I Need Color on My Barcode Label

As I discussed in my last article, Unique Materials for a Barcode Label, there are a number of reasons to need or want color on a barcode label, ranging from cosmetics to specific functionality.  There are a few ways to make this happen.

Preprinted Color:

Barcode label convertors (manufacturers) are able to make some pretty complex colored labels.  These labels can range from simply printing a colored logo to producing a complex 4-color picture.  The process is similar to the offset press:  A plate is manufactured for each color (and black is a color!).  Then as the label material is cut to size, the plates are inked, and the blank label material is imprinted.  The end result is a professional-looking label.  This all happens on the same press, so the process is fairly fast.  If the label imprinting is complex, you’ll want to make sure you select a label manufacturer that has a focused attention to detail as consistent registration of the label on the press is important.

Both thermal transfer and thermal direct materials can be preprinted, so it doesn’t matter which direction you want to go with your barcode printing technology.  The price is more than blank labels and goes up the more colors you have printed.

Multi-color Thermal Transfer Barcode Printer

Toshiba makes a label printer that uses multiple print heads and corresponding ribbon cartridges to print 4-color labels.   It is a thermal transfer printer, so similar technology to the typical barcode label printer.  However, the complexity of the equipment is multiplied by a factor of 4.  There are way more moving parts, so more options for failure, and the software that drives the printer must be able to select the specific print head for each color.  The cost of ownership of this printer is up to 10+ times the cost of a standard label printer.   So if you decide to use this technology, be ready to pay for an expensive printer and a maintenance contract!

IQ Color from Zebra Technologies

Zebra Technologies, one of the largest barcode printer manufacturers in the world, has invented what they call IQ Color.  This technology is based on chemical treatment of a direct thermal label.  The label is pre-treated so that up to 4 or 5 colors appear once the label is heated by the printer’s print head.  The colored area can be any size or shape – can be words or a logo.  The restriction is it is only direct thermal and can only work on paper.  This is a great way to print variable spot colors on the fly.

Examples of good applications for IQ color include color coding items, printing warning notices and other visual “flags”, or printing variable logos.

In conclusion, there are ways to get color on the labels you print on your thermal barcode printer.  It’s best to work with an expert in label design and manufacture to assist you in determining the best design and print method.