Ode to the ImageWriter & The Print Shop

Filed under Hacks & mods;

Someone at Motherboard loves the Apple II. Last summer, writer Jason Koebler attended KansasFest, resulting in a fantastic article and podcast.


Now Ernie Smith has taken a deep dive into dot-matrix printers and The Print Shop:

… in its original form, [The Print Shop] was an ’80s-tastic program that redefined the parameters of print design into something that could literally be called child’s play. Wanna make a greeting card? Follow these instructions, then print on your dot-matrix printer. Need a sign for your lemonade stand? No problem—you can even add a picture of the Easter Bunny on that sign, if you want. It was a bold redefinition of something that once required a whole boatload of specialized equipment.

The article is more about the business and legal ramifications of the article without capturing the user experience — which I’m happy to provide, as the Print Shop was a staple of my household. My three brothers and I used for everything from school essay cover sheets to birthday cards to banners. I remember campaigning for the elected position of seventh grade class treasurer using signs made in The Print Shop; when I defeated the most popular kid in the class in the election, he said it was because I did a better job advertising myself.

The vehicle by which The Print Shop outputted these creations was my family’s ImageWriter II printer, complete with ink ribbons and pin-feed paper. Tearing the edges off the paper into long strips was practically an arts-and-crafts exercise, as they inevitably became loops, braids, and other figures.

But the time spent printing would occupy the computer, leaving it unavailable for other tasks. I remember when I discovered Quality Computers sold a 32K print buffer hardware accessory, I thought it was a ridiculous expense just to get back a few minutes of computer time. But as I discovered more that my Apple II could do and wanted to make the most of that time, it wasn’t long before I decided the buffer was a worthwhile investment. Its installation coincided with my father having some computer issues, and conflating correlation with causation, he demanded I remove the buffer. I never did, and his unrelated issues eventually resolved themselves.


And let us note the role that desktop publishing (DTP) played in the development of Juiced.GS. Although the magazine was designed not in The Print Shop but in GraphicWriter III, an Apple IIGS program, early issues featured DTP heavily. Across six years and eleven issues, the late Dave Bennett penned a series creatively entitled "Desktop Publishing". And the final issue of Juiced.GS‘s first volume included M.H. "Buzz" Bester’s hardware tutorial on ImageWriter maintenance.

My thanks to Smith for taking a moment not only to investigate how The Print Shop evolved, but also for prompting me to revisit these moments. ImageWriter printouts may long be faded, but these memories never will.

(Hat tip to Javier Rivera)

  1. As long as you keep ’em out of the sun, ImageWriter printouts will never fade. :-)

  2. Trilkhai says:

    I agree partway with DF. :) My images & letter-quality printouts haven’t faded much at all, but the ink used on draft-quality pages is a lot lighter than it used to be. Interestingly enough, though, I can’t tell which pages were printed using the ribbons I “re-inked” using permanent markers.

    I actually still have my old ImageWriter II, but when I dug it out of the garage, I found that the plastic fold-over clamp that held the tractor-feed edge in place had broken under the incredible strain put onto it by an elastic band. So far, I haven’t been able to find a glue that can hold up under the pressure.

    I also discovered something interesting about the kaleidoscope in The Print Shop when run on an Apple IIgs: one pattern was synchronized with Creedence Clearwater’s “Feelin’ Blue” to the point of keeping the screen in shades of blue during the “blue, blue, blue, blue” part of the refrain. Unfortunately, while I remember entertaining guests with it, I can’t recall how I reached or identified the right pattern.