Totally 80s: Dot matrix printer paper

Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)


List item #47 from 50 Things only ’80s Kids Can Understand

The stress of pulling the edges off your dot matrix printer paper.

The sights, the sounds...
The sights, the sounds…yes, the paper, it actually makes a sound. Can’t you hear it? *scritch…scriiiiiiiitch…scritch scritch…scriiiiiiitch*

The sound of a dot matrix printer printing has got to be up there with dial-up modems in term of memory-based sounds. I mean, for several years, outside of the television and the various sounds it emanated, our dot matrix printer was the nosiest damn thing in our house! And that was from me just using it to print out school papers!

But oh, that dot matrix printer.

This is a nicer (and probably newer) printer than the beast that graced our home.
This is a nicer (and newer, relatively) printer than the beast that graced our home.

Learning how to both load paper into and change out the (stupid goddamn) ribbon cartridge for our dot matrix printer was probably my first experience in mechanical/technical know-how. Which isn’t saying much except that since I was the one who seemed to use the printer the most, I had to figure how the thing worked when my folks weren’t around to help. Our printer was huge and beige. The box that held the continuous feed of that special paper with the tear-off edges was nearly as big. I never remember running out of paper. Like, nowadays, you know how you’re at home and you go to print out directions of Mapquest only to find that you’ve only got a single sheet of printer paper because you totally forgot to get another pack of it when you were at Staples a just few days ago and now you hate life because you really need those directions and have completely forgotten in your rage that you can easily send the directions to your phone, you big dumb dummy? Well, our supply of dot matrix printer paper from ye bygone days of yore was seemingly endless.  I don’t recall there ever being a time when I had to ask for more paper, because it was always there. Always waiting to fulfill its purpose. And I was more than willing to oblige, because typing school papers up on the computer and then printing them out beat the hell out hand writing them, so…yeah. I was pretty much our printer’s slave in middle school and part of high school (until we got a swanky bubble jet printer).

But as much fun as it was learning how to load the printer paper just right so that it didn’t go off the rails (dot matrix printer paper jams were the worst), more fun, most definitely, was tearing off the paper’s edges just right as to not improperly tear either the holes or the internal paper itself. I guess you could call the experience something akin to popping bubble wrap. Wholly satisfying in an almost inappropriate way. Getting the perfect tear was, well…[happy happy sigh] perfect. Accidentally tearing the paper itself meant an immediate reprint. Tearing the edges so that little bits of the holes remained was a nightmare.

I was never a patient child. Patience was a skill that I had to learn like reading or writing.  And in my most impatient moments, I was a terror. Add to that a tendency, somehow, towards perfectionism, and tasks often turned me into an angry, sobbing wreck of a human being. While I had moments of bliss in cleanly tearing edges off of dot matrix printer paper, there were certainly occasions during which I hastily dealt with a pile of that special paper onto which was printed a school paper that was due in mere minutes (or so it felt). I’d bundle up the papers, which were still in their z-fold formation, and pull off the edges in one mighty swoop! And then it was all like !goddamnmotherfucker! because this action inevitably left parts of the edges still attached to their tiny perforations.  Undoubtedly, my minute-long task turned into a many minutes-long ordeal to remove all the remaining edges, little piece by little piece, sheet of paper by sheet of paper. It was more than horrendous.

So in this day and age of ease and accessibility when it comes to printers, let us never take for granted the beautifully clean-cut reams of crisp printer paper that grace our houses and offices. It’s no wonder that some of us of a certain age carry remnants of technological OCD. The stress of being technologically savvy during the 1980s was quite the burden to bear.

Epilogue: To my kind readers who have somehow survived my 1980s rushes and nostalgic drivelings, you have my undying thanks. It has been amazingly fun and occasionally difficult to revisit a decade that truly formed and affected the person I am today. Your likes and comments on these posts mean everything to me, and hopefully I induced a few smile along the way. This post marks the end of all things here Totally 80s. I’ll be back next Wednesday with a regular gaming article and then in two weeks with an announcement and my final iTunes Diaries post of the year.



  1. I remember these, except I never knew what this was called. I think I always thought of it as the paper with the holes on the side of it. I vaguely remember also learning how to properly add more paper. I only ever used these printers at school. This does take me back.

    I really enjoyed this series and taking a trip down memory lane with you! Sure, we had different experiences with the items you spoke of but I love the nostalgia factor. Or it’s just a reminder of how old we are. Whichever we want to take away from this. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! 😊 Nostalgia has probably been the biggest factor at play here, but it’s been fun sharing in the ups and downs of the past generally. I’ve loved seeing the array of comments on these posts, whether these have been things you grew up with or not. Collectively sharing memories is pretty special, indeed!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hopefully it was a soundproof room! We have one at work because it prints a particular kind of (old fashioned) label that we still use. I don’t know how we get supplies for it, but boy, does it fly. And when it’s printing, the whole floor knows it!

      Liked by 1 person

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