A dot matrix printer or impact matrix printer is a type of computer printer with a print head that runs back and forth, or in an up and down motion, on the page and prints by impact, striking an ink-soaked cloth ribbon against the paper, much like the print mechanism on a typewriter. However, unlike a typewriter or daisy wheel printer, letters are drawn out of a dot matrix, and thus, varied fonts and arbitrary graphics can be produced. Because the printing involves mechanical pressure, these printers can create carbon copies and carbonless copies. Its speed of printing varies from 50 to 500 cps.
Each dot is produced by a tiny metal rod, also called a "wire" or "pin", which is driven forward by the power of a tiny electromagnet or solenoid, either directly or through small levers (pawls). Facing the ribbon and the paper is a small guide plate (often made of an artificial jewel such as sapphire or ruby) pierced with holes to serve as guides for the pins. The moving portion of the printer is called the print head, and when running the printer generally prints one line of text at a time. Most dot matrix printers have a single vertical line of dot-making equipment on their print heads; others have a few interleaved rows in order to improve dot density.
These machines can be highly durable. When they do wear out, it is generally due to ink invading the guide plate of the print head, causing grit to adhere to it; this grit slowly causes the channels in the guide plate to wear from circles into ovals or slots, providing less and less accurate guidance to the printing wires. Eventually, even with tungsten blocks and titanium pawls, the printing becomes too unclear to read.
Although nearly all inkjet, thermal, and laser printers also print closely spaced dots rather than continuous lines or characters, it is not customary to call them dot matrix printers.
An image of dot matrix printer
An image of typical output from a dot matrix printer operating in draft mode. This entire image represents an area of printer output approximately 4.5 cm × 1.5cm (1.75 × 0.6 inches) in size.