You invest in your barcode printer so that you have a reliable source for getting these small, but vital labels and tags when you need them. These rugged printers are purpose-built for generating barcodes, but that doesn’t mean they are all created equal. Some thermal printers are designed to handle the heavy volume, while others simply can’t keep up. Similarly, supplies are manufactured to address specific needs. You have a lot of choices for supplies. You need to match the barcode label to the application AND the thermal printer to get the best ROI for your barcode printing process
Here’s what you need to consider before buying supplies for the thermal printer you’re using.
- Printer type. Thermal printers are either direct thermal or thermal transfer. Direct thermal media is chemically treated to react to the heating process as it passes under the printhead. This media will fade when exposed to light and doesn’t last when exposed to abrasion, heat, or chemicals. Thermal transfer media reflects a much broader range, including paper and synthetics (vinyl, polyester, polypropylene, and polyimide). You can’t use labels designed for thermal transfer printer in a direct thermal printer, and vice versa.
- Printer speed. The synthetic labels you use in a thermal transfer printer do not normally produce high quality at speeds that exceed their calibration. However, you might be able to bring them up to speed by using a high-speed wax ribbon.
- Resolution. Many printers run at 203 or 300 dpi (dots per inch). If you require a higher resolution (e.g., 600 dpi), you might need to make an adjustment in your media choice. A synthetic label with a smooth or gloss surface will deliver far better results than a matte label.
- Surface shape and material. To ensure that the label remains adhered, you need a label substrate that will work with the surface. Cardboard, metal, and plastic, for example, require different label materials. A smooth surface also demands a different type of label then you would apply to a rough surface, and a curved surface presents a labeling challenge that doesn’t occur with a flat one.
- Environmental conditions. When you’re producing labels that will face extreme temperatures—like sub-zero in cold storage or boiling heat for sterilizing—you’ll need to choose a label that is engineered and tested to withstand those conditions. In addition, a label that will be used outdoors will face those temperatures, as well as rain, snow, wind, and the sun’s rays. Check the specs of the labels you’re considering to make sure they are resistant to environmental conditions.
- Chemical resistance. Will your barcode labels come in contact with chemicals of some type? Certain synthetic materials perform better than others in this case. Alcohol and bleach are considered moderate chemicals; gasoline and oil are rated as harsh, and acetone and xylene are considered extreme chemicals.
Talk to your supplier about your barcode labels and printing needs, so you get the best quality from your printer and the labels it produces. Be forewarned that those “bargain labels” might end up costing you much more in the long run. Media that is not manufactured according to the strict guidelines generates inferior quality—which translates to inferior labels. In addition, dust and debris from the labels can build up inside your printer. The resulting damage leads to downtime and repair costs that could be avoided by choosing the right supplies in the first place.
Cal-Sierra has in-depth knowledge of thermal printing technology. We’ve seen first-hand what the wrong supplies have done to the hardware. To help you make the right choice, we’ve partnered with Zebra to offer the Printhead Protection Program. When you join this program, you will receive free printhead replacements as long as you own your Zebra printer. All you need to do to qualify is (1) enroll in the free program; and (2) commit to using only genuine Zebra supplies in your printer. These supplies are engineered, manufactured, and extensively tested. We know they will produce the lasting quality you need while also protecting your printer.
Talk to Cal-Sierra about your barcode label processes so we can guide you to the best choice. And register now for the free Printhead Protection Program.