Gary Starkweather, who invented the laser printer, making the direct printing from computer terminals possible in homes and offices, died Dec. 26 at a hospital in Orlando. He was 81. Mr. Starkweather, who also won an Academy Award for technical advances in filmmaking, was working for Xerox in the late 1960s when the company was the dominant producer of copy machines.
The technology at the time used a photographic lens to copy an image from one sheet of paper to another. Mr. Starkweather wondered whether it might be possible to skip a step in the process — namely the use of a physical document — and send an electronic signal directly from a computer terminal to a printer.
While officially working on a fax-machine project, Mr. Starkweather began to experiment in his spare time with copy machines and digital technology, in effect trying to merge the two. In his graduate courses in holography, he studied lasers — a source of intensely amplified light — and wondered whether he could apply lasers to printing. Xerox had units working on other printers, but in a test of three prototypes, Mr. Starkweather’s experimental laser printer was far and away the fastest and most effective.