Brother EP-20 Dot-Matrix Portable Typewriter – Welcome to 1983!


I think this kind of typewriter is the portable of the future…
– Martin Goldshine, executive vice president of Silver Reed America Inc. (1983)

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1983 Brother EP-20 vs. 1980 Brother JP-1. The EP-20 is a *tiny* machine.

1983 Brother EP-20 vs. 1980 Brother JP-1. The EP-20 is a *tiny* machine.

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The platen is made of a very dense foam rubber rather than hard rubber. it's very squishy.

The platen is made of a very dense foam rubber rather than hard rubber. it’s very squishy.


Two spare ribbon carriers in the lid. You'd have needed them. I don't expect a ribbon lasted much longer than 5 or 6 pages worth of typing, they're so small.

Two spare ribbon carriers in the lid. You’d have needed them. I don’t expect a ribbon lasted much longer than 5 or 6 pages worth of typing, they’re so small.

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Brother EP-20 Typewriter User Manual

Updated: April 11, 2024 — 12:27 pm


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  1. That looks like an awful lot of fun in a teeny package – it’s too bad the print quality isn’t so good. I had a friend whose very indulgent parents bought her one of these in the 80s. At the time, I was blown away by the line editing feature – the future had arrived.

    1. I bought mine new in May 1983. That edit feature was nice. The Brother was a bit pricey, yeah.

      About 18 months later a dot-matrix printer I bought to go with a new CPM Sanyo computer took over all printing functions for me. I still have the Brother, the carrying case, all the goodies that came with it….and a stack of NOS thermal paper because I was too CHEAP to buy ribbons! I also still have the Sanyo and that dot printer. I only used the Brother for a few projects; I doubt it has more than five hours of run-time on it. I used the Sanyo until about 1991 or 92.

  2. A laptop ahead of its time, but let down by the dot matrix print quality as you say. Would make a nice prop in a low-budget remake of The Matrix!

  3. Gawd, that is ugly typing. But otherwise, I agree, this is a cute and innovative little gadget. It would indeed be fun to use it on a plane. And these things need to be preserved as a part of typewriter history that is now generally ignored.

  4. I had a similar machine in ’83, which came with the option of using thermal paper to achieve the impression rather than the small and expensive ribbons. Unfortunately, I used the typewriter for journal entries and many of them were lost — they literally faded away.

    1. Hmmn, of course – it’s a thermal print head, so with the ribbon removed, it should be able to print on thermal fax paper. Off to the thrifts I go to get some! (:

      1. I’ve got some thermal label stock if you want to try it.

        Identical to UPS labels. Also some prescription label blank spots.

        1. Already tried it – picked up a roll of thermal fax paper at a thrift, and a second baby wedge, since it was half-price day. (:

          About 4 feet of typing into that roll so far..

      2. Yes, it will print on thermal paper….like fax paper.

  5. I still own one of these little Brother EP typewriters. I’ve always kept it as a “backup” typewriter, but haven’t taken it out of the closet in at least a decade. I remember being amazed by the editing feature when I first got it and used it for school work back in the day.

    Mine has a dual holder for cassette ribbons and a nice cover that keeps the keyboard clean. The keyboard is surprisingly comfortable to write on.

    It had not occured to me that I probably can’t find ribbons for it any longer. What a bummer!

    Thanks for the review and my trip down memory lane. :)

  6. Some fax machines use wide (8.5″) fax ribbons for bond output. Maybe you can find a partial ribbon, and cut it into 8.5 x 11 sheets. Overlay over plain paper and it would work something like carbon paper, but you would have to be very careful to avoid smudging your original.

  7. I loved using my SEARS Model 268.53900 with Batteries when going researching in Museums and cemeteries…What I didn’t like was losing the cord. I found and bought at a thrift store a Brother EP 20 that had the cord that worked for both, it didn’t have the manual but that was ok, because I still have the one for my Sears brand. The typewriters are exactly alike even to the brown-toned color.
    It’s been many years and NOW my problem is I’m not sure I have that cord. Does anyone have the cord number [typed on back of plug, I think]?
    If responding by email, PLEASE put >Brother EP 20< in Subject line.

  8. Good Evening,
    Just posting this from the UK.
    I found your posting about the EP20 very interesting since I collect Brother typewriters. My first one was a Brother portable in 1965 when I learned touch typing. Then later it was a Brother 3600 electric typewriter which I purchased from Swan and Edgar Department store in London in about 1983/4. Unfortunately I got rid of the original one but have bought two others, just for old times sake.

    The EP20 strikes me as having very smart keyboards and have seen a couple on Ebay for sale. Am disappointed to hear that the ribbons do not last very long thought I can see why judging for the photo you put up of the ribbon itself.

    Thanks for doing the piece. Good luck with your typing!

    1. You don’t actually need a ribbon, I found out you can take the ribbon out and use plain thermal fax paper.


    I just ordered an EP-20 ribbon from this outfit. $22 and $3.50 shipping. Needed to find out how many pages I get out of the machine, which I bought at Value village this afternoon for $3.99.

