A Silly Milliliter Longer
Notes on 24-Pin Printers and the ADAM
by Patricia Herrington


EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article by Pat Herrington first appeared in the February, 1992 issue of the MOAUG / 463 newsletter under the title "A Silly Millimeter Longer" (subtitled "Notes on 24-pin Printers"). The article discusses the Panasonic KX-P1124 and the unique aspects of such printers, problems encountered, partial solutions, new hardware and software designed to access 24-pins.

It's been a little over a year since I bought my 24-pin printer. I had been eyeing them for a long time, but it wasn't until then that the price came down enough to be within my reach. Meanwhile, I had been doing a lot of research on a number of brands of printers. I collected magazine reviews and talked to people who owned different models. I knew of nobody locally who owned a 24-pin printer, but I knew that Terry Fowler sold them, so I called to make sure the printer would work with my setup. He assured me that it would, although it would use no more pins in printing graphics than my old 9 pin. But I could use all the built-in fonts and other features, and get superior 24-pin quality when printing text.

Well, I write a lot of text, and that's what I really wanted the printer for. I was perfectly happy with the way my old 9-pin printed out graphics, and if the 24-pin would do as well, then I'd have the best of both worlds. So I bought a Panasonic KX-P1124. And, sure enough, it does as well on graphics printout. But it doesn't do the SAME! None of my research prepared me for the fact that the printout with this printer is a little bit TALLER. For me, that turned out to be frustrating.

I don't think most people would mind the taller printout. In fact, it has a distinct advantage: it makes it easier to design a full page in PowerPAINT, for example. A full PowerPAINT workspace takes up only about 7/8 of a page in length, and if you want a full page, you can add another half-cell or so in length at the bottom of the page. But the same workspace, printed with a 24-pin printer, is almost exactly the size of the page. (I even read an article by Terry Fowler citing this phenomenon to show that PowerPAINT had obviously been designed for use with a 24-pin printer, but that happens not to be the case).

Again, that should work just fine for most people. I like it most of the time, myself. But I do a lot of graphics design for other people, almost all of whom use 9-pin printers. When I print hard copy for illustration purposes, I would rather that it was an exact replica of what my customers will get when they print the graphics themselves.

That's not the biggie, though. Where the extra height really become a problem is when it's time to print graphic labels. In fact, if you design a label (of any conventional size) with a border, it just flat won't fit on standard pinfeed labels.

If your label design does not use a border, and if it does not contain graphics in every single row of pixels (both top and bottom) you can print the labels one at a time, so long as you realign the labels manually after printing each one. But even if your label uses all the rows, there are other things you can try.

One way to make label printing possible is to make changes to the software. Both PowerPAINT and Swift's Label Printshop contain a "System Configuration Menu", one of the options being to change Graphics Print Codes. Only ONE of these codes applies here, and that is Line Space. The default code is 27, 51,23. Only the third byte needs to be changed, but you will be asked to enter all three bytes. For the first byte, you enter 27; for the second, 51. Now, for the third byte, enter a number slightly lower than 23. You can try 22, 21, or 20 and see how that affects your label. (If you enter 19 or less, you may begin to lose a pixel.) It is probably best NOT to make your choices permanent on the medium, because you will probably continue to use the defaults most of the time.

Changing the line spacing does cause a bit of distortion, but it's minor, and you will be able to fit the results on standard pinfeed labels with one of these choices. However, there is still the problem of the space BETWEEN labels, so chances are that you will need to align each label manually, rather than leaving the program to do it for you.

Another solution would be to find labels that are just a fraction of an inch taller. If you do, I hope you will tell me where you got them, because I have been unable to find pinfeed labels in anything other than standard sizes.

There is another way around the problem, for those who have access to a copier. You can buy copy machine labels in various sizes. Then you can print your labels on regular paper and run off as many sheets of labels as you like. Copier labels are readily available from office supply stores or by mail. Most are white, but you can also find pastels, and there are even some full-page labels which can be cut to ANY size. Avery is one manufacturer, and there are others.

Certainly the easiest solution of all is to keep an old 9 pin printer handy just for printing out labels. You can usually pick one up for next to nothing these days.

