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Buyers Guide: Barcode/Label Printers

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Barcode/Label PrintersIf your business requires the printing of labels and barcodes, then a label printer is a must. Whether it is for shipping labels or Product labels, whether your a small, medium or large business, a label printer will save time, materials and make your business run more efficiently.

There are numerous things to consider when purchasing a label printer:

- What will type of labels will I be printing?
- What environment will my labels be used in?
- How many labels do I intend on printing per day?
- Will I need specific software to print my labels?

What type of labels will I be printing?

Barcode/Label printers use two different thermal printing methods: Direct Thermal & Thermal Transfer.
When choosing the correct type of printer, it is important to first look at the differences between the two types.

Direct Thermal: Direct Thermal prints on thermal labels and does not require an ink ribbon. It works by creating an image directly on the label. Direct thermal printing requires the use of special heat sensitive paper or labels (commonly called Thermal labels). The printer's simple design make them easy to use and durable. Because they require no ink, toner or ribbon, direct thermal printing is sometimes more cost effective than printing with an inkjet, laser or thermal transfer printer. The only downside is that labels and barcodes printed with a direct thermal printer fade over time or when they are exposed to heat (such as direct sunlight). This means that the labels or barcodes can be used only in the short term, and are perfect for shipping labels and product labels in stores.

Thermal Transfer: In thermal transfer printing, a thermal print head applies heat to a ribbon, which melts ink onto the paper or labels to form an image. The ink is absorbed so that the image becomes part of the paper. This makes the labels or barcodes more durable than ones printed with a direct thermal printer. The downside of these types of printers, are that they are generally more expensive to purchase initially and consumables can be more costly due the fact that they require the use of a ribbon.
Thermal Transfer printers are used when you need the labels to last longer. They can be used with synthetic labels and Resin ribbons to create labels that are resistant to chemicals, water, heat and abrasion.

What environment will my labels be used in?

Knowing how your labels will be used is an important step in determining the features of the label printer you require. Once you have decided on a Thermal Transfer or Direct Thermal printer, the next step is knowing what size labels you wish to print. Label printers come in different print widths:

- 2" (57mm) width is perfect for printing smaller product labels for a retail store.
- 4" (110mm) width is perfect for printing shipping labels and also gives you the option of printing smaller labels.
- 6-8" (150mm - 200mm) width are perfect for printing wider labels for containers and chemical drums etc.

Another thing to consider is what consumables will you be using with the printer?

If using Direct Thermal labels, it is only the labels you need to think about. Some of the options with Thermal labels are Permanent or Removable adhesive, Perforations between the labels, Colours & Sizing.

If using Thermal Transfer labels you also need to think about ribbons. Thermal Transfer labels are commonly referred to as "plain" labels, as they don't have a thermal coating like direct thermal. The labels come in numerous different materials like Paper, Synthetic, PolyPro, Polyester, Mylar.

The ribbons also come in different variations, which all offer different levels of durability:

- Wax: Are an entry level ribbon, offer minimal resistance to abrasion and fluids.
- Wax/Resin: One of the most common ribbon types used, are low cost and are more durable than Wax.
- Resin: Are the most durable ribbons, designed for high abrasion & chemical/fluid resistance

There are numerous types of labels & ribbons available for the printers, if you are unsure of what type you need please contact one of our label printing experts.

How many labels do I intend on printing per day?

Label printers come in different sizes, shapes & prices. Consider the following when determining which model will be right for your business.

Desktop printers: These are smaller printers designed to sit on a desktop or under a counter. They are perfect for Retail stores wishing to print Product Labels, and smaller businesses wanting to print shipping labels. They are designed for printing 100's of labels per day.

Mid-Range printers: These are larger printers designed for warehouses and larger businesses. They offer larger capacity media holders, so your labels and ribbons last longer before having to change them. They are designed for printing a larger quantity of labels than desktop printers and are made of more durable materials to withstand harsher usage.

Industrial printers: These are designed for larger warehouses printing 1000's of labels per day. They are designed for minimal downtime and can pump out labels all day every day. They also offer extended and comprehensive warranties to minimize downtime and keep your business running.

Will I need specific software to print my labels?

Most labels printers come with a Basic Label/Barcode design & print software (Like ZebraDesigner Basic & Bartender Ultralite). This software allows you to design and print labels on demand. If you are printing small batches of labels and creating them on the go than it will suffice.
If you want more advanced features like template designs, database connectivity and enterprise features then you will need to purchase specific software. We recommend the Bartender software by Seagull Scientific, which comes in 4 different versions. If you are unsure of what software you require please contact one of our Label printing experts.

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