Dot Matrix vs. Inkjet

By Solomon Poretsky

Dot matrix and inkjet printers share one key characteristic -- both make images out of small dots. With a dot matrix printer, a pin presses through a ribbon to make an impact on the page. Inkjet printers have an electrical signal that causes a microscopic quantity of ink to squirt onto the page. While inkjet technology can produce higher-quality printouts, dot matrix printers have benefits in some circumstances even though their technology is much older.


Although both inkjets and dot matrix printers use dots to make images and text, inkjet printers are able to make smaller dots and have higher resolution. While the best dot matrix printers are able to output about 240 dots per inch (dpi) of resolution, inkjet printers can output images at resolutions exceeding 1200 dpi. While the dots in a dot matrix printer's output are visible to the naked eye on close inspection, the resolution on inkjet printers is high enough that the individual dots become invisible.


While the fastest dot matrix printers can approach the speed of inkjet printers, inkjets are generally faster when printing pages of text. Even low-cost inkjets can achieve speeds of 20 pages per minute with draft-quality black and white output. Dot matrix printers are rated on the basis of characters per second, with the fastest ones approaching the speed of a lower-cost inkjet.


Most inkjets are relatively quiet and work well in an office setting. Dot matrix printers, on the other hand, are very noisy because they involve having thousands of pins slam into a ribbon and into the paper. While dot matrix printers work well in noisy atmospheres, offices that use them have to place them in special sound-deadening enclosures.

Paper Handling

One area in which dot matrix printers shine is in their paper-handling capability. Most inkjet printers are page printers that take individual sheets of paper. Dot-matrix printers, on the other hand, work with continuous feed paper. Because they use an impact as a part of their printing method, they can also print multiple copies of a document at once on multi-part forms.


In addition to the significant technical differences between dot matrix and inkjet printers, they also have different cost equations. While the entry level for an inkjet printer is typically below $100, dot matrix printers typically start around a few hundred dollars. While inkjets have a cost advantage at the time of purchase, dot matrix printers have ribbon lives that are measured in millions of characters, giving them the potential for a very low cost per page for ongoing printing.