HOWEVER... all these gyrations may soon prove unnecessary. Several programmers have been working on software designed specifically for 24-pin printers, and the progress to date is very encouraging. Jim Walters, for example, has already updated several of his programs for use with 24-pins. In some cases the upgrade is FREE, merely for the cost of postage. Print Works, for example, now includes an option which allows you to choose which printer you want to use. I haven't seen this yet, but I'm rather excited about it, and looking forward to seeing Jim's NEW software, too... particularly some that is still in the development stage.

The biggest drawback to the 24-pin is that it does not work properly with some third-party interfaces. I'm glad I didn't know that before I bought mine, or I'd have been afraid to buy it (and I'm VERY glad I didl) I plugged it into my Orphanware interface, and immediately it purred like a kitten. But later there were reports of people who had trouble with the E&T interfaces, and now it appears that there have been problems with some of the others as well. The solution was to get a buffer, which is a good idea anyway because you can ALWAYS use a print buffer.

But Terry Fowler enlisted the aid of Mark Gordon (of Micro Innovations) who almost immediately developed a brand-new interface which, according to all reports, works beautifully and is already for sale through ADAM's House (These ADAM folk don't let grass grow under THEIR feet, do they?).

And I'm really glad, because I expect to see a lot of people getting 24-pin printers in the near future, as the prices plummet. Mine cost me less than I paid for my first 9 pin, and there is an even less expensive model on the market. As newer models come out, older ones continue to become more and more affordable. They are "old" only in the sense that they aren't THIS year's model, and who cares? They are still packed with features and are very reliable.

I am speaking specifically of Panasonic brands. I haven't seen any others. But Panasonic's have always been a favorite of ADAM users because they are well-designed, dependable, and easy to work with. They have superior paper-handling capabilities and a variety of fonts. Both the KX-P1124 and the less expensive KX-P1123 have a touch control panel on the front, which allows you to take advantage of most functions WITHOUT embedded commands in the software. My printer even lets me define three macros... that is, I can select a font style, a pitch size (width), and a Lines Per Inch setting, as well as form length... then I can enter it all at once, so whenever I want to use that particular combination, all I have to do is select that macro.

Of course, there will be times you will PREFER to use embedded commands. For example, when you want to change font styles within a document. There are several good word processing programs out there, in both CP/M (TDOS) and E.O.S. I have always used SmartWriter most of the time (just because I KNOW everybody has SmartWriter) so I can't tell you details on the others, except to say that most of them do provide for embedded commands. To access my printer with SmartWriter I usually just use a Public Domain printer patch called D.M.P. DOS (again, because it's available to everyone, and if you don't have it, I will gladly give you a copy). This patch is pretty much the same as the DOS disk that comes with a disk drive, but it initializes the printer when it boots.

D.M.P. DOS works pretty well, and it does allow for embedded commands, but it does not have commands to access all the features of my printer... such as double high printing, script fonts, and such. So I was delighted when Hexace Software came out with SmartWriter Helper. Not only does it allow you to access a RAM drive and a second disk drive, but Hexace will customize the commands to suit your particular printer. I now can access all the KX-P1124's special features from within a document as well as from the front panel (and there are some features that I can now use that were NOT available to me from the controls). This is a very inexpensive program, too ($10)!

Just recently I received word that Walters Software Co. has released an enhanced SmartWriter volume, too. It's called SmartWriter Elite, and it even fixes that infamous line-and-a-half space bug that has driven everybody nuts for lo, these many years. It also allows the use of both 9-pin and 24-pin printers. I'm not sure, but I think it also allows the use of the ADAM Printer, though it's main function in that case would seem to be fixing the space bug. It's also available on cartridge. I haven't yet seen this one, but it's on my list of programs I want to buy. It's somewhat more expensive, though, especially on cartridge. (Disk or data pack $19.95, cartridge $39.95) SmartWriter Elite, too, allows use of the second disk drive and a RAM drive.

I kind of hate to write about these new packages in the middle of an article about the KX-P1124, because they are useful programs for owners of 9-pin printers, too. But it's especially nice to know that if you are considering the purchase of the 24-pin, there is already software that takes advantage of it's features, and more on the way.

It's hard to decide which model to buy when you are considering a dot matrix printer, but consider this: A good printer is a long-term investment. It will be with you for years, and it can be used with other computers, too. If you really don't want a lot of fancy features, that's fine, too; but if you think you might want them in a year or two, you'd do better to get them in the first place than to buy another printer later.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 1992 issue of NIAD and has been republished with permission by the author, Pat Herrington. This article was republished by The ADAM Resource on 5/6/00.

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