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What is a DOS Printer?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 16, 2024
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A DOS printer is a printer that is equipped to handle inputs from a DOS operating system. A DOS printer will often include a DOS driver or other DOS printing software in order to be compatible with the older operating system. These kinds of printers may or may not be USB printer designs, where the device uses the popular new Universal Serial Bus connectivity to connect to a computer, rather than older SCSI pin-type connectivity. The easy connectivity design of USB makes some printer connections easier, but it may not be the best method for a DOS printer.

The DOS operating system is truly antique in today’s computer world. This linear operating system is what computer users had before Windows® brought the innovative, point and click type of object oriented operating system to the public. DOS is still used in some commercial situations where a low need for data flow means companies have not had to update their workstations. Shoppers can still see DOS programs at work in businesses like video rental stores and motels.

Because older printers used different port systems to connect to computers running DOS, it can be difficult to use a DOS printer driver through a USB connection. Some providers offer advanced troubleshooting to customers in order to help them deal with challenges of setting up a DOS printer hardware operation. With printers connected to any operating system, a common problem is the “recognition” of the printer by the computer that it is connected to. Beginners often need help with setting up DOS printer drivers or other similar software. This kind of software may come on a disc, or may be built into a printer.

One older type of printer that was frequently used with DOS operating systems is known as a “dot matrix” printer. Just like computers running DOS, which are now an uncommon sight in most offices, dot matrix printers have largely been replaced by “letter quality” printing devices that deliver a higher standard of precision and readability. Dot matrix printers simply took a collection of binary inputs and used them to form letter, numbers and other visuals line by line. Dot matrix computers were especially useful for DOS machines because the DOS operating system was only able to use a finite set of bit-type characters called ASCII, which meant that the graphic output was relatively limited. When new Windows® systems came out, it became more important to replace dot matrix printers.

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Discussion Comments

By anon989240 — On Feb 26, 2015

A true DOS printer cannot be USB because USB ports were not supported by DOS (they weren't still invented at that time).

If you've a USB printer, then you must use it on a Windows machine (that can still run the DOS program) however you need to redirect data sent to LPT1: by the DOS program to the USB port.

There are utilities to perform that redirection.

By Vincenzo — On Apr 10, 2014

@Melonlity -- the limited graphics capabilities of dot matrix printers is precisely what made them obsolete when graphical user interfaces such as Windows and Mac OS became prominent. Setting fonts was an afterthought in the earlier days of computers, but it's a common practice to set preferred fonts in word processors and even download more to get the "perfect" one.

A dot matrix printer simply lacks the flexibility to handle custom fonts. Dot matrix printers and, indeed, anything that was primarily used with DOS was kind of like a typewriter -- you got one font style (sometimes more on higher end hardware) and you were stuck with it.

Still, there were some good things about dot matrix printers. Sure, there were alternatives built for DOS usage such as thermal printers, but a good dot matrix printer was sturdy. There are still some in use today that were new three decades ago and that is an eternity when it comes to hardware.

By Melonlity — On Apr 10, 2014

One of the primary reasons dot matrix printers were commonly used with DOS machines is that fonts were typically built into the printer's hardware. People might not remember, but a DOS word processor typically avoided font selection -- it just output ASCII text and the printer was what set the font.

There were some software-based fonts available, but dot matrix printers had a lot of trouble with them because they tapped into a printer's graphics functions rather than text. That meant printers geared for fast printing had to go through the slow process of drawing characters.

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