Paper Tape

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What Does Paper Tape Mean?

Paper tape is a slow, low-capacity, sequential medium for
data storage that was used on early communications and computing devices. The
paper tape holds data as patterns of punched holes with data being represented by the absence or presence of holes at specific positions. The data
was written and stored using special tape reading and writing systems. It was
widely used during the early twentieth century for teleprinter communication as
well as in the computing world in the 1950s and 1960s. Paper tape is largely obsolete now.


Paper tape is also known as perforated paper tape.

Techopedia Explains Paper Tape

Paper tape was a long strip of paper in which holes were punched, in order to store data. Paper tape was usually 0.1 mm thick and the hole spacing was 2.54 mm in both directions of the tape. Some paper tapes had predefined mechanical, electrical and optical properties, so that they could be used in all environments. The movement of the tape with respect to the data was usually marked on the paper tape. Data on the paper tape can be encoded by several techniques. Many standards were used for encoding, such as:

  • Baudot code
  • Murray code
  • Western Union Code
  • International telegraphic code
  • American teletypewriter code

There were some early benefits associated with paper tape. Compared to magnetic tapes, punched tapes had better longevity if acid-free paper or similar paper was used. In the case of tear or damage, it could be fixed to a certain extent and therefore had better human accessibility. Paper tape was immune to magnetic fields and so the data could be read and stored for longer periods.

There were several drawbacks with paper tape. It was less reliable and practice existed to follow each paper tape with manual hole-by-hole comparison. Great care was required to prevent the paper tape from tearing. Rewinding was very difficult. The information density associated with paper tape was very low. In fact, data larger than a few kilobytes was tough to handle in the paper tape format.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert
Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.