we’ll dive into the realm of impact printers. We’ll explore their various types, characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages to comprehensively understand where these classic devices stand in today’s digital age. 

What are Impact Printers?- A Brief Overview

Definition of Impact Printers

Impact printers is an umbrella term used to categorise the type of printers that work by physically touching the paper to create text or images. This traditional printing method relies on direct mechanical force to transfer ink from a ribbon onto the paper, producing the desired output. 

Impact printers have several crucial components, such as a print head, ink ribbon, and paper feed mechanism. The operation of impact printers involves a series of pins or a print head that strikes an ink-soaked ribbon, pressing it against the paper to form characters or graphics. The action is direct and forceful, making it possible to print through multiple layers of paper simultaneously. This approach allows for the creation of precise and durable prints, capable of being produced on a range of paper types, including multipart forms and carbonless copies.

Impact printers are known for being tough and ready to take on big printing jobs like printing large batches of invoices, delivery notes, or continuous reports for inventory and accounting purposes. These are common in warehouses, retail stores, and offices where documentation in multiple copies is frequently required. 

For a deeper understanding of printers that operate without physical contact, explore our comprehensive guide: What are Non-Impact Printers? This article delves into the technology behind these advanced printing solutions, contrasting their mechanisms and applications with those of impact printers.

Types of Impact Printers

Impact printers are broadly classified into two main categories: character printers and line printers. Each type has its unique method of operation and is suited to different printing needs.

Character Printers

Two Character printers

Character printers print one character at a time. They are ideal for tasks where the volume of printing is relatively low, but the quality of text is important. The two most common types of character printers are:

  • Dot Matrix 
  • Daisy-Wheel

Dot Matrix Printers

Dot matrix printers hit a print head against an ink-soaked ribbon to transfer ink onto the paper, much like a typewriter. These devices feature print heads with various tiny pins, typically in 9, 18, or 24-pin configurations. The more pins there are, like in the 24-pin models, the better and sharper the print quality.

The ink in dot matrix printers is supplied via a fabric ribbon. This ribbon is like a long loop that fits into a cartridge. Dot matrix printers can handle different types of paper. They generally have two types of paper feed mechanisms – Friction feed and Tractor feed. 

Friction feed is suitable for standard paper types, providing a versatile option for everyday printing needs. Tractor feed, distinguished by tiny holes along the paper’s edges, is designed for specialised paper. This method is particularly valuable for printing on multipart forms or documents requiring precise alignment, thanks to its ability to maintain consistent paper positioning.

The print resolution of dot matrix printers varies but generally peaks at around 240 dots per inch (DPI). Dot matrix printers do not provide super high-resolution results, but they’re perfect for printing forms needing carbon copies. 

Dot matrix printers are popular among retailers and small businesses for printing receipts and bills requiring carbon copies. For those considering a dot matrix printer, the Element RW337D is a top choice, combining reliability and performance for a wide range of printing tasks.

Discover a diverse selection of receipt printers by visiting Triton’s Receipt Printer Homepage.

Daisy - Wheel Printers

Daisy wheel printers have a distinctive mechanism known as a “daisy wheel.” This is a metal disk adorned with “petals” around its circumference, where each petal carries a different character, such as letters, numbers, or symbols.

The printer rotates this wheel during printing to align the desired character with the paper. An electric hammer then propels the selected petal forward, striking it against an ink ribbon. This action transfers the character’s imprint onto the paper, producing the printed text or symbols reminiscent of the output from a ball-head typewriter.

Daisy wheel printers are strictly text-oriented, lacking the capability to print graphics. One must replace the entire wheel with another, featuring a different font style to change fonts.

Daisy wheel printers are particularly valued in legal settings for drafting clear, professional-looking documents and contracts. Their ability to deliver high-quality text output makes them indispensable for producing official documents where clarity and presentation are paramount.

Line Printers

Three line printers

Line printers are high-speed impact printers that use electromechanical methods to print an entire line of text at a time. They feature rotating chains, bands, or drums with raised characters that transfer the text to the paper when struck against an inked ribbon by a moving hammer mechanism.

Line printers are of three types. 

  • Chain Printers
  • Band Printers
  • Drum Printers

Chain Printers

Chain printers feature a dynamic mechanism where a chain, adorned with all the essential characters for printing, moves continuously around two pulleys. This chain traverses horizontally across the print area. During its journey, an electromechanical hammer selectively strikes the characters against an ink ribbon. This action impresses the character’s image onto the paper, completing the print.

This printing device excels in environments requiring rapid production of large document volumes, such as reports and forms.

