Admit it, you have a printer. I know the audience for this blog and we tend to be a little more on the GenX/Boomer side. Millennials and their Gen-Z counterparts wouldn’t be dead with a printer in the house, though. That’s why, even though you may disagree, I’m calling printers obsolete.

Home printers date back to the 1970s

It’s hard to know exactly what the first “home” printer was. In the early 1970s, computers were either large monstrosities that took up entire floors of large buildings, or small hobbyist contraptions. Printers were often the only way of getting permanent output, since cheap storage wasn’t otherwise available.

Based on that, you might say that this Centronics model 101 was the first home printer. It was released in 1970. But as far as printers really designed for home use, you’d have to look at something like this Epson FX-80, whose roots date back to the early 1980s:

or this Okidata Microline printer which surprisingly is still in production.

The first consumer laser printer

Although laser printers like this original HP LaserJet were used in home offices starting in 1985, I’ll go on record as saying the first laser printer that was actually popular with consumers was this LaserJet 5L released in 1995:

This particular printer was designed to be quiet and compact, which led to an incredible number of reliability problems. I will tell you right now, this was the worst printer I ever owned and I’ve owned a lot.

Printers in the 21st century

Color printing was the order of the day as the millennium turned. People still wanted to print photos and that led to a 20-year run of mostly forgettable inkjet printers, each promising to be better than the last. Most of these had drivers that eventually corrupted your operating system in some weird way and ink cartridges that dried up before you used them.

It became popular at the same time to bundle as much functionality into a printer as possible. Your printer was a scanner, a copier, a fax… all things you didn’t use but you thought one day you would.

Printers got cheaper in the 2000s. By the numbers, they got better too. But the high cost of ink and the low level of reliability from this new generation of printers turned people off them, permanently.

The obsolete nature of printers

Printers today are obsolete. I can say that they’re not only obsolete today, they’ve been obsolete for half a decade. This article from 2015 was one of the most viewed from that year, and that tells me that people have been “done” with printers for at least that long.

Today, your printer sits gathering dust other than the one or two days a month you might actually use it to print something you didn’t need to print. Its insides are beginning to clog from disuse, its precious and overpriced ink slowly drying in its cartridges.

You know that for the once every six months you actually need to print something you could go to the library, or to work. You could form a “printing collective” where your neighbors could use Google Cloud Print to share one printer, meaning it might actually get enough use to keep it healthy a while longer.

But really, when it comes to home users, we just don’t care. We’ll let that old thing sit in the corner and gather dust, thinking we might use it sometime. And when it eventually breaks… and it will… we’ll replace it with something equally chunky and obsolete.


About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.