    I’ve got a couple of DANAs, which are keyboard extentions of the old Palm Pilot software. Useful for coffee shops and Amtrak, and if I ever sell that novel, maybe I can afford a new laptop!

    Is that example of the EP’s printing because you’re re-using the old ribbon?

    1. yeah – any ribbons you’re going to find are near 30+ years old and fossilized, they won’t print very well. I just use thermal fax paper in mine – works great (:

  10. Interestingly, I own one of these as well, and the print quality is much better than what you’ve got pictured here. Also ribbons and thermal paper are available for it, but the ribbons I’m finding are in the $20+ dollar range, so quite expensive. thermal paper is about $12 per 100 sheets though, so that’s a little easier to handle. I could get cheaper / better printing, but this little thing is just too fun. :)

  11. I still have one of these, also, including the AC adapter and a travel bag. In the 1980’s, using the thermal paper with no ribbon meant that the typed text faded quickly, as already noted previously, especially with repeated handling, so the best solution was to immediately make a xerox copy of the printed thermal page.

    My EP-20 has a switch that allows for direct print or editing via the small display.

    When I used this machine on the road in the 1980’s, it served a very useful purpose. At that time, laptops cost $5000 and “transportable” computers weighed 40 pounds.

    1. Don’t I know it; I had one of those HP dual-disc machines that used 5″ floppies for word processing. With my EP-20, I always employed that 17-character editing feature.

  12. I made good use of that 17-character editing feature. Very useful!

  13. Georgina Wingfield

    Anyone know if it is still possible to buy the thermal paper please? I have my vintage E20, but no paper sadly. Thank you, in advance.

    1. I buy it at thrift stores, but you can get thermal paper at any office supply store in the form of fax paper rolls.

  14. Does it have spell-check, what does the insert button do, and what’s the switch next to the line spaceing switch for? Thanks for the help as I’m planning on buying one soon and it doesn’t have the manual.

  15. The switch that says DP/NP switched between direct-print, edit-print, and no-print.

  16. What Gushi said…the CP setting in the middle is “Correct Print”, which allows you to use the arrow keys, insert, and delete key to the left of the LCD screen to modify the text still in the LCD.

    I used one of these in college, and while I loved it, my professors hated it. So I switched to using Runoff on the computer lab line printers to print my term papers, until the college got an IBM PC and some Apple IIe machines I could use instead.

    I used my EP-20 for years afterward, mostly typing short stories using thermal fax paper, as the ribbons cost like diamonds and didn’t last very long. The fax paper printing actually looked BETTER than the ribbon printing, as those ribbons were always a pain. If one gets twisted, hang up straightening it out. You might as well throw it away.

    I was feeling nostalgic, and bought one of these on Ebay for $30. I paid that much for it because it had free shipping and 3 ribbons (one of which immediately twisted and became useless), and they’d actually tested it and made sure it worked. I’m a sucker for old tech like this, especially word processing and typewriting tools. I have a Leroy letterer, and seven (7) AlphaSmart Neo 2 word processors. I bought a lot of 6 in case the one I actually use breaks someday in a way I can’t fix.

    This little typewriter was a great gadget for its time, a true proof of concept. I wish the typeface had been a bit heavier and darker — my professors wouldn’t have complained nearly as loudly, and I would have been able to use the thing more.

    1. Heh, when I got this little guy in 2015, I thought I wouldn’t keep it. Turns out it’s so charming (even with the few drawbacks, like lack of return buffer) that it’s become a favorite. This past year, quite a few Typospherians have fallen in love with the EP-20 and added one to their collections. It’s just so goofy yet fun to type on with thermal paper. If you want a darker print, you can go with a Canon Typestar – if you want something unique and quirky, go for the EP-20. :D

  17. I used one of these to take notes for a dissertation in 1983-84. It was indeed perfect for library use, very silent. As I was a bicycle commuter it was nice to have such a light machine to put in a backpack. As I recall, I used the thermal paper and would cut up notes at the end of each day and use rubber cement to paste them onto index cards for filing.

  18. My mom bought me one of these when I was in junior high and I still have it. It hasn’t been used in 30+ years but I have fond memories of learning to type on it.

  19. This one was a recent thrift store find for me. It did not have the power cord, but decided to give it a shot anyway. Unfortunately, after putting in new batteries…nothing. No sign of life at all.
    Is it even worth getting a new power adapter to try out or should I just assume this one is a loss (or, is there anything else I’m missing)?

    1. The EP-20 and EP-22 are the smallest and earliest variations of these thermal typewriters (yes, it’ll type on thermal fax paper just fine without a ribbon) so depending on how much you’d like to have a machine with this specific dot-matrix typeface, it would be worth grabbing a power brick for it. Note that the 6v 1 amp center-negative brick it requires will also work on most thermal wedgies that also take 4 D Cells. You mostly only need one of these bricks to power all sorts of these machines.

  20. I owned one in the mid-80s. As I loved to write in the wee hours of the morning, that little machine was perfect for me. However, the ribbon cassettes were very expensive, like CAN$7.50 for 3 which equaled about 7 pages each. 😢
    All the pages printed on it are by now unreadable, the ink being so faded.

    1. Oops! I had forgotten that it was a thermal printing system!

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