Band Printers

Band printers, while sharing similarities with chain printers, distinguish themselves using a steel band instead of a chain. This band is embossed with characters along its entire length. It moves horizontally across the print line, facilitating the printing process.

As the band makes its way through the printer, electromechanical hammers precisely time their strikes. They press the paper against the band exactly when a character aligns with the printing position. This method efficiently transfers ink from a ribbon onto the paper, enabling rapid and effective printing that’s ideal for handling large volumes of work.

A band line printer is favoured in environments where reliability and the ability to quickly produce large quantities of documents, such as billing statements and data reports, are essential.

Drum Printers

Drum printers operate using a cylindrical drum that rotates at high speed. The surface of the drum is embossed with the entire character set in each print position.

As the drum spins, paper and an ink ribbon are firmly pressed against its surface. The electromechanical hammers strike the paper from behind at the exact locations where characters must be printed. This precise action transfers the characters from the drum’s surface to the paper via the ink ribbon, achieving the print. 

Drum printers are known for their rapid printing capabilities. Their design ensures consistent, high-speed output, ideal for bulk printing tasks in financial institutions and large-scale data processing centres.

Characteristics of Impact Printers

Impact printers are known for their distinctive features, tailored for particular tasks across various industries. Here’s an overview of their main characteristics. 


Impact printers are known for their durability and are built to withstand heavy-duty printing easily. They’re crafted to endure the constant physical demands of transferring ink to paper, ensuring they last for years. Their sturdy design promises longevity and requires minimal maintenance, making them a reliable choice for continuous operation.

Multipart Form Printing

Impact printers excel at multipart form printing. This means they can print several copies of a document at once, like carbon copies. They do this by hitting the paper and carbon sheets underneath with enough force to transfer the ink through multiple layers. 

This feature is perfect for creating invoices, orders, or documents where duplicates are needed quickly and efficiently. It’s a go-to choice for businesses that require physical records for transactions. 


Impact printers stand out for their cost-effectiveness. They use ink ribbons or carbon ribbons, which are generally cheaper than the ink cartridges or toner used by non-impact printers. This makes them economical for printing large volumes of text-heavy documents.

The initial purchase price, combined with low ongoing supply costs, results in a lower total cost of ownership over time. This affordability ensures that impact printers remain a budget-friendly option. 

Noise Level

Impact printers have higher noise levels. This is because they print by physically striking an ink ribbon against the paper, naturally generating sound.

The noise is similar to clicking typewriter keys, noticeable in quiet environments. While this may not be an issue in industrial settings, it can be distracting in quieter offices or libraries.

Print Quality

Impact printers excel in producing high-quality text prints. Their traditional method of pressing an ink printer ribbon against paper ensures that characters are crisp and easily readable. This makes them perfect for printing documents and forms where clarity is crucial.

However, their performance with graphics and images doesn’t quite match the sharpness and detail offered by contemporary inkjet or laser printers. Modern printing technologies are better suited for tasks requiring detailed graphics or high-resolution images, offering superior image quality and a wider range of colours.

Limited Color Printing

Impact printers are primarily engineered for monochrome printing, offering limited options for colour output. Although they can print in colour, the spectrum of shades and the vibrancy of the colours are modest compared to the rich and diverse palettes available with inkjet or laser printers.

This limitation stems from their mechanical printing process, which is less adept at handling multiple colours or producing gradient tones. While suitable for documents where basic colour differentiation is sufficient, impact printers do not meet the needs of projects requiring full-colour graphics or photo-quality prints.

Continuous Feed Paper

Impact printers are compatible with continuous feed paper, a feature that allows for the uninterrupted printing of long documents, banners, or multipart forms. This paper comes in a roll or fan-folded stack, enabling a seamless feed through the printer without manual page changes. 

This capability is particularly useful in environments requiring bulk printing data logs, reports, or invoices. Continuous feed paper enhances productivity and efficiency, making impact printers a practical choice for tasks that benefit from or necessitate using such paper formats.

Advantages of Impact Printers

Five advantages of Impact Printers

Impact printers bring a set of benefits to the table, making them a valuable asset in certain printing environments. Here are the key advantages:

Economical Printing

Impact printers offer cost-effective printing by using inexpensive ink ribbons, significantly lowering the cost per page, especially for high-volume printing tasks. Their durable construction reduces the frequency of replacements and repairs, further contributing to their economic advantage. 

Long-Lasting Prints

The prints produced by impact printers are known for their longevity. The physical impact method of printing embeds the ink deeply into the paper, making the text resistant to fading, smudging, or water damage over time. 

