When Was the First Color Printer Invented?

By Dale Mann

The history of modern printing is the result of a series of technological advancements tracing back to the printing press. However, it wasn't until the 20th century, with the development of computer technology, when modern electronic printing became accessible.

Time Frame

The first successful color printout occurred in 1977, and despite the variety of dot matrix, inkjet and laser printers available to consumers in the 1980s, color printers were usually resigned to print shops, and color copies were costly to purchase. By the late 1980s, color printers were more consumer-friendly in both their cost and technology.


The evolution of modern printers began with the movable-type press invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1550. Between the time that Gutenberg introduced his printing press and the Industrial Revolution which mechanized it, only the advent of lithography advanced the printing process, making images more easily transferrable. The 19th century added the inventions of photography and photomechanical printing plates to the advancement of modern printing. Lastly, the linotype machine preceded the invention of electronics and computers in the 1960s, advancing the typesetting process. Remington Rand developed the first high-speed printer for its UNIVAC in 1953.


C. Itoh Enterprises (CIE) became one of the first companies to pioneer the market for personal computer printers. While the Apple Computer company can take credit for the name and marketing, it was CIE who, in 1976, had introduced an 80-line PC printer called the ImageWriter. Color monitors and color printing did not come onto the scene until a year later in Japan when the Mitsushita Corporation duplicated the colors from its prototype color monitor onto paper.


In 1976, well before earlier dot matrix technology saw a market flooded with competitors, IBM had become the first company to package and then release an inkjet printer. The inkjet printer evolved from a series of research and development efforts, culminating with IBM's color desktop printer in the 1980s.

Laser Printers

Laser printers are in the line of non-impact, or digital, printers with the inkjet model, and are the culmination of printing technology. Although the first laser printer was developed by Gary Starkweather at Xerox, Xerox did not immediately market the product. Instead, Canon was the first to release a consumer laser printer. The Canon LPB-CX was in stores in 1983 and, subsequently, its engine was sold to both Hewlett-Packard and Apple to be applied to their respective designs.