I Need to Order a New Barcode Printer. What Questions Do I Ask?

This happens to us all the time – we get a call from a company who needs a new barcode printer.  It may be a replacement of an existing printer or a brand new printer for a new application.  In either case there are some fundamental questions that we ask.

Do you need Direct Thermal or Thermal Transfer Printing?

Direct Thermal Printing does not use a ribbon.  In this process, the label paper is treated with a chemical that responds to heat and turns black.  The pixels in the print head of the printer heats up based on the image that is sent to it, and the heat from this print head produces the image on the treated label.

The Direct Thermal Process may be less expensive and easier to manage than Thermal Transfer printing.  However, because of the sensitivity to heat, it is not recommended for any application where the labels needs to last more than a few days, where it is subjected to a warm environment, or where it will sit in light (especially sunlight) for any period of time.  In these instances the label will start to turn black all over.  Also, it’s rare to find direct thermal labels in other materials such as synthetics so this is not typically a good choice for harsh environments.

Thermal Transfer Printing requires a special ribbon along with the label.  The label may be paper, synthetic, metalized – anything that has a thermal transfer treatment on the surface.  In this case, it is the ribbon that is heated by the print head.  The ribbon material melts onto the label creating a very durable barcode.  This is the label that will last for years and withstand harsh environments.

What kind of Interface do you need?

This may sound obvious, but many of our customers aren’t sure.  There are several choices.

USB/Serial/Parallel:  This is a direct connection to a PC.  The printer driver must reside on this PC and the program that produces the label, whether it’s an application or a simple label design utility, must also reside on the PC.  It’s a contained printing system.

Ethernet:  In this case, the printer would be hooked up to a network, and the driver and application would reside on a server.  The printer would need an IP address or be hooked up to  PC that has an IP address.

Wireless:  This would also typically assume a network interface also and is typically used with Mobile printers.

Which Printer do you need?

If it’s a replacement printer, just the model number of the current printer is sufficient.   If it’s a new printer or for a new application, that will open up a whole new area of discussion.  Be prepared to know the environment the label will be “living” in; the size of the label (approximate is OK); the quantity of labels to be printed on a daily or weekly basis (if there will be short bursts of high volumes that’s important to know); and any other special features required such as high density (very small) barcodes, inline barcode verification, label peel/dispense (print and apply one label at a time).  The more you can tell your salesperson about your application the better.

Remember to ask about warranty and maintenance so there are no surprises after the fact.  And as you can see from most of these questions, it’s “All About the Label”, so know what kind of label you want or get help figuring that out.