Reality Winner was outed by invisible dot patterns added by printers (among other things)


Originally published at:


So the reality is that the dots did her in?

[my apologies]


Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

I wonder if it’s possible to spoof or even randomize the dots? I mean, it couldn’t be illegal, right? My printer, my dots; your misfortune if you assume they mean something.


This little feature/gem/easter egg in the printer world came to my attention 20 years ago when new HP color laser printers at our work place (a large public university) where being used to print reams and reams of b&w specification documents, and even though all of the pages were very much black & white the yellow toner was getting depleted. The ensuing WTF moment led us to find those stupid nasty privacy violating yellow dots. Subsequently I purged my home of all color printing machinery because, fuck it, who needs this shit. It may be that the B&W laser printers have a similar mechanism but I have not seen it reported. And I suspect it would be harder to conceal in the final output because, well, black toner on white paper and all that. Writing this reply has also jogged my memory from my (mid-90’s) days in HP’s inkjet division: I think this “feature” may have been added because of Jonny Law getting all stressed about the migration away from typewriters whose inherent printing inconsistencies created a trackable unique fingerprint of the machine. If you have any kind of privacy concerns about your printed materials stay the fuck away from any kind of color printing process. Seriously.


Are the dots added when you print in greyscale? (The rationale I’ve heard for the dots was related to forgery, so they might not.) If not, that’s a pretty simple workaround for when color isn’t actually important.


Well, there goes my idea.


not a surprise in the least.

Welp, time to go back to chiseling my papers on rock slabs.


I would be suspicious of any color printer. Period. And as I said before, there is certainly the possibility that the B&W printing systems now have something similar, I’ve just been out of that industry for so long that I have no current data.


Wait, this all just clicked - Reality Winner is her real name o_0?


Car 54, There You Are.


Also, those fancy copy machines keep a scan on its hard drive of everything its copies. Think about that before you make copies of your butt.

IIRC the ink jet code thing was put in place to trace counterfeiting.


These may be the dots you’re thinking of …


There’s more than one set of dots. EURion is generally for currency and anti-counterfeit measures. This sounds more like Docucolor.


Yup, that is exactly what we are talking about.


No, there isn’t the possibility. You can’t get yellow ink out of a black toner. Even if they put in a super-secret yellow ink bottle, what happens when it runs out? They send James Bond to swap in a fresh cartridge while you sleep?

I think I also heard it was an anti-counterfeiting measure. If everybody could print their own money, the 1% would only be the 10%.


As soon as I saw the leaked color image I wondered if the printer tracking dots had been scrubbed.
edit: Here they are:


In Soviet Russia they would type out a sample page from each typewriter. Due to manufacturing imperfections each one could be identified. Photocopiers could be identified by imperfections on the drum surface, resulting in a unique pattern of black specks on documents.


I wonder if these dots are unique to the printer, or the user?

There’s a big difference between “The White Rose manifesto was printed on a Lexmark 9000” and "The White Rose Manifesto was printed on a Lexmark 9000 with serial number 4209111984


If they’re invisible, how did anyone see them?


To fix this yellow-dot problem, use a black-and-white printer, black-and-white scanner, or convert to black-and-white with an image editor.

This is awful advice. If you convert the document to black-and-white, the dots will still be there, they will just be light-gray instead of yellow. Still very well visible, at least on a white background. You will have to mess with contrast, brightness, levels or stuff like that if you want to get rid of them.