Which Barcode Printer Should I Buy?

You’ve been told to (or decided to) purchase a barcode printer.  What no one told you is how many choices there are these days.  So how do you know which one will work the best for your application as well as give you the best value?  It comes down to two parameters:  Features and Duty-cycle.

Features – what exactly do you need the printer to do in order to produce the label you need?  Here are the questions you need to answer:

  1. What size label do you need to print?  Barcode printers are limited by the size of their print head, so a 2” print head cannot print a 4” wide label.  Know the maximum size you will need to print.
  2. What is the size and number of characters you need to print on the label?  If you need to fit a lot of information on a very small label, you may need a 300 or 600 dpi resolution printer.
  3. What environment will the label be “living” in?  There are 2 technologies used to print barcode labels:  direct thermal and thermal transfer.  The first is good for short-lived label time spans as long as it won’t be standing in a hot room or in direct sunlight.  The thermal transfer label is more durable and can be printed using synthetic materials.
  4. Where will you be labeling?  Do you have a computer connection there or could a mobile printer be a better solution?
  5. What computer interface does it need?  Direct connect to PC (USB or parallel) or Networked (Ethernet) or Wireless (mobile)?

Duty Cycle – how many labels will you need to print in any one day?

Barcode printers range from very low duty-cycle to printers that can print 24/7 and printers that are slower versus high speed.  You need to be able to estimate how many labels you will need to print in any one day (this means if you don’t use the printer for a couple of days and then have a burst of printing define what that “burst” will be.)  For example, here are the Zebra Technologies models:

Desktop Printer (GK420):             1400 labels/day
S4M or ZT220/230:                    1000-10000/day (depending on size)
ZM400/ZM600:                          3000 – 20000/day
105SL:                                     5000 – 35000/day
Xi4 Series:                                24/7 printing – unlimited number of labels

Doing your homework will result in a successful investment.