If your business needs to print Barcodes on labels for merchandise, then you will need some form of Thermal Barcode Printer. There are many manufacturers of label printers, with the most popular being Zebra Technologies, Intermec, Datamax and Epson. Here, we take a look at the technology used with barcode printers.
A label printer is most commonly used for printing barcodes on labels that can be attached to items for sale, so that those items can be scanned by a barcode scanner in order to provide a means of stock control and also to determine the price of an item at a retail outlet. In some cases labels need to be attached to boxes or cartons to provide address details for shipment or merely to append an EAN number to a product for stock and pricing purposes.
There are two main technologies used by label printers, these being the direct thermal and the thermal transfer method. Direct thermal printers apply heat via a print head to paper which has been specially coated with a form of heat sensitive material. When the heat is applied, the coating turns black and this provides the information. In contrast, a thermal transfer printer is used to heat a form of resin which is present on a ribbon which is moved over the material requiring the barcode information. The process of applying heat to the ribbon causes ink to be transferred from the ribbon to the paper.
Of the two types of barcode printer, the direct thermal printer is the most popular, probably because it is generally the least expensive of the two, and will often be seen as a compact desktop device in retail outlets and offices. Larger, higher capacity barcode printers will often be found in industrial premises such as factories mass manufacturing goods and in warehouse facilities.
A direct thermal printer uses a form of thermal paper which is fed between the thermal print head and a rubber roller, sometimes known as the Platen. Some kind of spring is attached to the print head to ensure there is an even pressure applied by the print head on the paper to enable a consistent print. An electrical current is applied to the print head which generates the heat needed to activate the coating on the paper and thus provide the required printing. The areas of the paper which receive direct heat react and turn black to produce the required print image. Some of the more sophisticated direct thermal printers can provide a two colour image by applying heat to different areas of the coated material at different temperatures, resulting in an image that may be black and red for example. These models are usually a little more expensive that the model that just provides a black image.
In contrast, a Thermal Transfer Printer actually melts a coating on a ribbon, and this coating is appended to the label or material that is to receive the intended image. The biggest use for a thermal transfer printer is in the printing of barcodes or for printing plastic labels. The thermal print head is kept at a constant pressure on the label or material to receive the image by means of a spring loaded mechanism. The thermal ribbon and the printing material are located between the print head and the rubber platen and brought into contact by the action of the spring. Both the labels and the ribbon are fed between the print head and the platen at a constant speed and the electrical current applied to the print head generates heat which is applied to the ribbon, causing the thermal coating on the underside of the ribbon to be transferred to the required labels.
Barcode label printers normally come in standard widths of 4 o 6 inches, with some being as wide as 8 inches.If you are looking for a barcode printer for a small to medium sized retail outlet, then the important factor in your choice of barcode printer is going to be in its ability to produce labels at the frequency required. Most manufacturers will indicate the volume capacity by specifying low to medium or medium to high for example.
Barcode printers normally attach to a computer that holds the image by means of a USB cable, Ethernet network cable, WiFi or Bluetooth. When purchasing a label printer, make sure you choose a model with your preferred method of connectivity.