How Steve Jobs’ Apple launched the desktop publishing revolution

“The original Hewlett-Packard LaserJet had come out the year before when on Jan. 28, 1985, a month before he would turn 30, Steve Jobs unveiled the LaserWriter at a press event in New York,” Michael Antonoff reports for USA Today. “Both printers used the same Canon engine modified from Canon’s copier technology. Both could turn out 300 dots per inch (dpi) documents at eight pages per minute in gorgeous silence — quite a feat in a time when conversations were regularly cut short by the repetitive impact from an office printer.”

“The obvious difference was the price. The LaserJet was $3,500; the LaserWriter, $7,000,” Antonoff reports. “So, when I asked Jobs why someone should spend twice as much on Apple’s laser printer, he went ballistic. ‘Because HP is brain-dead!’ he exclaimed. ‘It doesn’t do graphics worth beans,’ he went on. ‘The text and fonts it prints are nowhere as beautiful or ambitious as what we’re doing here.'”

Steve was passionate about the LaserWriter and overrode all of the manager’s objections. In this case Steve deserves the reputation he has for changing the world. – John Warnock, former Adobe President

“The LaserWriter was the first desktop printer to incorporate Adobe’s PostScript, a page description language that contained scalable typefaces and supported smoothly drawn graphics. The same file created on a Macintosh computer and proofed on a LaserWriter could be output to a Linotronic 300 phototypesetter at 2,540 dpi, which was commercial quality.,” Antonoff reports. “Apple gets credit for starting the smartphone revolution, but 30 years ago it launched another revolution with the introduction of the Apple LaserWriter.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]


  1. My office bought one of the first two LaserWriters in the Austin area. We put them on an AppleTalk network with (initially) a couple of Mac 512Ks. Nobody could believe the print quality of our correspondence and contracts.

    Those were the days–you could put the operating system, MacWrite, and MacPaint all on a single 400K floppy with room for some data files! We also used MS Word 1.0 and MultiMate before Excel 1.0. The PC people asked, “Why can’t we get programs like that on our computers?”

    Seven years later, a new administration decided, and I quote, “Real lawyers use WordPerfect for PCs,” and replaced all the Macs with Dells. It took at least five more years before they had a local area network that worked as reliably as AppleTalk had in 1985.

    1. I had a similar experience. Around late 1985/early 1986, my office installed a Mac 512 and LaserWriter, and the quality of the print outs we could produce was way beyond anything the PC’s were putting out (often on dot matrix printers).

      This was also at a time when the typist were beginning to see the writing on the wall but were fighting to protect their patch. So they lobbied management to require that all outgoing correspondence and reports had to go through the typing pool. So, the farcical situation arose where we would print out beautiful drafts on the 512/LaserWriter, take these to the typists, and have them re-typed on an IBM “golf-ball” typewriter. The contrast in quality was embarrassing.

      Eventually we tired of this, and somebody (who resembled Micro Me) snuck into the typists office in the weekend and stole a ream or two of letterhead paper. Thereafter, as soon as the correction fluid-laden letter (one of the typists earn the nickname “Blizzard”) arrived back from the typists, it was immediately exchanged for our LaserWriter version and posted off. Amazingly, this pantomime went undiscovered for two years, by which time technology had triumphed and we were allowed to type our own letters, as long as they were “checked” by the typist.

      The report and publication issue was more quickly solved. We ensured that each report contained as many diagrams as possible (MacDraw, as I recall), which they couldn’t reproduce. Reports and publications were soon delegated to us.

      Happy times.

      1. Same here. We weren’t allowed to buy “computing equipment” but the system would allow engineers to select “lab equipment”. Five Mac512s, AppleTalk and a Lasewriter, all with no “computing facilities” oversight. Once the product was on 8 1/2 x 11 paper, no one cared how it got that way.

        Personally, somewhat before that, I was taking my Mac128 to work every day, in one of those fancy padded bags with a sewn-on logo and an ImageWriter. I agreed to share it with my fellow engineers, but managed to get it its own desk. It was in use 12 hours a day, turning out connector diagrams and all manner of illustration, all done in MacDraw as well as documents and spreadsheets related to the project. Fun times. Eventually killed by “Let’s become a Windows-only shop”.

