Choosing the right barcode printer
Thermal barcode printers provide a very economical way to create high quality labels, stickers, wristbands, receipts and tickets. Compared to other printing technologies, thermal printers require less maintenance, have less expensive media and print faster while maintaining excellent print quality.
Since these types of printers are different from your typical laser or inkjet printers, it can be a challenge to know which one is best suited to your business. The first step in finding the right printer is to identify your specific needs:
- Where will the printer be used? Is it an industrial environment or a particularly aggressive one?
- What do you want to print - labels, receipts, wristbands or tickets?
- What is the estimated printing volume and how fast will it be printed?
- Will the printer be in a fixed or mobile application?
Being able to identify how you will use a printer will help you decide what type, printing method and other features you will need. Understanding and reviewing the following features will help you determine the best printer for your needs.
The first thing is to understand what types of printing exist and their advantages and disadvantages, the big decision is which printing method you will use. Thermal printers are capable of printing in two different ways: direct thermal (DT) and thermal transfer (TT). Depending on how long you need the label to last and the material it is made of, one of the two methods will be more appropriate and effective for your application.
Direct thermal printers use a support (label, ticket,...) that is heat sensitive and darkens as it passes under the print head that applies heat. Because they print without a ribbon, direct thermal printers are characterized by their simplicity. Direct thermal printers typically have a short lifespan and are not suitable for environments that expose them to heat, long periods of direct sunlight, or abrasion. Direct thermal printing produces crisp print quality with good scanning capability using only one consumable. For any short term labelling application, such as shipping labels or high rotation products, direct thermal is the most efficient printing method.
Thermal transfer printers use a ribbon, which is attached to the label by the print head. This method facilitates the use of label materials beyond paper, including synthetic materials, such as polypropylene and polyester, for outdoor and hostile environments. Beyond the added durability, thermal transfer print media also has a very long shelf life, making it perfect for product labels, asset labels and outdoor wristbands. Since a ribbon is being used, there is also the option of changing the print color beyond black. With the right combination of labels and tape, labels can be used for any environment or application. Although it costs a little more to print thermal transfer media, the additional benefits ensure that the label is legible throughout its life without the need for reprinting.
Barcode printer types
To find the right printer you need to decide what type of printing you are going to do. Printers can be divided into 3 broad categories depending on their ability to print labels, tickets or wristbands.
Label printers are by far the most flexible printers, as they can print on any media that fits inside the printer. Although they are primarily designed for label manufacturing, they also have the ability to print wristbands or tickets, these printers are your all-in-one solution. However, not all thermal label printers are the same. The biggest difference between them is the volume of printing they can handle. These printers come in different formats, which can be grouped as follows:
This type of printer is made for low volume applications that print less than 500 labels per week on average. Desktop printers are perfect for asset tagging in an office or light printing tasks in a retail store. They are designed to work in clean environments and in environments that are not aggressive and exposed to dust, humidity and temperature
Industrial printers are larger and more robust than desktop models for high-volume printing applications. From just over a thousand labels per day to all-day continuous printing, these printers are designed for larger label rolls and there are models that support 6" and 8" wide printing. You'll find industrial printers in manufacturing and distribution centers, logistics centers, as well as in large retail stores. If you are printing any type of media in high volume, industrial label printers are your most reliable choice.This type of printer is made for low volume applications that print less than 500 labels per week on average. Desktop printers are perfect for asset tagging in an office or light printing tasks in a retail store. They are designed to work in clean environments and in environments that are not aggressive and exposed to dust, humidity and temperature.
Portable thermal label printers are similar to desktop label printers, but provide freedom from any cable connection. They have some limitations due to their small size. They only print direct thermal, are not designed for very high volumes, have limited roll capacity and have smaller print widths, typically 2", 3" or 4" max. However, if you need to be able to print labels or receipts on the go, a mobile printer will provide high quality printing in a compact package that also fits around your waist. These printers are perfect for delivery drivers or sales agents to create receipts in the field or for a warehouse worker who needs to make labels on the spot. Because these printers are not tied to a fixed station, they typically communicate wirelessly via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.
Although standard label printers can also print wristbands, a specific wristband printer offers several advantages and a lower overall printing cost. For applications that print wristbands every day such as hospitals, theme parks and concert halls, a wristband printer is the most appropriate choice. While other printers have their media on a roll, wristband printers have cartridges that simply fall into place to keep you printing with almost no downtime. These printers also have a higher standard of print resolution for clear and accurate printing of images or logos. In addition, most models have a special antimicrobial case to meet the demands of any healthcare environment.
