Every business that deals with goods has one aspect in common – they can all benefit from effective labelling. In retail businesses, labelling can be used for labelling goods to identify products, indicate prices, print bar codes and keep track of inventory. They also help in creating the first impression of the product and brand for consumers. A good quality label helps convince consumers to purchase the product.
Labels can also be used specifically for back end processes at a distribution or ware housing facility. Especially when dealing with bulk packaged products, having informative labels makes it easier to identify items without opening extensive packaging. As a result, time and energy of the staff is saved.
The versatility of labels makes them immensely useful. A good quality label printer provides multiple benefits, helping you explore the full potential of labels. With an effective printer, you can print massive numbers of labels, utilise different materials for printing, add security measures and more. There are nearly hundreds of label printers in the market, which is why it is important to choose the right one for your business needs.
What is a Label Printer?
A label printer is a printer that is specially designed to produce labels, tags and bar codes in relatively large volumes. The printing can be done on materials such as card stock, self-adhesive labels, tear sheet stock, and rolled stock. Certain label printers can also print on films and foil substrates.
Generally, label printers will connect with a computer that will give the instructions for the printing. However, there are also stand-alone devices known as label makers that will have an in-built operating system. In contrast to label printers, label makers are typically limited in their capabilities.
Dedicated label printers are useful in numerous applications. Popular applications include retail price marking, bar code labelling, supply chain management, fixed assets management, packaging labels, and laboratory specimen marking. The flexibility of label printers means that users can customise their output and applications as required.
Types of Label Printers
Although printers with inkjet, laser and thermal technologies can all be used to print labels, primarily thermal printers are used in label printers. Inkjet and laser printers are not cost effective when it comes to printing bulk labels. In addition, inkjet and laser printers have high total cost of ownership and quality concerns when frequently used to print labels on adhesive materials.
Thermal printers, on the other hand, are cost efficient even for printing smaller volumes of labels. They are also more convenient, give consistent printing quality, superior quality of bar code prints and can accommodate more media options.
There are 2 broad types of label printers that use thermal printing technology:
- Direct Thermal Label Printers
A direct thermal label printer uses heat to directly print the desired image or content onto the label material. Anything can be printed, for example, labels, text, graphics, and bar codes by darkening the source material. The resulting printout will have sensitivity to exposure to extreme heat or light.
Direct thermal label printers are suited for labels that have a short shelf life and are monochromatic. Since there is no need for any printing material, ribbon or ink, these printers are a low cost label printing option.
- Thermal Transfer Label Printers
A thermal transfer label printer uses either wax or resin grade carbon ribbons which when heat is applied, transfers pigment to the label material. As a result, the thermal transfer label printers can produce high-density images, including in colour.
In contrast to direct thermal printers, the thermal transfer label printers produce crispier and brighter labels with a longer shelf life. As there are added ribbons involved, the costs involved are higher in thermal transfer printers than direct thermal.
Factors to Consider to Choose the Right Label Printer
There are several factors to consider when you are planning to buy a label printer so that you can choose the best one for your needs.
- Printer Size
Consider the space where you want to set up the label printer. Will there be a fixed location or do you want a label printer that is portable? There are primarily 3 types of printer sizes available; a mobile or portable label printer, a desktop printer and industrial printer.
Portable printers are small enough to carry around easily and can be set up anywhere, even next to items being labelled. A desktop printer is of a standard size that can fit on a desk. Industrial printers are large and expensive but durable and can run around the clock without frequent changes for ribbons or printing material.
- Label Size
Label printers are available in several sizes in terms of the width of the label to be printed. While the length is generally easily adjustable, the width is fixed depending upon the capacity of the printer.
The average width of a label printer is around 4 inches, but you can also find printers with widths of 2 inches, 5 inches, 6 inches and 8 inches. The cost of the printers will typically increase with increase in width. The print heads also cost more for wider printers.
- Label Printing Volume
How many labels are you expecting to print in a day, or a year? How often will the labels be printed and how long would the printing take place? Do you require 24/7 label printing support or will there be down times?
Some label printers can be used 24/7 while others may have a recommended number of operating hours. If you have a minimal volume of printing required, then a portable printer would be well-suited. If you need less than 1,000 labels per day, a desktop printer would be ideal. For printing more than 1,000 labels a day an industrial grade label printer would be needed.
- Label quality
What quality are you expecting from the labels? What should be the clarity and sharpness of print? The printer resolution is quantified in Dots Per Inch (DPI) and the higher the DPI, the greater the clarity and quality of the image. Label printers are generally available in 230 DPI, 300 DPI and 600 DPI versions.
For higher resolutions, the costs of the printer will also correspondingly increase. For bar codes a minimum of 300 DPI is recommended for accuracy, while general labels are passable at 200 DPI and above.
- Printing Speed
How fast would you need the labels to be printed? There are different label printers available with printing speeds ranging from 2-6 inches per second for a general bar code printer to also 12-14 inches per second for an industrial printer.
In general, the faster the printing speed, the higher the cost of the label printer. If speed is of the essence when it comes to your labels, then consider investing in a fast speed printer.
Any label printer will need to receive printing orders through a computer or operating system. Connectivity of the printer will determine how the printing orders can be conveyed. Label printers can be connected with an operating system in multiple ways, such as USB, Ethernet, Bluetooth, WiFi, memory cards, NFC, or an applicator interface.
Consider your existing operating system setup and if you plan to upgrade in the future. Ethernet is gaining rapid popularity as it facilitates remote operation of the printer. USB, Bluetooth and or WiFi are other common options for convenience and longevity. With an Ethernet setup, or even Bluetooth or WiFi, you can easily order prints without having to be physically next to the printer.
- Security Functionality
In addition to traditional labels, there are also options to include security features in the printed labels. Specialised label printers can print Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) labels with data written to the RFID tags. If RFID capability is useful for you, consider investing in a label printer that can incorporate RFID into printed labels.
- Total Costs
For any business, costs are an important consideration in any purchase. It may be tempting to instantly buy a label printer with a surprisingly low initial cost. However, apart from the initial purchase costs, you would also have operation and maintenance costs. Before you purchase a label printer, check out all the associated costs for its supplies and maintenance.
Depending on the model and type of label printer, you would have to spend money on replacing consumable items like ink ribbons, cartridges, and printing mediums. There can also be repair or replacement costs in case of any damage. Complex label printers would also require some amount of training for any staff handling the printer.
The extensive benefits that a good quality label printer offers makes it worth an investment. A right label printer can boost organisation, management, transparency, and also attract customers. Carefully consider the usefulness of a label printer for your business, and the future potential the printer brings.
If you are on a tight budget, there are many basic label printers available that still excel in their own domain. If you can afford a sturdier label printer with more features, and it will be of use to you then choose a good quality label printer with excellent connectivity.