The History and Future of The Computer Printer
The idea of a computer printer was first introduced for use with "The Difference Engine", the first ever computer, invented by Charles Babbage in the mid 1800's. However, although plans for this printer were completed by Babbage, it was never constructed at the time due to a lack of funding and support by the Governments of the day, who failed to see the potential of Babbage's inventions.
Ultimately, the printer was constructed over six years between 1985 and 1991 by a team of engineers working for the Science Museum in London.
To everyone's delight, the printer worked perfectly. It also had remarkably advanced features including printing out results using a choice of different layouts. For further reading, see this BBC article.
These printers were common during the 1970's and 1980's. Each character that was to be printed appeared on its own "hammer" or on a daisy wheel. Clearly, the only characters that could be printed were those that were included, which meant that diagrams and other designs could not be printed, unless they were specially defined using only the available characters. My first computer printer was delivered as part of the Amstrad PCW 9512 package, a present from my husband in the 1980's. This printer had a daisywheel construction.
The Dot Matrix Printer
This type of printer was invented in 1971. Characters are created using a matrix of dots, which means that there are no limits as to what types of characters (or designs) can be printed. However, they are not suitable for high quality printing. Like impact printers, they are also noisy, as the image is created by pins striking the paper.
The Laser Printer
Laser printers were invented by Xerox during the 1970's as an extension to their photocopiers, although George Bush Senior credited HP for their invention in 1984 (silly man!). However, laser printers were not commonly used until the 1990's.
The Inkjet Printer
The inkjet, or bubble jet, printer was invented in 1976. However, they were not available for home use until the late 1980's due to their prohibitive cost. Inkjet printers are now widely used both at home and in the office, due to their range of uses including draft, high quality, letter quality and photo quality options, meaning that they are suitable for the vast majority of printing applications.
One of the leading manufacturers of Inkjet Printers is Epson. Their range is available online directly from Epson, with free delivery on all orders.
Printers of the Future
Perhaps ten years from now, every home will have a 3D printer. Right now, prototypes are available (at a price) but these prices will inevitably drop to levels for mass consumption. Current devices include the German BMT DeskModeler and the Israeli Solidimension, which produces solid models made from Poly Vinyl Chloride.