Barcode Label Solutions Blog

6 tips for choosing the right thermal barcode label printer

Posted by Susan Fields

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When you’re ready to integrate barcode label printing into your enterprise, you have many units to choose from. Before you invest in a thermal barcode label printer, take the time to understand how you will use your printer so you can weigh the value of your options.

1. Print method. In order to get the quality you need for your barcodes, choose one of the three types of thermal barcode label printer technology: direct thermal, thermal transfer, and ink jet. While you can use a laser printer, it’s not efficient for printing barcode labels for short runs (including single labels) and does not print well on synthetic media that is often required. Thermal printing is designed and engineered for on-demand label printing, producing crisp, clear barcodes for a wide variety of uses.

Direct thermal printing applies heat directly to a specially coated label to activate the ink on it and produce the image, usually in black but a second color option is available. No ink, toner, or ribbon is required, so it’s a cost-efficient method. The downside is that the output from a direct thermal barcode label printer is not as durable. The paper is highly sensitive to UV light, heat, moisture, smudging, and scratching. If you’re going to use your barcode labels in an environment with any of these conditions, a direct thermal barcode label printer is not your best choice.

Thermal transfer printing applies heat from the print head to the thermal transfer ribbon, which is coated with wax, resin, or a combination of both. The heat melts the coating and transfers the image to the paper. This type of thermal barcode label printer produces a highly durable image in a full range of color. Thermal transfer is more expensive but provides more lasting labels for a wider range of applications that can withstand exposure to UV light, moisture, extreme heat or cold, chemicals, scratching, and smudging.

Ink jet printing puts tiny dots of ink to create the image. The dots are approximately 50 to 60 microns in diameter, thinner than a human hair. The more dots per inch (dpi), the higher the resolution of the image. Because the jets can clog and the ink bleeds on certain media, it’s not the best choice for barcode printing.

2. Print resolution. Barcodes require clarity in order to be scanned and read. The barcode symbology is comprised of a series of bar of different widths. When buying a thermal barcode label printer, you should consider the print resolution, which can range from 203 dots per inch (dpi), 300 dpi or even 600 dpi for special applications. The higher the number of dots per inch, the finer the resolution. A barcode printed at 200 dpi is not going to be as clear as one printed at 300 dpi, which imprints over 200 percent more dpi. The difference in cost between 203 and 300 dpi is nominal. If your barcodes are large enough, 203 dpi is fine. But if you’re using a thermal barcode label printer to produce high density bar codes, 2D barcodes, fine fonts, or detailed   graphics, consider choosing a higher resolution printer.

3. Print volume. Some barcode printers are engineered to handle a heavy volume of label output, while others are best suited for small runs. If you’re going to use a thermal barcode label printer for occasional, on-demand printing, the print speed is not an issue, but you certainly don’t want to slow down production because your printer can’t keep up with a higher volume.

4. Maximum label size. Different printers handle different label sizes A small printer can usually accommodate labels of up to four inches in width. If you need a thermal barcode label printer that can produce wider labels, you might get more use from the larger unit— which can usually take rolls or sheets of labels smaller than the maximum width.

5. Connectivity. Will your thermal barcode label printer be kept in one place or do you need a mobile printer? If it’s going to be wired, do you need to connect it via Ethernet, USB, serial, or parallel ports? Be sure the printer you choose is equipped to connect with your current network.

6. Compatibility. The thermal barcode label printer you choose must be compatible with your enterprise. If you’re running on an ERP or SAP, check to make sure the printers you’re considering have the interconnectivity and drivers/device types to run with those systems.

You have so many choices when buying a thermal barcode label printer.  For more tips on choosing printers, download our eBook, 3 Considerations for Barcode Printers.  If you need help narrowing down your options and finding the best one for your needs, contact us at IntelliTech International.


Tags: thermal label printers, thermal barcode label printers