This durability ensures that documents remain legible for prolonged periods, making impact printers an excellent choice for printing legal documents, archival records, and other materials where permanence is crucial.

High-Speed Printing

Impact printers can speed up printing, particularly models designed for text output. They efficiently handle large volumes of documents, making them ideal for environments with heavy printing demands, such as logistics, finance, and administration. 

While not as fast as modern laser printers for graphic-intensive tasks, their speed in text printing and processing multipart forms is unmatched, ensuring quick turnaround times for bulk printing jobs without sacrificing reliability.

Continuous Operation

Impact printers are engineered for continuous operation, allowing them to manage extensive printing tasks without overheating or requiring frequent breaks. This endurance is crucial in high-volume printing environments like manufacturing plants and distribution centres. 

Environmental Tolerance

Impact printers demonstrate exceptional environmental tolerance, functioning reliably in conditions that might compromise other types of printers. They are well-suited for dusty, humid, or variable temperature environments. They maintain consistent performance where sensitive electronic components of non-impact printers could fail. 

This resilience makes impact printers preferred in industrial settings, outdoor operations, and places with less controlled environmental conditions, ensuring dependable printing capabilities regardless of the surrounding challenges.

Disadvantages of Impact Printers

Five disadvantages of Impact printers

While impact printers have their strengths, they also have drawbacks that might limit their suitability for some modern printing needs. Here are the main disadvantages:

Lower Print Quality of Images and Graphics

The print quality of impact printers for images and detailed graphics is lower than that of non-impact printers. This limitation makes impact printers less ideal for tasks requiring fine graphic details or colour accuracy. 

Bulkier Design

Impact printers often feature a bulkier design than modern inkjet or laser printers. This larger footprint is due to the mechanical components necessary for their operation, such as the print head and ribbon mechanisms.

Higher Operating Costs for Low Volume

Impact printers have higher operating costs than non-impact printers for low-volume printing tasks. This is because the cost efficiency of impact printers is most pronounced during high-volume printing, where the lower cost of ribbons outweighs the cost of ink or toner cartridges. 

Maintenance Requirements

Despite their durability, Impact printers require regular maintenance to ensure consistent performance. This includes replacing ink ribbons, cleaning the print head, and occasionally servicing mechanical parts to prevent jams and wear. 

While generally straightforward, these maintenance tasks can accumulate over time, especially in high-volume printing environments, leading to potential downtime and additional costs. The need for ongoing maintenance underscores the importance of considering operational demands and maintenance capacity when choosing impact printers for business or industrial use.

Limited Modern Features

Impact printers often lack the modern features of contemporary inkjet or laser printers, such as wireless connectivity, direct mobile printing, and advanced security protocols. 

This limitation can make impact printers less adaptable to evolving office environments that require seamless connectivity and versatile printing capabilities, potentially restricting their utility to more traditional or specialised printing applications.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does the Print Quality of Impact Printers Compare With Modern Printers for Text Documents?

Impact printers produce high-quality text prints with clear and legible characters, thanks to their direct mechanical impact method. While modern inkjet and laser printers offer sharper text with higher resolution, impact printers remain competitive for standard text documents, especially where durability and the ability to print through multiple layers are required.

How do the Long-Term Operating Costs of Impact Printers Compare to Non-Impact Printers?

The long-term operating costs of impact printers tend to be lower than those of non-impact printers. Their consumables, like ribbons, are generally cheaper than inkjet cartridges or laser toner. However, they may not be as efficient in terms of energy consumption and printing speed for large volumes. 

Can Impact Printers Print in Colour?

Yes, impact printers can print in colour, but with limitations. They can produce basic colour prints, typically using a ribbon that combines different colours. However, the range of colours and vibrancy are limited compared to the capabilities of inkjet and laser printers. 

Are Impact Printers Suitable for Home Use?

Impact printers can be suitable for home use, depending on the specific printing needs. If the primary requirement is for printing multipart forms, invoices, or documents that need carbon copies, an impact printer could be a practical choice. However, for everyday home use that includes printing photos, detailed graphics, or documents with complex colour requirements, a modern inkjet or laser printer would be more appropriate due to its versatility and superior colour output.

Wrapping Up

Impact printers, with their knack for handling heavy-duty, high-volume printing tasks, offer a reliable solution where durability and multipart form printing are essential. Yet, they come with their own set of challenges, including noise, limited colour output, and the need for ongoing maintenance.

We hope this guide has given you a comprehensive understanding of impact printers. 

Thanks for reading! 

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