The evolution of printer technology and the availability of specialised and affordable models have led to massive applications of printers. They can be found in homes, offices and businesses of all types. In most businesses that deal directly with customers, label printers and receipt printers are used. While receipt printers are integrated with a point of sale (POS) system, label printers are typically setup independently.
If you are launching a new business or are setting up a new POS system or in-house labelling system, it can be confusing to decide which printers you need. Afterall, all printers perform the same basic task of printing desired designs. However, there are numerous categories of printers available and each comes with its own benefits, drawbacks, and additional expenses. The categorisation is based on the printing technology, for example laser or thermal, their size or mobility, or their application, such as label printers or receipt printers.
For businesses that are directly customer facing, conduct transactions regularly and have POS systems, a receipt printer will likely be a necessity. Depending upon your business needs, a label printer may also be a requirement. Here is a complete guide on label printers and receipt printers, their differences and if you can manage with just one.
Types of Printing Technologies
The technology used to produce the desired pattern on material is at the core of any printer, and has a major impact on its applications. The most popular printing technologies currently used are laser printing, inkjet printing, dot matrix printing and thermal printing. Understanding how a printer functions and the advantages and disadvantages of the printing technology it uses can help you decide on its suitability for your business.
1. Laser Printing
The first commercial laser printer was developed in 1973, based on the technology used in photocopying machines. Commonly used as personal home printers or office printers, laser printing involves an electrostatic digital printing process, creating high quality text and graphics. A laser beam is repeatedly passed over a negatively charged drum to form an image with a different electrostatic charge. Powdered ink in the form of toner is transferred to the printing material through the drum, fusing the desired pattern onto the printing material.
Laser printing is reliable and offers decent quality prints, making it popular for offices and for printing brochures, documents and labels. They support black and white and coloured prints.
- Good quality prints
- Fast printing
- Quiet printing
- Low cost per page printing
- Long lasting toner cartridges
- Initial purchasing cost is expensive
- Bulky in size
- Expensive cartridges
2. Inkjet Printing
The most used printers worldwide are inkjet printers that use inkjet technology to create vivid and image quality prints. The technology was first developed in the 1950s and significantly evolved by the 1970s. Immensely versatile, inkjet printing can be used to print on a variety of materials including papers, plastics, vinyls, and foils. Inkjet printing uses propulsion technology to place small droplets of ink onto the printing medium to form the desired pattern. There are two types of inkjet printers based on the frequency of ink droplet propulsion, namely, continuous inkjet and drop on demand.
The printing process takes time, and afterwards, the printed materials require sufficient time to dry. Inkjet printers are used in homes, offices and at an industrial level to print coloured high-resolution images, brochures, labels, and other documents.
- Colourful and image-quality prints
- Easy to use
- No warmup time
- Low cost of printer purchase
- Versatile applications
- Not suitable for bulk printing
- Slow printing process
- Low durability
3. Dot Matrix Printing
Also known as impact matrix printing, dot matrix printing is one of the older printing technologies developed in 1925 that is still in use today. It is based on technology like that of a typewriter or line printer. A dot matrix printer uses a print head with pins that move back and forth striking a ribbon against the paper to form the desired pattern. Most popular are 9-pin and 24-pin variations with more pins resulting in better quality prints. Typically, the print resolution is low as compared to other printing technologies, and the printing process also tends to be noisy.
Despite advancements in printing technology, top brands today still launch dot matrix printers, primarily for use in printing multi-part forms, and receipts. Since pressure from the printhead is used to create the prints, multiple sheets with carbon paper in between can be used to create identical copies of a single printout.
- Low printing costs
- Long lasting ribbons
- Capable of withstanding hot environments
- Can print identical copies along with an original
- Loud printing
- Low resolution printing
- Limited colour support
4. Thermal Printing
Thermal printers have gained immense popularity in recent times, especially for their commercial applications in sectors such as retail, food & beverage, hospitality, healthcare, shipping and more. These printers are lightweight, compact, and more portable than other printers, and consume less power, making them ideal for on-the-go applications. First developed in the 1970s, thermal printers use heated print heads to print the desired pattern. There are two types of thermal printers, direct thermal and thermal transfer printers, and there are significant differences between both.
Direct thermal printers do not require ribbons but instead use heat-sensitive printing material that reacts to the heated printhead to form the pattern. Thermal transfer printers use heat sensitive ribbons that fuse onto the printing material when the heated printhead is passed along the ribbons. Direct thermal printers are fast, accurate, reliable, and cost saving, but only black ink prints are supported, with limited durability. Thermal transfer printers can be expensive, but have consistent performance and produce excellent quality multicolour prints that are durable and long lasting.
- Compact and portable printer size
- Quiet printing
- Clear printing
- Easy to use
- Suited for bulk printing
- Repairs and part replacement can be expensive
- Specialised heat-sensitive paper or ribbons required
- Printhead may overheat
The applications of labels have grown exponentially, from early uses as medicine labels to the current variety of labels for identification, instructional purposes, warnings, and advertising. There are specialised labels for shipping, retail, promotions, chemicals, food items, freezer-grade products and more. As the uses of labels grew, the need for dedicated label printers increased.
