As a child, I watched my favorite television programs in a world of black and white. That was fine; that was how I thought television was supposed to be.

However, sometime before puberty, I was at a friend's house and saw color television for the first time. My jaw dropped. This was a whole new experience: flesh tones, bright orange, lush reds; a visual feast.

Smitten, I ran home and begged my parents to get us a color television. More than 15 years later, they still have a trusty black and white.

Upbringing notwithstanding, I still think that color gives things a richness and texture that makes monochrome look as drab as a wet cat. Computer screens are no exception -- indeed, one of the biggest complaints I hear about Apple's Macintosh and the monochrome IBM PC is that they are dreary to look at and the eyes go crazy with boredom after a couple of hours.

But this isn't a column about color screens; on the contrary, color on the screen is purely personal. This column focuses on what could be the hot peripheral of the 1980s -- the color printer.

According to Dataquest, the market research firm, roughly half-a-million color printers will be sold this year. By 1989, the company forecasts annual sales in excess of 3 million.

Sixfold growth in five years would be impressive, but I'm willing to bet those projections are on the mark. Admittedly, while spreadsheets and word processing usually don't need much beyond monochrome, when push comes to shove, there's nothing like a touch of color to bring some life to dry-as-dust reports.

Some people assert that color will really only work in specialty domains that actually require a color output, such as design or medical images. I disagree. Intelligent use of color can enhance any presentation. Government agencies, big companies and service organizations that make a living from the quality of their presentations all are going to get on the color bandwagon.

This shift to color output is part of what may be the single most important emerging trend in personal computing application: desktop publishing. A forthcoming column will look at the desktop publishing phenomenon in greater depth.

Color is perhaps the vital ingredient in desktop publishing. Transparencies, reports, documents, drawings and designs need color to be more effective media.

If color is so gosh-darned wonderful, however, why is it so slow in catching on right now?

This is one of the few times the problem lies mainly with the technology. Current color printers are astonishingly slow. They print character by character instead of line by line. Moreover, the printer has to pass over the same area time after time to lay down the different colors. That makes color printers three to five times slower than the black and whites. Consequently, making multiple copies is very time-consuming.

For that reason alone, it's nice to have a color photocopier to make volume copies of color documents. Alas, color photocopiers are in the $20,000 range -- which is strictly Fortune 500 territory. Clearly, characters-per-second speed has to increase.

Another concern is that there really isn't a lot of good software for color printers out there, and that makes using them just that much more awkward.

Still, there are a lot of decent color printers: IBM has its $750-plus Color Jetprinter, which provides seven colors at output speeds ranging from 20 to 33 characters per second.

Expect IBM to get into color printing in a big way.

Epson America, which aspires to be the IBM of printers, offers a seven-color dot matrix JX-80 for $699 that prints up to 160 characters per second. The printer allows for programmable type fonts for special typography.

Okidata, another Japanese printer company, sells a low-cost $268 thermal transfer color printer with interface called the Okimate 20 -- which is IBM- and Apple-compatible. It prints out at speeds from 20 to 80 characters per second. Okidata packages "Color Screen Print" with the printer, which allows users to print out full screen images intact. Okidata has an analogous Okimate 10 for the low-end Commodore and Atari home machines with interface for $208.

Warning: Be very careful about the replacement costs of color ribbons and cartridges. Some retailers charge outrageously high prices figuring that once you're committed to the printer, they have you by the short ribbons. Find out what the life span of the color providers are and work out volume purchase agreements with your store, if necessary, to assure that replacement costs are tolerable. And be prepared to look for office equipment wholesalers. You shouldn't have to pay through the nose to keep your reports in color.