How to Use Your New (Or Old!) Typewriter

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Congrats! You got your first typewriter! Maybe you bought it online, or found it in your attic or garage. If you have no idea how to use one of these, this is a good place to start.

Preamble: Manuals and Discord Help

The good Richard Polt has made a large number of user manuals and service manuals available on his site, via the link here: [[1]]. It may help to see where specific functions are on your machine, so it is highly recommended to take a look there! As well, if anything is confusing do feel free to pop over to the Discord server for help.

How to Load Paper

The first step to begin typing is to load paper into your machine. First, take your sheet of paper, put it face up on the table, and grab the top of the paper and flip it over itself. (Pull the top to the bottom) This orients the paper so you type where you want it to type. Now take the paper and drop it behind the platen, the large rubber roller in the carriage. After the paper is dropped in, twist the right hand platen knob clockwise to load the paper in. Load the paper so it is about halfway in, and pull the paper release lever. Next bring the top and bottom corners of your paper together and push the paper release back down. Roll your paper to the top of the page by twisting the right platen knob counter-clockwise, and you are set to begin typing! Don't forget to set your margins!


Margins are used to set how wide your writing line is on your paper. Margins are set in two typical ways. The first is manual margins. Manual margins are set on the back of the carriage. Usually, you just push down on the button on the margin, and move it to your desired position. The other style is "Magic Margins", first introduced by Royal with the KMM in 1939. Instead of moving the margins themselves, you use a button or lever to release the margin, and move the carriage to the desired position for that margin. It is best to check your manual for proper operation, this description is only to give you a introduction to the different types.


Tabulation (or tabulating) is for moving the carriage quickly to preset stops, from left to right. Each press of the tabulator button (sometimes called TAB) will cause the carriage to "jump" from your current position to the next tab stop. Note this only works from left to right and does not work in reverse. Tabulating is commonly used for indenting paragraphs and lists, and justifying information, often numbers, on spreadsheets. The latter is commonly done with what's known as a decimal tabulator.

Tabs are set in two ways. The first, commonly found on earlier machines, is to move tab stops from position to position on a rack on the back of the carriage. To set a stop, put a tab stop at the desired position on the scale on the tab rack. The second, commonly found on later machines, is known as a "key set tabulator." The tab rack consists of a bunch of tab stops, which are set by pressing down on the "tab set" key, and cleared with the "clear" key. Simply move the carriage to the desired position and press the "set" key to set a tab stop. Note, many portables also have a tab set/stop lever, which sets tabs when you pull down on it and clears tabs when you push up on it. Whichever tab system you have, be sure to check your machine's manual for proper operation.

Tabs should not be set far apart from each other. Try to keep about 5-15 spaces between each one. If your machine only came with a few tab stops, either put them on the extreme left, or use your hand to slow down the carriage as you tab.

End of the Line

Once you reach the end of your line, you should hear a ding. This is the margin warning ding, an auditory warning to let you know that you are at the end of your line. The bell usually rings 5-10 spaces before you end your line. If you are finishing a short word, end it now and use the carriage return lever to move to the next line. If you have a long word, either wait for the end-of-line-lock (a mechanism that locks up the keys so you can't type past the margin) to engage and press the Margin or Marginal Release button, or truncate the word and add a "-" to the latter half of the work on the next line. Whatever you do, try not to type on the platen, as this can damage it.

Color Selector

The Color Selector is what the typewriter uses to make use of both halves of the ribbon. Ribbons come in two styles: Monochrome and Bichrome. Monochrome ribbons are one color, while Bichrome ribbons are 2 colors. Bichrome ribbons have one color on top and one on the bottom, usually black and red, respectively. Color selectors usually have 3 settings: Black, red, and stencil (usually indicated by a white dot), not always in that order. Black uses the top half of the ribbon, red uses the bottom, and stencil uses no ribbon. Stencil was used for cutting stencils for Mimeographs. Some machines, like Hermes 3000s, have more than 3 positions on their color selector, which is for the middle of the ribbon. This is so you can get the most use out of a monochrome ribbon, because it is the same color no matter where you print.

Ribbon Management

Your typewriter uses ribbons to type. Ribbons should last about 5 months of heavy use, but can last much longer if used less often. Your manual should include instructions on removing and replacing the ribbon. Be sure to store ribbons in an airtight bag or container to prevent them from drying out.
Different machines have different methods of putting ribbons in (and some don't even use ribbons), but the general idea is that the ribbon is guided through a set of upright holders on either side of where the typeslug will hit it. When threaded, the ribbon should be the thing closest to the paper rather than the guides being closest.
Typewriters generally have two different kinds of ribbon for printing. It will either have a cloth ribbon or a carbon film ribbon. Cloth ribbons are typically held in large spools and is usually 1/2" thick. Carbon ribbon is usually stored in a cassette located on the carrier of the typewriter and is often only found on electronic typewriters. Fabric ribbons can be used multiple times, while carbon ribbons can only be used once.

Noise Reduction

Many typewriters are loud compared to typing on a computer keyboard. The noise can irritate others that live with you and in some cases, even your neighbors. In order to help reduce noise, there are a few simple additions you can make to your stash of typewriter supplies that will help. A typing pad, or a wool mat like those used for pressing small pieces of fabric with an iron, can be used to place a machine on top of it. This will help to reduce noise generated by typing on a hard surface. This is particularly useful with machines that have an open bottom where the mechanism is exposed on the underside of the typewriter as these can often be the loudest machines. Typing pads also help to protect the surface beneath your typewriter from the weight of the machine. Some typewriters can be quite heavy and even the rubber feet can damage the surface of softer woods. The downside of wool typing pads is that they have a tendency to slide around as you type. You can mitigate this by adding a sheet of shelf liner material that has a grip surface under your typing pad or pressing mat. This material is available at most grocery or hardware stores. You can also use cork that is sold in rolls or sheets at craft stores. These materials will stop your typing pad from sliding around as much on your work surface. Another method is to use a sturdier typing surface. Unsecured items or even your typing surface may rattle around, adding to the noise put out by your machine. Be sure that you are typing on a nice, solid surface and that anything that may rattle around when typing is put aside.