  2. There are so many things we take for granted these days, such as commercial quality printing in our homes – and yet it takes just a minute to look back and realise just how much one person changed our world. We should never dismiss such people nor their visions and efforts. We are forever indebted to SJ

  3. It was truly a phenomenal time. Yes, many people were displaced from skilled labor occupations. And just as with web pages, the need for “graphic design” ability became obvious, but the LaserWriter and Postscript were truly revolutionary. And oh, what I would do now for a nice simple layout program like existed then.

    1. Displaced, indeed, and sometimes for the better: In the 1980s the same wave of Apple-led change that displaced me from photomechanical work in the advertising industry also propelled me into a career in software development.

  4. I can’t believe it’s been 30 years. It killed me to watch a local High School Principal let a Mac 512 and a LaserWriter set unused for a couple of years. Once I had access to the LaserWriter I thought I was going to wear the thing out. I know of a couple that were still running productively for over a dozen years.

    The first LaserWriter I was able to afford was the LaserWriter IIsc that I upgraded to a IInt, then IIntx to finally a IIg. used it for 20 years and gave it back to the Apple dealer I purchased it from when I moved.

  5. I guess somebody needed to remind someone of what happened 30 years ago.

    When we got our LaserWriter at the Byte Shop NW in Seattle, WA, we use it to diagram our network at 11′ by 11′ by using MacDraw to diagram it and a LaserWriter to print it out a page at a time.

  6. The importance of the LaserWriter, and it’s underlying technology – PostScript – can not be overstated and is often underrated in its importance to the world of graphics and printing. I personally rate the importance of this invention as high as the invention of the personal computer known as the Macintosh.
    In the early 80’s, we worked very closely with Xerox, Kodak, and some other early digitizing and CAD/CAM companies to come up with an entirely electronic publishing system. We kludged together many disparate technologies to get there, and get there we did, with a room full of equipment and a $200K budget. Then we had to train someone to use this Rube Goldberg setup, a mere six-month introductory course would have got them started… but we never got there.
    In 1984, we “test drove” a Macintosh. After the engineers had finished their Scotty-like evaluations – “where’s the command line?” – we had a look and I saw the future right there in front of me. This was the interface we had seen on the Xerox Stars and other GUIs, done right. What was lacking was PostScript, but QuickDraw was already impressing the heck out of us. A year later, I was fortunate enough to get an advanced look at PostScript and the LaserWriter, and the future was revealed.
    What PostScript did to the world of professional graphics, imaging and printing is nothing short of world-changing. First, with text, then line art, and finally photography. It took ten years to crack the ice with the pro’s, but once the tide started to turn, it turned very rapidly. Printers were very reluctant to give up the massive capital they had invested in typesetting, camera and scanning equipment, not to mention mechanical stripping which was quickly replaced by digital imposition. The amount of skill required to perform these separate functions was formidable, and the amount of skill required to replace all these functions electronically was equally formidable. Fortunately, with the help of these skilled workers, print managers and owners were able to transition to this new world, kicking and screaming all the way.
    The end result? Look at any magazine or book published before 1990, and compare it to what you see on your newsstand or bookseller’s shelves today. What you see is a blossoming of not only creative possibilities, but technical virtuosity in the quality and presentation of modern publishing.
    But I wax nostalgic while my main point is being lost. Steve Jobs may not have invented any of these technologies – he was the only one of a group of really smart guys who saw the real potential for what they were working on, and Steve pushed what no one else could see out the door into the world. Did he know what he was doing? Probably not, but his “hunch” led the way to a complete change in the way we think and do graphic design and typography, on a scale that would put him in the same league as Gutenberg.
    Often overlooked in the Steve Jobs story, this is one chapter I was deeply involved with, and I saw the change happen slowly over the twenty ears it took for the industry to rewire itself for the future, which is now here thanks to not only John Warnock and Charles Geschke and so many others who were early contributors, but primarily due to the singular vision and tenacity of a great visionary – Mr. Steven P. Jobs.


    (no pun intended)

  7. Obviously the 1980s was a revolution in computing and Steve’s printers ignighted the desktop revolution.

    Our company LaserWriter purchase allowed us to print (Macdraw) four B&W 300 dpi proofs that the camera dept. could turn into CMYK plates.

    Threw away my x-Acto knife and #11 blades and never had to cut Amberlith or Rubylith overlays again.

    Thank you, Steve.

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