ASCII Art From a Vintage Printer Connected Directly to an Arduino

Plug Emily Velasco's Arduino-based cartridge into a vintage printer and print ASCII art with the touch of a button.

Cameron Coward
3 months ago3D Printing / RetroTech

The Kodak Diconix was a portable inkjet printer that was introduced in the mid-1980s. At a time when pen plotter printers were still commonplace in the consumer market, the Kodak Diconix was quite impressive. It also had a price point to match that works out to about $1,000 in today’s money. Emily Velasco found one at a local thrift shop for just $4, and decided to give it up a home. She determined that it could be controlled directly by an Arduino, and built an ASCII art device that prints to that vintage Kodak Diconix.

This particular version of the Kodak Diconix communicates with computers via a parallel connection. Arduino boards are able to handle parallel connections if you’re willing to devote enough pins to the task. Emily was able to get that working well after replacing the inkjet cartridge — so well that she could send any string of text off to the Diconix and it would happily print it out on tractor feed paper. That included good old ASCII art, of which there is plenty available to choose from online.

With that capability in mind, Emily set out to build a device that would automatically print a random piece of ASCII art that is stored right in the sketch uploaded to an Arduino Nano. That is housed within a 3D-printed enclosure. The only other features on that enclosure are a status LED, a momentary push button, the Centronics parallel port, and a design flourish reminiscent of an NES cartridge. Power is provided through the parallel connection, and a simple push of the button will select a random piece of ASCII art and then print it out through the vintage Kodak Diconix.

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