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Futurist: The History of and Question About What Would You Like Your Next Printer to Do?

I am a long-time Futurist, and technologist. In my career, I have spanned the birth of personal computers, to the rise of Cloud Computing.

3d printer

3d printer

i used to have many more printers than I do now...

One of the things I often consider is printers. Printers are not what they used to be. When I got my first dot-matrix printer, an image writer connected to my Apple to see. The interesting thing about that image writer printer is that when I bought my first Macintosh, I could connect that image writer to the Macintosh. The printer was pretty universal and had an AppleTalk connector. In those early days in our house, we only had three computers, but three printers. As we moved up in the number of printers and computers, we pretty much had one printer for each. The rise of the network laser printer meant that we could go to one printer for most of the first computers in the house. Now I have few friends who only had one printer. And they used email to move files back and forth. Kids book reports and other things that the kids wrote on their computers and email to the computer the had the printer. I also have friends that never owned the printer and would go to Kinko's to print.

For the most part, the rise of the network printer made having only one printer in your house easier. We ended up having the printer in our house only because one printer was for almost everybody and one printer focused or dedicated to one family member. That family member was a graduate school and needed a dedicated laser printer for school work and other activities of studies for a Masters's degree. That is pretty much the way our house has been the last ten years to the printer. One printer for the rest of us. One printer for the person who needs to print a lot. That dedicated printer is a heavy-duty dedicated laser printer. But, the goal of this article isn't to recount why and how we ended up with two printers. It's also probably not something that most people considered, as they went down with the network printers to only one printer in their house.

Rather today, I wanted to talk about the concept of specialty printers. Specialty printers continue to rise. There is a specialty printer called the print queue, a handheld printer that includes ink that you can use on human skin. You can quickly print a temporary tattoo if you're so inclined. You can also use the PrintCube to print on things you normally wouldn't print on as long as the surface supports the ink. That is one type of specialty printer, a printer that supports handheld printing operations.

Another type of specialty printer is the label writing printer. Or you can quickly create labels for objects in your home. There are many types of those printers; in particular, I've had the Dynamo printer for many years. It connects via USB to a computer and lets you print labels. I use that printer to print address labels and return address labels for mail and UPS shipping. I suspect overall that printer has gone from being used 25 to 30 times a month down to not more than two or three times in a month. The other label printers are smaller, handheld. They connect via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and allow you to print from either your cellular phone or your computer. They print smaller labels than the traditional label writer does, but there are interesting tools in your toolkit. The value of labels can label anything quickly with a sticky label. Unlike the print cube that I already mentioned that requires the surface to support the printing process, the label writer creates a label on sticky paper; once you peel the backing off, you can put the label on anything.

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But that only begins to plumb the depths of specialty printers. I've spent a lot of time on 3D printers. I won't devote much more than simply saying 3D printers allow you to print in three dimensions. With one of two types of plastic, ABS or PLA, you can take an object scanned, downloaded, and converted into a 3D print. It allows for the rapid creation of what is a prototype. As I said, I've spent a lot of time on 3D printers, and that isn't the goal and intent of this article to once more dive into the incredible world of 3D printing.

What do you need from your future printer?

The new Laser Engraving printer, a specialty printer, allows you to quickly and easily print an image onto an object. Remember that printing using the handheld PrintCube requires the object to support the printer (paper, or skin, for example). Laser Engraving printers will print on any surface with a laser. There's a wonderful product: Laserpecker allows you to laser engrave on glass, metal, or other services. You can print or personalized your cell phone case using laser engraving.

The majority of these devices are available right now in the market. You go to Amazon or any other online store, or for that matter, best buy any local electronic store and buy a specialty printer. The real evolution, the real change, is that now most of these devices have software available for your cell phone—either the Google Play Store or the Apple iTunes Store. If we go to the store, download the application, and then connected to a specialty printer. The advantage of that is that you don't have to select the printer. It's automatically connected to the software. It makes specialty printing easier.

That is the evolution the market is under costs. If we go back to the beginning of this article, when I talked about setting up a printer was pretty easy. You took the CD or floppy disks that came with the printer and installed the printer on your computer. The rise of network printers made things a little more complex, but the printer makers created software that you could tell it I'm connecting this printer via the network when you installed it on your computer. That evolution is part of what the future is going to bring.

The rise of inkjet printers was the first step in this journey. Many inkjet printers and then later laser printers included the capability to print in color. But they also added scanning and faxing capabilities. One device to replace two devices in your home. Although other than people I know in the IT world, not many people have (or had) fax machines at home.

Most of those network-connected printers now support printing from your cell phone. That was the second evolution when you could print from any device in your home to your printer. One thing that arose is the concept of printing to a PDF (PDF for portable document format,) which was made popular by Adobe Corporation many years ago. It is a standard now, and a lot of applications can print to PDF.

So today, to end this column is that of me predicting what the future would be, printers, today I thought it would be interesting to ask this question is a two-part question and is quite simply well I guess it's not simple. The first part of the question is, what would it do if you could design the perfect printer for your family? Would that one printer plugged into your network at home, probably your router, offer services within the house? What services would it offer? I predicted way back in 2014 that I thought 3D printers were going to be huge. I've since recanted that prediction because I believe 3D printers will always be a niche market. But there's functionality that people want for printers. And so as we consider this path for tomorrow, what is it you need from your future printer?

The LaserPecker laser engraving printer!

The LaserPecker laser engraving printer!

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