Printers that are specifically designed to print custom labels of all types and barcodes in large volumes are known as label printers. These printers are typically compact and can often be mobile so that they can be taken to wherever the requirement is. The label printer is connected with a computer or smart device that gives the orders for printing.
With an appropriate label roll, laser, inkjet and thermal printers can all be used to print labels. However, laser and inkjet printers can be expensive for printing bulk labels, have an overall high total cost of ownership and present quality concerns when printing on adhesive materials. Thermal printers are cost-efficient even when printing labels in smaller volumes, give consistently good quality prints and are compatible with a wider variety of materials.
The decision between direct thermal and thermal transfer printers will largely depend upon your applications and business needs. For printing of low-cost monochromatic labels and barcodes with a short lifespan and low durability, a direct thermal label printer is suitable. If you want to print colourful labels, barcodes, or high-density images that are long-lasting and durable, a thermal transfer printer would be ideal.
In any customer transaction, whether the sale is of a product or a service, the customer expects a receipt. Even with the popularity of digital receipts, the need for a physical printed receipt is unlikely to diminish any time soon. There are several purposes of a receipt; it serves as proof of the transaction, helps in processing returns if required, and also helps in branding of the business. As a result, receipt printers are an integral part of POS systems.
A receipt printer is specially designed to produce receipts quickly and accurately, so as to speed up transactions at the point of sale. These printers are compact so that they can easily fit onto countertops, and are also available in wireless and mobile configurations. They integrate with your POS system to instantly produce custom receipts once the transaction is complete. For a receipt printer, speed, accuracy and reliability are essential, while high resolution printing is not as necessary.
If speed is not an issue and you have plenty of time to print out a receipt, any printer can be used, for example in speciality clinics or boutiques. However, for fast printing of receipts, generally dot matrix printers or thermal printers are used. Both printing technologies are low cost, fast and reliable, and are popularity used for receipt printing. Inkjet printers are used occasionally to print high resolution and density receipts by speciality businesses.
There are a few major differences between dot matrix printers and thermal printers. Dot matrix printers are the only ones that support printing multiple copies at the same time, and are ideal if you need multiple copies of receipts. They are also capable of withstanding hot environments, making them suitable for restaurants, kitchens, cafes and food trucks. Drawbacks are that the printing is loud and the image quality is poor. Thermal printers are faster and quieter, while creating sharper prints that are long-lasting. They are better at printing logos and graphics, in comparison to dot matrix printers, but thermal printers have a higher running cost.
For multiple copies, hot environments, and average printing quality, consider a dot matrix printer, while for higher quality printing faster and quieter, a thermal printer would be more suitable.
Comparison of Label Printers and Receipt Printers
Label printers and receipt printers are designed for entirely different purposes, due to which their features are often distinct. Nevertheless, as printing technology evolves, modern printers are equipped to support greater versatility. Whenever you are considering a printer, always compare its features with your business needs so that you can find an ideal printing solution. Here is a detailed comparison of the features of label printers and receipt printers.
1. Print Quality
Before purchasing any printer for any application, it is important to consider the printing quality that is needed. The printing quality refers to the resolution, clarity, details and sharpness of printed materials. There is a big difference between the printing quality of label printers and receipt printers.
- Label Printer: Depending upon the printing technology used, label printers typically have better printing quality than receipt printers. As labels often include barcodes, clarity and accuracy is essential so that scanners can easily read the printed barcodes. Thermal transfer label printers will have significantly better printing quality than direct thermal label printers.
- Receipt Printer: When it comes to receipt printers, good print quality is often less of a priority than speed and basic accuracy. The key requirement for receipts is that they be fully legible and understandable for customer use and future reference. Thermal receipt printers will have better printing quality than dot matrix receipt printers, but both have adequate printing quality to produce average receipts.
2. Durability of Prints
The durability involves the capability of a printed material to withstand different environments and its overall lifespan, for example exposure to heat, water, cold. Lifespan of a printout can vary from short-to-medium durations of 6 months to a year, or more than one year. The strength of a printout depends upon the technology of the printer and the material used. There is not much of a difference between the durability of label printers and receipt printers.
- Label Printer: Based on the application of the label, there can be varying levels of durability of a label printer. Direct thermal label printers produce labels with an average lifespan of 6 months to 1 year with susceptibility to heat and smudging and limited durability overall. They are more suited for temporary labelling applications. Thermal transfer label printers produce labels with the highest level of sturdiness for long-term use. These labels can be water-proof, resistant to extreme temperatures and more, making them ideal for outdoor use.
