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How to Choose a Typewriter - Tips and Tricks

Since the introduction of the personal computer, the typewriter has increasingly been relegated to the back corner of the office. Yet typewriters are still the most efficient tool for many tasks, particularly when using odd-sized pages or preprinted forms. As a result, businesses usually find they need to keep at least one good typewriter on hand for the occasional form or label.

Buying Points

Why buy a typewriter Typewriters have three main advantages over the laser printers most often used in the office. First, typewriters print by impact, allowing multi-part forms to be completed without separately printing each sheet.

A second advantage is that words can easily be lined up with blanks on a page. This makes the typewriter better equipped to handle preprinted forms or other documents where type replacement is very important.

A third advantage of typewriters is its ability to handle unusually shaped sheets. The rollers in a typewriter generally can handle these pages much better than a standard printer.

Types of typewriters

Typewriters are generally available in basic and display versions. Basic versions type directly on the page, while display versions have built-in displays for making corrections before words are typed. Some display models are quite sophisticated, with full sized screens and advanced word processing features. However, at a certain point, users may just be better off using a full-fledged computer with a word processing program.

Choosing a typewriter

One of the most important features to examine when choosing a typewriter is the unit's erasing capabilities. Most modern typewriters store a few hundred characters in memory after typing, allowing letters or even whole lines of text to be erased at the touch of a button. Typewriters should also be equipped with a manual erase key, so the typist can correct mistakes no longer in memory.

A second concern is what size paper the typewriter will hold. Most typewriters hold paper that is up to 14 inches wide. However, there are some models that have much narrower maximum capacity. Other extra-wide models can accept sheets as large as 21 inches wide.

Also check whether very thick sheets will feed through the typewriter. Labels and file cards are sometimes too thick for some typewriters, particularly those designed for home use. Others can feed thick sheets, but are not able to hold a sheet when you get near the bottom of the page.

Finally, if you commonly print on multi-part forms, make sure the typewriter can print hard enough to transfer an image through four- or five-part forms. Some models are equipped with an impression control setting, that allows you to increase pressure for multi-part forms.

About memory features

If you use the typewriter for complex forms or long documents, it can be important to have a display typewriter with some basic memory capabilities. One of the most useful memory features is one that handles forms. His records where each field is a form appears on a page. The next time you complete the same form, the typewriter will automatically advance to the appropriate section.

A text memory features allows specific information such as a name or address to be saved in memory, and typed on demand. This feature can be useful for creating labels for commonly used addresses.  Other memory features are designed for longer documents. Options such as cut and paste, global search and replace, and right justifying text are reasonable features, but are usually more useful as part of a full word processing package.  

Maintaining a typewriter

Office typewriters usually last 10 to 15 years if properly maintained. Proper maintenance consists of covering the typewriter when not in use and cleaning it about once a year. Users should also be careful not to use correction fluid in such a way that it gets inside the machine. Cleaning is offered by many typewriter repair shops, and costs about $100.  

Purchasing supplies

Typewriter supplies tend to be fairly inexpensive, particularly given the light use most typewriters receive. Supplies for more popular brands such as IBM, Lexmark or Olivetti are available from Rees Electronics.  


Typewriters range in price from $100 to $1,500. Units costing less than $250 are generally designed for light home use, while heavy-duty office units typically cost $400 to $600. There are also refurbished models available to sale. In particular, the long discontinued IBM Selectric typewriter can be found for a few hundred dollars.