The ZX Printer used special 4-inch (100 mm) wide black paper which was supplied coated with a thin layer of aluminium. To mark the paper, one of the printer's two styluses passed a current through a small area of the aluminium layer, causing the aluminium to evaporate and reveal the black under-surface. The printer's horizontal resolution was the same as the ZX81's video display, i.e. 256 dots (pixels) or 32 characters (using the standard character definition). The print quality was crude, but no other printer was compatible with the ZX81 without the use of additional software and interface hardware.
The ZX Printer was also compatible with the earlier ZX80 computer (when fitted with the 8kB ROM upgrade) and the later ZX Spectrum, and plugged directly into the expansion bus connector via a short cable. The expansion bus was duplicated on the outside of the printer's connector, allowing other peripherals to be connected concurrently. The printer drew its power directly from the expansion bus, and was sold with a larger (1-2A) power supply for the ZX81 to accommodate the additional power drain. The Spectrum's user manual noted that this was not needed for the Spectrum as its default 1.1A power supply was sufficient.