IBM’s Selectric line of typewriters were quite popular in the 1960s, thanks in part to an innovation called the typeball which allowed for easy font changes on a single machine. Unfortunately, as if often the case when specialized components are involved, it’s an idea that hasn’t aged particularly well. The Selectric typewriters are now around 60 years old and since IBM isn’t making replacement parts, those restoring these machines have had to get somewhat creative like using a 3D printer to build new typeballs.
It sounds like it would be a simple, but much like the frustration caused with modern printers, interfacing automated computer systems with real-world objects like paper and ink is not often as straightforward as we would like. The main problem is getting sharp edges on the printed characters which is easy enough with metal but takes some more finesse with a printed plastic surface. For the print, each character is modelled in OpenSCAD and then an automated process generates the 3D support structure that connects the character to the typeball.
This process was easier for certain characters but got more complicated for characters with interior sections or which had a lot of sharp angles and corners. Testing the new part shows promise, although the plastic components will likely not last as long as their metal counterparts. Still, it’s better than nothing.
Regular Hackaday readers may recall that the ability to 3D print replacement Selectric typeballs has been on the community’s mind for years. When we last covered the concept in 2020 we reasoned that producing them on resin printers might be a viable option, and in the end, that does indeed seem to have been the missing element. In fact, this design is based on that same one we covered previously — it’s just taken this long for desktop resin 3D printing technology to mature enough.