Barcodes are everywhere—and for good reason. We’re deep in the Information Age and automated data collection is king of this universe. Barcoding is an easy way to achieve a wide range of goals for your business—from inventory and asset management to security and access control to market research. With barcoding software and printers for building barcode labels, you can keep better track of the comings and goings—from who is entering restricted areas to where your products are going. You can even keep track of what happens when they get there because your products are scanned when they are entered into inventory and scanned again when sold to your ultimate consumer.
It might seem complex, but barcoding has become relatively simple to implement. You need to understand that there are different types of barcode symbologies. Code 128 is the most flexible in terms of readability and a good general-purpose barcode symbology. Before you commit to one, however, you must be sure that anyone who will be scanning your barcodes (e.g., customers) has a compatible system.
If you’re going to be marking equipment, supplies, parts, and products with barcode labels (as opposed to imprinting directly), you next need to zero in on printers for building barcode labels. Not all printers are created equal here. Yes, you can use an inkjet or laser printer, but they are not your best options. You won’t get the crisp, clear lines you need or the durability of labels that are generated by barcode printers. In addition, most inkjet and laser printers aren’t prepared for some of the specialty media you’re going to need for your barcode labels—like coated stock that resists chemicals, abrasion, moisture, extreme temperatures, and other factors. You’re more likely to end up with barcode labels that are smudged, blurred, scratched, or otherwise useless.
Once you accept that you need a barcode printer, you will have to choose between the two main technologies available in printers for building barcode labels: thermal transfer and direct thermal.
Direct thermal uses heat from a thermal printhead to create an image directly on the label media, which is chemically treated, heat-sensitive paper. Direct thermal paper turns black where the printhead’s elements contact it. This printing technology is the type you often see in the receipts you get at an ATM, gas pump, or other kiosk printer.
Direct thermal is an affordable choice of printers for building barcode labels. Because it doesn’t use ink, toner, or a printing ribbon, you spend less on supplies. In general, the labels should last—as long as they’re not subjected to strong light or high heat. The paper is engineered to turn black in these conditions, which you’ve experienced if you ever left a direct thermal receipt in your car on a hot day.
If your barcode labels are intended for general use indoors, a direct thermal printer is definitely worth your consideration.
Thermal transfer is another heat-based barcode printing technology. Rather than directly imprint on the paper, the print head’s heated elements contact with a special ribbon, which then transfers the image to the label media. The ribbons come in a variety of materials—wax, resin, and a combination of both—and can handle a broad range of functions. The wax or resin (or combo) melts onto the label and cools to a hard, durable finish. Your thermal transfer barcode labels could be printed on paper, film, polyester, and other synthetic materials, and with any number of adhesives (temporary, repositionable, high tack, permanent).
With thermal transfer, you get long-lasting labels that stand up to tough conditions without scratching or smudging. It’s a more expensive technology among printers for building barcode labels, but if you need to step up the quality of your labels, the investment will prevent you from replacing unreadable labels or dealing with the hassle of finding and remarking everything.
Among these printer types, you will discover more choices in terms of features and functions. From compact and mobile units to mid-range and industrial barcode printers, you have many choices of printers for building barcodes.
If you'd like to learn about other considerations for choosing a printer, download our eBook. If you need help narrowing your options and finding the printer that will best suit your needs, contact us at IntelliTech International.