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Purchased a rare, near-mint Panasonic Penwriter this week - it's so cool!

Huxley

Well-known member
After many years of poking around various IRL and online venues, I finally found a near-complete Panasonic Penwriter RK-P400c. This is a fantastically weird device: it's a battery-powered 'typewriter' but it uses a tiny 4-color plotter mechanism inside and features an RS232 serial input on the side for computer connectivity too. In other words, rather than 'stamping' each letter onto the page (as a typewriter or dot-matrix printer would have), this machine uses tiny ball-point pens to literally write each printed character onto the page - the print-head scoots left and right, while the paper jumps up and down on its spindle. Because of this, it's able to print red/green/blue/black text in small/medium/large sizes, italics, bold, graphs and charts, etc. - all tricks that were beyond most comparable typewriters of the era. I haven't tested the serial port connection yet, but I'll definitely try that out this week, probably using the Mac Color Classic II you see in the pics below.

Unfortunately, the specific pens the Penwriter uses were only made in small quantities for a few years, and are now even rarer than the device itself. Thanks to some eBay luck, I now have both a working Penwriter, and also what I believe to be a significant portion of the world's remaining ink supply for these weird machines. Even so, because of the ultra-limited supply of ink, literally every page I print is one of the last this machine will *ever* print, so I'm trying to make each page count. 

Here's a couple pics, and a video showing me composing a letter on the machine - I hope you guys get a kick outta this too!

IMG_3499.jpeg

Here's a sample of the large text setting, in a 'letter' I wrote for Twitter:

IMG_3514.jpeg

:)

Huxley

 

dcr

Well-known member
Do you have any dead pens yet?  They must have some kind of cartridge or reservoir to hold ink, so I wonder if there might be some way of refilling them?

 

dzog

Well-known member
This is fantastic - congrats on the finds and thank you for sharing. The writing looks nice!

 

Huxley

Well-known member
Do you have any dead pens yet?  They must have some kind of cartridge or reservoir to hold ink, so I wonder if there might be some way of refilling them?
Yeah, all four pens that were in the print-head when I received it are totally dead, so they're my first candidates for any attempt to revive / refill them. From what I'm reading in various forums, it may be possible to refill them, but the design of the original pens is very refill-resistant - it's more likely I'll destroy the pen trying to drill a hole into the tank than I would be to successfully refill it. Fortunately, a kind soul on Reddit pointed me to a German medical-supply vendor who still sells compatible pens - from what I can sorta understand, a line of EKG printers used in hospital settings uses them. Go figure! Sadly, they're priced for hospital purchases and not for nerds on a budget, so a single set of 4 pens (black / red / blue / green) runs ~23euro... but they're theoretically easier to refill...

 

olePigeon

Well-known member
@Huxley  Hopefully it understands HPGL.  If it does, then you're all set with something like MacPlot or PlotterGeist.  You can then print directly to the plotter using a real vector-based program such as most CAD software or even Inkscape on a modern machine.

I know from experience that Adobe Illustrator doesn't work.  Despite being a vector design program, it doesn't know how to "print" in vector.  Everything is rasterized first.  I seem to recall MacDraw worked, though.

 

cheesestraws

Well-known member
single set of 4 pens (black / red / blue / green) runs ~23euro
Mind you, by "printer ink" standards, especially for one this niche, that's... not that bad. 

This is such a cool device, and I'm glad that pens might be available so it won't be silenced forever

 

LaPorta

Well-known member
What Techknight and MacEffects have shown me on this forum is that no matter how absurd it might seem to be able to re-create something...almost anything is possible.

 

mz721

New member
I know this is an old thread, but I thought I would mention a couple of things. First, the Brother BP-30 (type-o-graph) was a similar machine at a similar time, but could not take input from a computer, so distinctly inferior. Second, I have a BP-30 and I have been able to recharge the pens. I used pliers to gently wiggle the nib out. It came out and showed a sort of pointy bit (that is a technical term) that poked into a fibrous ink reservoir (a bit like you get in a felt-tip pen). I soaked the nib in hot water for a couple of _days_ (the ink is water based on the Brother). Eventually all the dried ink was loosed. An ultrasonic bath would be handy, I suspect. Anyway, I used a syringe to refill the pen body with a water-based, non-clogging drawing dye-based ink that is suitable for drafting pens (a good match for what was already in there). It's been working like new ever since. I also tried some Artline stamp pad ink, and that worked too. Whether they'll dry out and clog it up again too soon, I don't yet know. Anyway, YMMV and all that, but you've got a lot of pens to experiment with...
 
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rieSha.

Active member
[…] Fortunately, a kind soul on Reddit pointed me to a German medical-supply vendor who still sells compatible pens - from what I can sorta understand, a line of EKG printers used in hospital settings uses them. Go figure! Sadly, they're priced for hospital purchases and not for nerds on a budget, so a single set of 4 pens (black / red / blue / green) runs ~23euro... but they're theoretically easier to refill...
Would you mind not only dropping the anecdote but also name and URL of that company? As I’m based in Germany and own a RK-P400C w/o pens, that’d be a great help for me, and perhaps for others to follow.
 

Gorgonops

Moderator
Staff member
I had a TRS-80 Pocket Computer II that I bought for almost nothing at one of those "Where-Is-As-Is" sales that Radio Shack used to do in the 80's that had a miniature plotter like that in a little "docking station" thing; it may have actually used the same pens, just on cash register size paper. They didn't hold up that long in that application, I can only imagine how fast a "typewriter" would burn them up.
 
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