Barcode Label Printers
The main printer types revolve around the printing technology incorporating Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer.
Direct Thermal Printing
This is a more traditional method of printing, with the basis technology originally designed for creating low cost copiers and fax machines that utilise chemically coated paper.
Things have changed since those days, but direct thermal printing has since become a highly successful and cost-effective part of barcoding technology.
Direct thermal printing works by producing a printed image by heating pre-selected parts of coated thermal paper. The actual printers are made up of four key components:
- The thermal print head - Made from a long line of thousands of tiny resistive heating elements
- The platen – A small rubber roller that feeds the paper into the printer
- The spring – Used to apply pressure to the thermal head, causing it to make contact with the paper
- Controller boards – For programming and controlling the mechanism
As the paper passes the thermal print head, the printer sends an electrical current to the heating elements in the thermal head, which generates heat. When this heat touches the paper, a chemical reaction occurs. This reaction causes a black dot to form in the heated area.
The actual image of your bar code is formed by many rows of these closely placed dots as the paper passes underneath the active edge of the print head.
This method of barcode printing is ideal for the movement of items or for products with short shelf life requirements, since these labels are not designed to last for very long periods of time.
Thermal Transfer Printing
This method, on the other hand, uses a special linked heat sensitive ribbon rather than chemically coated paper to produce your image.
Implementing very similar technology, thermal transfer printing instead involves melting a coating of durable, polyester ribbon using the thermal print heads.
First, the ribbon is coated with a dry thermal transfer ink. Then it is placed between the thermal print head and the blank label. As the label passes through the printer, the melted wax of the ribbon is then transferred onto it in the image of your barcode. As it cools, the ink becomes anchored to the paper permanently.
The ribbon is then peeled away, leaving just your barcode image behind. This method is ideal for labels requiring a longer shelf life and greater durability. It is also the most widely used barcode printing process in the world.
Factors To Consider When Choosing a Label Printer
Labels come in many different formats and a multiple of options. Some of the key factors when choosing the correct label printer are:
- Label size, particularly the width.
- Most popular is 4 inch.Environment it is used in.
- Volume of labels required to print.
- Type of material that the label is composed of.
- The graphics or text being printed.
The simplest breakdown of label printer types, available across the manufacturers is:
Mobile printers are increasingly popular due to the flexibility they can bring to applications. Mobile printers when configured with options such as Bluetooth or wireless connectivity are prevalent in applications such as Field Force Automation, Retail, Hospitality and Services. Most commonly used with a receipt paper, the label options are limited due to form factor and print method.
Ideal for small usage applications which roughly require 500 2”x4” labels per day. Casings tend to be plastic and therefore not ideal for the more industrial applications.
Very popular range that is applicable to most industries as it can handle larger volumes and also more rugged casings than the desktop ranges. Depending on the printer you could comfortably handle anywhere up to 5,000 labels per day.
Used in mission critical or very high volume printing most commonly found in production or warehousing applications. Capable of operating 24 hours a day and with a multiple of options to handle the most delicate of label formats.