Ticket printers are another type of specialized thermal printers that excel in printing on non-adhesive paper for store receipts mainly, they are simpler machines than label printers since they do not have sensors to detect label gaps. These type of printers are used in point of sale (POS) terminals to print the purchase receipt, in restaurants also in the kitchen for commands. Field technicians, transporters, where portable models are used, to be able to deliver a receipt. And service machines where it is necessary to give a ticket for a transaction or any type of operation, you can use integrable models.
Each printer has to be able to communicate with a computer of some kind to receive print jobs for everything that is printed. While it is possible to configure some printers in a standalone mode, you still need to connect to a PC to configure the printer first. Most printing applications, however, will require constant connectivity for the printer to receive jobs and know exactly what to print.
All fixed industrial and desktop printers will offer multiple connectivity options, with USB being the most common today. Any PC or laptop has USB connections and is by far the easiest way to set up. Simply plug in the printer, install the driver on the PC and you are ready to print. Options for serial (RS-232) and parallel connections are still available for most printers. With network connectivity being a standard today, options for Ethernet and Wi-Fi have become much more common for label printers as well. When your printer has an
Ethernet connection, it simply plugs into a network port and can be configured to make it accessible to anyone connected to the network vs. the single PC connection option that is given in the case of USB connection. Most high-volume industrial printers come standard with Ethernet connectivity because of the ease of access it provides. When you don't want to deal with any cables, a Wi-Fi connected printer is ideal for installation in any location.
Mobile printers are a special case since, by design, wireless connectivity is a necessity. Most models offer a USB cable connection, but to truly take advantage of mobility, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth will be used. Wi-Fi requires a wireless network to communicate just like a fixed printer. As long as you're on the network, the printer will work, but for fully mobile applications, Bluetooth is a better option. Bluetooth reduces your wireless range to 33 feet, but works without a network since the 2 devices talk to each other directly. Since you are probably communicating to a mobile computer or tablet in your hands and the printer will be at your waist, this will not be a problem.
Optional integrated accessories
After narrowing down the type of printer and how you will print with it, the last step in finding the right printer is to determine what additional accessories you may need. Many printing applications don't even need any of these options, but they can also be what makes a specific printer an indispensable tool for your business. Most of these options are only available on desktop or industrial printers, although specific add-ons will vary by model.
A cutter does exactly what the name suggests. As the label is printed, the cutting tool will separate the unique label from the roll it is attached to. Most of the label media is already perforated, so it is easy to tear off from the printer, but when using a continuous or special media it is essential.
A rewinder is an internal roller that allows you to print labels and have them returned to the printer on a new, pre-printed roll. This option is especially useful for high volume applications that print large batches. With a rewinder you end up with a roll of printed labels instead of a stack of labels in front of your printer.
This accessory takes each label as it is printed and separates it from the backing. Peelers are perfect for applications that print individual labels and then apply them to a product immediately. It saves time of having to tear off the label and then peel it off. However, if you are printing in batches, this is not a good option as the printer will stop printing until you remove it from the printer after peeling. This option is used for integration with automatic applicator arms.
Some printers, including some mobile units, offer options for creating RFID-based labels. With this option, you can print on the front of a label while encoding information on the RFID chip. The RFID options vary depending on the frequency range you will be working in, and most printers will support UHF ranges, with a minority of printers supporting HF. Making RFID labels can be a challenge for those who are not very familiar with this technology, as the degree of complexity is important. Talk to one of our RFID experts to make sure you get the right printer for your RFID needs.
An online verifier is essentially a special type of scanner that is mounted on the front of the printer. This scanner analyses each label that is printed to ensure that it meets specific print quality requirements. If a printer starts making labels below the desired quality, the verifier will stop the printing process. When you ship labeled products to large retail outlets or government/military sites, they will have strict rules about the print quality of the labels they make. This ensures that any penalties that may occur due to a failure to meet the print quality will not occur. Any company that has to comply with such standards on a regular basis should seriously consider incorporating an in-line verifier printer for their printer to easily avoid the penalties and headaches that poorly printed labels can cause.
With all the options available for barcode printers today, it can be a challenge to find the right device for your business. Determining the type of printing, overall volume and features you need will make it easier to decide on a printer. If you still have difficulties or additional questions, please do not hesitate to call our experts, we will be happy to help you find, within our extensive catalogue, the most suitable printer for your needs.