Introducing the Apple ImageWriter II

My Macintosh setup is now complete.

Ever since I purchased my 1991 Macintosh Classic back in March 2020, I envisioned purchasing a printer to complete the setup. A printer has become an even bigger priority since I started using my classic Macs for various things – ranging from writing blog posts to even some basic page layout.

Last week, I finally acquired a printer to make the setup complete. The printer is the infamous Apple ImageWriter II, which was a very common printer used with Macs back in the day.

My Apple ImageWriter II dot-matrix printer, with a box of fresh ribbons to the right

The ImageWriter II is a 9-pin dot-matrix printer produced for Apple by C. Itoh. It was originally released in 1985, when it replaced the original ImageWriter that was introduced in late 1983. It was supported by both the Apple II and Macintosh lines. 

Apple’s foray into dot-matrix printers, or printers in general, didn’t start with the ImageWriter II. Apple sold the simply-named “Dot Matrix Printer” between 1982 and 1984, although Apple’s first printer was the Silentype thermal printer introduced for use with the Apple II in 1979. Apple helped start the desktop publishing revolution of the late 1980s with the introduction of the Macintosh and their LaserWriter line.

The ribbon carriage mechanism, without a ribbon installed.

The ImageWriter II has a lower print quality than the LaserWriter. However, LaserWriter printers – as with all laser printers – are expensive and heavy/bulky. That’s not mentioning that LaserWriter printers are not as common as the ImageWriter II. However, for my uses, the ImageWriter II will suffice. The ImageWriter II has three print-quality settings which vary in quality and speed.

The ImageWriter II is somewhere between an electric typewriter and a modern printer. The ImageWriter II accepts both tractor-feed and regular (modern) paper, although you must feed regular paper one sheet at a time. Loading paper is similar to that of a typewriter. You can use the buttons on the front panel to have the motor spool the paper around, or you can do it manually with a wheel on the side. Much like with a typewriter, the margins may be off or it may print crooked if not aligned properly.

As for aesthetics, the ImageWriter II is aesthetically pleasing with its classic ’80s Apple industrial design based on the “Snow White” design language, which matches my Macintosh SE.

Despite that, the ImageWriter II has mostly been used with my Macintosh Classic so far. I’ve tried using it with the SE, but it appears the SE doesn’t have the proper driver installed.

With the Classic, I’ve used the ImageWriter to print text documents from Word 4.0, as well as graphics from Aldus PageMaker. The graphics are dithered, which is common on both the Macintosh itself (1-bit color) and dot-matrix printers. Despite the dithering, many graphics print crisply on the ImageWriter, including a screenshot from my Classic.

The ImageWriter II looks at home with both the Macintosh Classic and SE.

As previously mentioned, the print quality setting is adjustable. Draft mode is the quickest mode, and the mode I use the most as it also uses the least ink. Standard mode is a middle setting which is quicker than draft mode and uses slightly more ink, but has higher quality than draft mode. For the highest print quality, NLQ (near-letter-quality) mode is slow and uses the most ink but will yield high text-quality.

Ink for the ImageWriter II comes on ribbons. Thankfully, ribbons for the ImageWriter II are readily available and fairly cheapway cheaper than the cost of a single inkjet ink cartridge for my Canon Pixma MX-922 printer.

The ImageWriter II printing a Word document in draft mode
The document printed in the video above

I purchased my ImageWriter II from a fellow 68kMLA forum member, who also shipped it with the original box. While I haven’t been able to decode the serial number on my ImageWriter II, if the box matches it may be from the mid-1980s (pre-1987) when Apple still used color printing on their boxes. (Later, Apple switched to black-and-white boxes with a red spot color for the Apple logo and some text.)

The ImageWriter II’s original box

So far, it has worked quite well with my Classic. My only concern is the noise. As with all dot matrix printers, it is quite noisy. However, it is a great solution for printing directly from my vintage Macs.