Barcode printers are an essential tool for a wide range of businesses and industries, including manufacturing, retail, and logistics. They are available in a variety of styles and sizes and can be customized to meet the specific needs of the application. With the right barcode printer and software, businesses can easily and efficiently create and print high-quality labels, improving efficiency and accuracy in inventory and logistics management. However, there are a number of factors that go into printing barcodes which makes it difficult to find the perfect solution for your printing application. That’s why we will walk through the 4 things you need to consider when choosing a barcode printer.
1. Direct Thermal, Thermal Transfer, or InkJet?
Barcode printers are specialized devices used to print barcode labels for a variety of applications, such as inventory control, product labeling, and shipping. These printers come in a variety of sizes and styles, from small, portable models to large, industrial-grade printers. Barcode printers are also available in different printing adhesives, such as thermal transfer, direct thermal, and inkjet.
The most common type of barcode printer is the thermal transfer printer, which uses heat to transfer ink from a ribbon to the label material. These printers are durable, reliable, and can print on a wide variety of label materials, including paper, synthetic, and metallic.
Thermal transfer printed labels are easily identified by the crisp, often glossy, printed surface. The clarity is achieved by using a thin ribbon roll that when heated by the printhead melts onto the label to form the image. The ink is absorbed so that the image becomes part of the media. When matched with suitable media, thermal transfer technology is not only impervious to heat and moisture but the image cannot be rubbed off, making the printed labels the most durable available. An additional benefit of this technology is the continuity of the printed image. Because the color and density of the printed image are determined by the ribbon and the resolution of the printer, thermal transfer printing produces consistent, reliable printing on every label. This technique provides image quality and durability that is unmatched by other on-demand printing technologies.
The other commonly used printer is a direct thermal printer which, uses heat-sensitive paper to produce barcode labels. Because they print without a ribbon, direct thermal printers are noted for their simplicity. Direct thermal printed labels typically have a considerable shelf life but are not well suited for environments that expose them to heat, long periods of direct sunlight, or abrasion. Direct thermal printers have no ink, toner, or ribbon.
If the label is overexposed to heat, light, or other catalysts, the material will darken and make the text or barcode unreadable. For these reasons, direct thermal printing is not used for lifetime identification applications. The readability of direct thermal labels, wristbands, and receipt papers varies greatly, depending on the usage conditions, but the technology provides ample lifespan for many common barcode printing applications including shipping labels, patient and visitor identification, receipts, and ticket printing.
Inkjet printers use inkjet technology to print barcode labels and are typically used for printing high-quality, full-color labels. They spray microscopic droplets of ink onto paper and are generally cheaper, smaller, and can be used to print both text documents and high-quality colored images, especially photos.
2. Choosing The Proper Material
Another important factor to consider when choosing a barcode printer is the type of label material it can print on. Most barcode printers can print on a variety of label materials, including paper, synthetic, and metallic. However, some printers are designed to print on specific types of label materials, such as thermal transfer printers that are designed to print on synthetic materials. This makes choosing a material for your barcode labels equally as important and also depends ultimately on what you intend to use them for and the kinds of environments they will be exposed to. There are many different types of materials suited to different applications.
Paper labels are a solid choice for general applications utilizing direct thermal technology. You can use paper labels on shipping labels, inventory labeling, and work-in-progress goods that still need to be produced into the final product. They work well in most common applications and non-specific environments but tend to be less durable than other types. There are a number of variations when it comes to choosing a paper label.
Mainly used for thermal transfer, synthetic materials are best for barcodes that need to last a long time under harsh conditions. Exactly what kind of conditions alters the type of synthetic material used:
- Polypropylene Labels: Polypropylene is oil, water, and tear-resistant, making these labels durable when not exposed to extreme weather or chemicals. They are only slightly more expensive than paper labels making them a good choice for low-level durability.
- Polyester Labels: Polyester labels are the most durable type of labels and the ideal choice for heavy use and rugged environments. They are resistant to water, oil, scratching, and chemical exposure, but are relatively rigid, making them unsuitable for curved surfaces. They are the ideal choice for outdoor use, harsh conditions, or exposure to chemicals.
- Polyethylene Labels: Polyethylene is also a less rigid material than polyester and is ideal for use on curved surfaces such as bottles or vials. It is water and chemical resistant.
- Polyimide Labels: Polyimide is a polymeric plastic material that is designed specifically for long-term durability at very high heat (Can withstand temperatures up to 250°C). It is thermally very stable, and a good choice for use in electronics.
- Vinyl Labels: Vinyl labels with a strong adhesive are especially tamper-resistant, breaking up into small pieces if removal is attempted.
Because there are so many different types of labels that vary on adhesives, materials and uses we highly recommend you consult with an expert to ensure that you find the perfect label for your specific application.
3. What Features Best Fit Your Needs?
There are a wide variety of features that come with each type of barcode printer and sometimes it can be confusing to understand exactly what specifications your printer needs. However, we find that there are 4 key features to consider when choosing a printer.
Print width is one of the most important factors, as it determines the maximum width of the label that can be printed. Understanding the dimensions of the label you need to print is essential to knowing what printer with best suit your needs.
Print speed is another important factor, as it determines how quickly labels can be printed. The speed of your barcode printer is also often correlated with the number of labels you need to print per day. Industrial printers generally offer the greatest print speed and efficiency as they are designed to print up to 10,000 – 20,000 labels per day. For smaller jobs, it may make more sense to go with a desktop or mobile printer.
Resolution is also important, as it determines the quality of the printed image. There are generally three types of resolution for barcode printing, 203, 300, and 600 dpi. The higher the dpi, the sharper, more accurate, and more readable the image is. Keep in mind that different dpi’s work better for certain applications.
Connectivity options, such as USB, Ethernet, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, are also important to consider, as they allow for easy integration with other devices and systems. While one isn’t exactly better than the other, the connectivity you need largely depends on the scale of your operation and how you prefer to print.
4. What Software Best Integrates With Your Printer?
Barcode printers also come with a variety of software and drivers that are used to design and print labels. This software is typically included with the printer, and it allows users to print simple text, graphics, and barcodes. The only drawback to using the software baked into the printer is that it generally works on a very basic level. If you are looking to truly scale your printing operations and include features such as label design templates, barcode verification, and database connectivity you will likely need to consider buying Enterprise Label Management Software. Before buying software it’s important to understand that different software solutions work better for different print jobs, so it would be wise to do your research or talk to an expert about the capabilities of each software platform.
ValuTrack provides a wide variety of printing solutions for every facet of your organization. We offer all the top industry-leading brands of printers to meet your business needs. Whether you need an industrial barcode printer for the manufacturing production line, a mobile printer in the aisles of your warehouse, or a desktop printer at your retail point of sale, we have a printer that’s right for your environment and your application. Not only do we provide every type of printer you could need but, we supply all the necessary supplies, print engines, accessories, and software you need to keep your operations running smoothly. Contact a ValuTrack Technology Specialist to learn more about our printing solutions.
Whether you need an industrial barcode printer for the manufacturing production line, a mobile printer in the aisles of your warehouse, or a desktop printer at your retail point of sales, we have a printer that’s right for your environment and your application.
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Simplify your barcode labeling process with a comprehensive Enterprise Label Management Solution that improves efficiency through print automation, label management, and browser-based printing.
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ValuTrack carries print media and supplies from all the major vendors such as Zebra, Honeywell, General Data, Metalcraft, and Omni ID, and provides all the materials you need including paper, polypropylene, synthetic, and much more.