Drum Printer

Definition of Drum Printer

A drum printer is a type of impact line printer that utilizes a rotating drum, mounted with fixed character sets, to print text onto continuous form paper. As the drum rotates, hammers press the paper against the desired character, transferring ink and creating an impression. Drum printers were widely used in early computers due to their high-speed printing capabilities but have since been replaced by more modern, non-impact printing devices.


The phonetic pronunciation of “Drum Printer” is: /drʌm ˈprɪntər/

Key Takeaways

  1. Drum printers are a type of impact printer that use a rotating drum and fixed hammers to print characters on paper.
  2. These printers are known for their high-speed printing capabilities, commonly used in mainframe and minicomputer systems during the 1960s and 1970s.
  3. Although drum printers have been largely replaced by modern-day printers offering higher resolution and functionality, they remain an important milestone in the history of printing technologies.

Importance of Drum Printer

The term Drum Printer holds importance in the field of technology as it represents a significant advancement in early computing and printing technology. Drum printers were one of the first high-speed line printers developed, operating on the principle of a rotating drum lined with the desired characters.

As the drum rotated, hammers struck the paper against the ink ribbon, imprinting the characters and allowing for fast and efficient printing of textual data. This breakthrough technology greatly enhanced the output capabilities of early computers, improving productivity and data management.

The invention of drum printers paved the way for more sophisticated printing devices, eventually leading to the versatile printers we use today. Thus, drum printers can be regarded as an essential milestone in the evolution of computer technology and the development of modern printing systems.


Drum printers have played a significant role in the evolution of the printing industry, primarily serving as a high-speed line printer essential for large-scale data processing and bulk printing tasks. These robust, impact printers were typically integrated with mainframe computers in the mid-20th century to generate large printouts of text, numerical data, or line graphs. Organizations such as banks, government agencies, and large corporations relied on drum printers for the swift, efficient output of information like payroll data, census reports, and financial transactions.

Although drum printers have been largely supplanted by modern technologies, they remain an important milestone in the historical progression of printing solutions. The drum printer’s functionality is based around a rotating drum wrapped in engraved characters, which spins at a rapid pace. As each specific character aligns with its intended print position on the paper, a set of hammers strikes the paper from the opposite side, pressing it onto an inked ribbon and thereby transferring the character impression to the paper.

This process is synchronized across the entire width of the paper, allowing the simultaneous printing of an entire line of text in a single rotation of the drum. Interestingly, drum printers operated on a continuous feed mechanism, utilizing fan-folded paper with perforated edges to ensure seamless transitions between printed pages. Despite the obvious technological advancements since the era of these printers, drum printers hold an undeniable place in the annals of technological innovation for their ability to streamline and accelerate business processes involving vast quantities of data.

Examples of Drum Printer

IBM 1403 Line Printer: The IBM 1403 Line Printer is an iconic example of a drum printer introduced in the early 1960s, which was used with the IBM 1401 Data Processing System. Known for its high-speed performance and reliability, it could print up to 600 lines per minute. It used a horizontal arrangement of 132 print characters on its drum, which rotated against the paper to transfer the ink. The IBM 1403 was widely adopted in various industries, including banking, insurance, and manufacturing, and remained in use for more than two decades.

UNIVAC High-Speed Printer: Introduced in the 1950s, the UNIVAC High-Speed Printer was another example of a drum printer used with the UNIVAC I computer system. It was able to print approximately 600 lines per minute and featured a central drum with embossed characters. Each of the 128 character positions on a line was associated with a hammer, which struck the paper against the drum to print the characters. Industries such as government, aerospace, and scientific research utilized this technology during that era.

The Friden Flexowriter: The Friden Flexowriter was an electromechanical printer and paper tape punch machine produced in the 1950s and 1960s. It utilized drum printing technology to print at a speed of 10 characters per second. The Flexowriter was used as a standalone printer, a teleprinter, and as an input/output device for early computer systems. Some of its applications included military communication, transportation logistics, and business report generation.

Drum Printer FAQ

What is a Drum Printer?

A drum printer is an early type of impact printer that uses a revolving drum with engraved characters on its surface. As the drum rotates, hammers press the paper against the ink ribbon, forming the desired character on the paper.

How does a Drum Printer work?

When a character needs to be printed, the drum rotates to position the desired character in front of the selected print hammer. The hammer then strikes the paper against the ink ribbon, transferring the character’s image onto the paper. The drum rotates at a constant speed, enabling high-speed printing.

What are the main components of a Drum Printer?

The main components of a Drum Printer include the drum, print hammers, ink ribbon, and paper feed mechanism. The drum is the core component, featuring engraved characters on its surface. The print hammers strike the paper against the ink ribbon to print the characters, and the paper feed mechanism manages the paper’s movement.

What are the advantages of a Drum Printer?

Some advantages of a Drum Printer include high-speed printing, low cost, and durability. Drum printers were widely used in the early days of computing due to their fast operation, affordable price, and ability to handle large print volumes.

What are the disadvantages of a Drum Printer?

Disadvantages of a Drum Printer include limited character sets, print quality challenges, and noise. Drum printers often had a restricted number of characters, symbols, and font options. The impact printing method could create smudges and lower print quality, and the mechanical process was often noisy during operation.

Are Drum Printers still in use today?

Drum Printers have largely been replaced by modern printing technologies such as inkjet and laser printers. These newer technologies offer higher print quality, more diverse character sets, and quieter operation. However, some specialized applications may still use Drum Printers for their durability and reliability in continuous printing.

Related Technology Terms

  • Impact Printing
  • Line Printer
  • Character Sets
  • Print Speed
  • Fixed Font

Sources for More Information


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