TypograFriday: The Neue Dot Matrices

Printing technologies are forever cannibalizing one another; letterpress to linotype to film to desktop publishing. Dotmatrix printing was one of the first printing technologies I was aware of — with the Mac 128 and the ImageWriter and the bitmap typefaces of 1984 — and the first and quickest to be made obsolete in my lifetime. However – much as letterpress got a new lease on life with artisanal printers, and pixel-aliased typefaces got new play with flash and web and portable devices – dotmatrix is back. The people who brought it back? Programmers with robots.

The example making the rounds on the blogs this week is the closest to my old ImageWriter… but it’s cobbled together using Legos and a felt tip pen. Adorably geeky.

Hello World is of course a basic output program, and so it’s not surprising to see it here as well, on this giant scale paintball gun dot matrix, with which you can message a neighboring building quickly. Designboom has a great writeup/photoset of a later iteration of this paintballer called the facade printer that even semisuccessfully printed in full color.

Similarly, from a few years back, someone hooked up a chalk-output dotmatrix that printed SMS messages from the back of a moving bike. I particularly like the lack of precision in these letterforms – warped by speed and tilt of the rider.

Of course it was only a matter of time before a technology so cool would be co-opted by Nike. Their Chalkwriter is much slicker, and quite impressive. I’d like to see Jenny Holzer ride up and down the streets of the Mission on one of these.

Finally, waterfall printers: they send timed bursts of water down so that the falling water makes shapes; the combination of crisp typography and the elemental nature of water/gravity is pretty breathtaking.

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