Apple introduced the Silentype printer in June 1979. The Silentype was Apple's first printer. It is a thermal printer that uses special heat-sensitive paper and does not have a printer ribbon like a dot-matrix printer or printer ink like an inkjet printer. Apple originally packaged the Silentype with a Synch Printer Interface Card for connecting it to an Apple II or Apple II Plus computer and priced it at $595 (A2M0036). After the introduction of the Apple III with its built-in Silentype port in June 1980, Apple offered a Silentype package without the interface card for $525 (A3M0001). I purchased my Silentype in 2008 for $70.

Synch Printer Interface Card

Apple chose Trendom's Model 200 as the basis of the Silentype. Trendcom exclusively manufactured the Silentype for Apple. Apple replaced the Model 200's internal digital board with one of its own design. Apple removed the expensive microprocessor and memory chips from the Model 200 and routed their functionality through the computer. Andy Hertzfeld, famed Macintosh team member, wrote the printer's firmware. The Silentype was introduced along with the Apple II Plus in 1979. Apple shipped an interface card called the Synch Printer Interface Card to drive the Silentype in the Apple II and Apple II Plus computer.

Silentype shown from back

Apple included a special Silentype port on the Apple III. When used with the Apple III, the Silentype printer was plugged into joystick port-A, which it could share with other devices. This Silentype package, called the Silentype /// Thermal Printer, came with a driver disk that provided the printer driver for the Apple III SOS operating system.

The Silentype was inexpensive compared to other contemporary printers, which cost as much as $1000. The Silentype produces text very similar to dot-matrix printers. It can print up to 80 columns wide on paper 8.5 inches wide. The Silentype was considered a very good printer at the time, especially compared to early printers offered by companies like Radio Shack for their inferior TRS-80 computer.

The Silentype uses rolled thermal paper. The length of the printout depends on the number of rows sent to the printer. A finished printout is ripped off similar to a cash register or adding machine. The Silentype is powered through its interface cable and does not have a power cord or power adapter. Click the link below to view the process of loading thermal paper into a Silentype.

 Click here to learn how to feed thermal paper into a Silentype

The Silentype is remarkably versatile in spite of its simple design. It can be programmed to control printing of each dot in a column, making it an inexpensive means of printing Apple II hi-res graphics. The Silentype can be used from within programs written in Applesoft BASIC or Pascal and it can be directly assessed at the Command Prompt or the Monitor (*). We tested our Silentype printer using an Apple IIe at the Command Prompt. With the interface card in slot #3, typing PR#3 tells the Apple IIe to hand output control over to the card. All output from then on is routed to the Silentype instead of the monitor. Control functions can be used to send additional commands to the printer. For example, pressing the keyboard combination CTRL-J causes the printer to advance one line. Below is the Silentype Quick Reference Guide, a single, thick pull out page that came with the Silentype Operation and Reference Manual. It contains a quick list of parameters and functions.

(Click) Silentype Quick Reference Guide

The Silentype is a remarkably simple printer with few moving parts

By default, the Silentype operates in bi-directional mode. In this mode, it can print from left to right or from right to left. Each time the printer is ready to print a line, bi-directional mode lets the printer determine which direction will result in the smallest amount of printer head movement. The line will then be printed either from left to right or from right to left, depending on which direction the printer found optimal. Uni-directional mode prints only from left to right. For this reason, it prints at about half the speed of bi-directional mode; however; it calibrates the print head at the beginning of each line. Uni-directional mode is substantially slower, but prints a more perfectly aligned printout and is more suitable for printing high-resolution images. The SETUNIDIRECT procedure sets uni-directional printing, and the SETBIDIRECT procedure sets bi-directional printing.

The Silentype can print at eight different levels of intensity, from intensity 0, which is almost invisible, to intensity 7, which is quite dark. The Silentype sets the default to 5. The SETDARK procedure lets you change the intensity to the eight available levels. It takes one parameter, so it has the format SETDARK(INTENSITY) where INTENSITY is an integer value from 0 to 7.

You can get some interesting graphic effects by causing the Silentype to print the "negative" of what appears on the Apple II high-resolution screen. Printing this way is known as printing in inverse mode. The SETNEGATIVE procedure sets negative printing mode, which only affects graphics printing, not character printing.

The Silentype is a thermal printer and it has no printer ribbon. The name "Silentype" denotes the printer's almost silent operation. The print head itself has no moving parts. It produces a printed image by selectively heating coated thermal paper when it passes under the thermal print head. The coating turns black in the areas where it is heated, producing the image. The print quality is rather low, similar to that produced by an adding machine or tape register. Furthermore, the thermal paper is highly susceptible to ambient heat. If you leave thermal paper on your desk, it can turn dark if your desk is bathed in sunlight from a window. If you store documents printed on thermal paper in a hot warehouse, the next time you dig the documents out of their storage boxes, they may very well all be black. The Silentype has more in common with ribbon-less fax machines than with modern printers. Its use of thermal paper makes its printed documents very fragile and not long-lived and its use of rolled paper makes it inappropriate for formal documents.

Silentype next to an ImageWriter II

The Silentype is an interesting first try by Apple. It is a rugged, very simple printer with few moving parts. The Silentype is very small when compared with Apple's later dot-matrix printers like the ImageWriter II. This tiny printer was designed to use with the Apple II, Apple II Plus, and Apple III. The Synch Printer Interface Card will work in the Apple IIe, but we found that it is impossible to run the cable through any of the Apple IIe's portholes without damaging the plastic connector. The connector port on the interface card actually faces away from the back of the computer. On the Apple II or II Plus, the cord is run through one of the v-shaped slits on the back of the computer. The Apple IIe does not have this type of porthole.

Silentype connected to an Apple IIe

Apple retired the Silentype shortly after the introduction of the Apple Dot Matrix Printer in October 1982. Although the Silentype is a versatile printer, one cannot deny its hobbyists roots. It was a printer more suited to output lines of Applesoft BASIC code than one suited for use in an office environment or one suited to supplant the use of typewriters for formal documents. This tiny printer is quaint to say the least, but it definitely gave early Apple users a reason to talk to their local Apple Authorized Dealer.

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