- Receipt Printer: Many customers prefer to keep receipts for at least 6 months to a year after purchase, even longer if there is an associated warranty or guarantee. However, receipts are unlikely to be facing harsh environments and so the primary concern is to protect them from fading and smudging. Receipt printers produce prints with long-lasting durability of multiple years. Both dot matrix receipt printers and thermal receipt printers can create receipts with adequate durability, although dot matrix printed receipts last longer than thermal printed receipts.
3. Support for Customisable Designs
A major difference between label printers and receipt printers are their capabilities for flexible printing designs. While both printers can be used for customised printing, the potential for personalised printing varies significantly.
- Label Printer: A label printer has full support for any kind of printing design required, including complex barcodes that need excellent precision. Any type of graphic, font or style can be used as desired, and the desired pattern can be formed on a computer before printing. While a direct thermal label printer will restrict the usage of multiple printing colours, a thermal transfer label printer supports a full range of vivid colours for printing. There is dedicated software available online in free and paid versions to design labels as needed.
- Receipt Printer: A receipt printer typically comes with typesetting software which significantly restricts the freedom of customisation of printouts. While receipt printers do support full customisation of the receipts, you only have limited options for fonts and typefaces. Latest receipt printers have added capabilities to include basic graphics and logos using the existing typeface. Instructions for printing the customised receipts generally comes through the POS system and then is interpreted by the receipt printer for the final receipts. Thermal receipt printers have greater support for flexible printing designs than dot matrix receipt printers.
4. Compatible Rolls
Regardless of whatever printing technology you are using, having compatible printing material is vital. If there is inadequate compatibility, the printing quality will be poor and it might also not be as durable as expected. Apart from printing technology, the end-use application of the printed material is a big deciding factor in the choice of printing material. The printing materials are very much different for label printers and receipt printers.
- Label Printer: Most label rolls come with an adhesive backing and have premade outlines for each individual label. Depending on the size of label required, the label rolls can be chosen and directly peeled off and attached to the desired surface. There are a wide range of materials available for label rolls, based on the compatible label printer technology. For thermal transfer label printers, there are different types of ribbons also available. Label rolls come in several colours and finishes ranging from matte to glossy and even fluorescent.
- Apart from standard label rolls, tags are also available that can be directly inserted into the label printer. There are multiple types of adhesives available, including permanent, removable, semi-permanent and freezer grade. For any printer core size, a variety of label sizes can be supported. The width of a label printer is generally larger than that of a receipt printer. Label printers can also accept thicker and heavier printing materials to incorporate adhesives and different material types.
- Receipt Printer: A receipt printer uses primarily continuous paper rolls that do not have a pre-defined outline so that a single receipt can be of any size. The receipt printers usually have an auto-cutter attachment and after printing the desired receipt, it can be cut off neatly. Paper rolls for receipt printers are lightweight to put minimal pressure on the printhead and facilitate fast printing. Heavy papers are not suitable as they can cause the printhead to overheat or accelerate the wear and tear of the printer.
- The width of receipt printers is narrow as this helps save counter space and produces compact receipts that customers can easily store in their wallets. Receipt rolls are available in the form of thermal receipt rolls and dot matrix receipt rolls. For dot matrix printers, receipt rolls are available with carbon layers inserted to print multiple copies of a single receipt at one time. Even amongst receipt printer rolls, there are different qualities of paper available at varying price points to suit the budget of every business.
5. Printing Environment
The environment surrounding the printer has an impact on the type of printer and its performance. The printing environment includes the physical aspects, such as temperature and humidity, space available, and connectivity options. Both label printers and receipt printers are available in wireless and mobile format, allowing them to be setup in any location desired.
- Label Printer: Generally, a label printer is not a part of a traditional POS system, nonetheless it is immensely useful to any business, especially if they have regular label printing requirements. A label printer tends to have a slower printing speed than receipt printers but can easily print in bulk volumes as needed and can be setup wherever required. The size of the label printer is largely dependent upon the size and volume of labels that it is required to print. There are a wide range of mobile label printers available, so that the printer can easily be taken to wherever the need for labels arises, for example, warehouses, shipping, or product labelling. With Bluetooth and other connectivity options, any operating system can give the orders for label printing. However, as thermal printers are susceptible to heat, they are not ideal in environments with high temperatures such as kitchens or in the sun.
- Receipt Printer: A receipt printer is an integral part of most POS systems, and accordingly it needs to be compatible with the main operating system. Receipt printers are often connected with the cash drawers so that after a transaction is completed, the receipt can be automatically generated. There are several connectivity options supported by receipt printers, helping them adapt to leading types of POS setups. Receipt printers are generally compact in size. The size of the receipt printer is important as it needs to fit into the checkout point without taking up too much space or looking bulky. Although portable receipt printers are available, based on the frequency of its usage businesses often opt for a plugged-in version to avoid battery charging. Thermal receipt printers are susceptible to heat and not suitable for warm environments. Dot matrix receipt printers meanwhile are very durable and can easily withstand warm surroundings and dust, including kitchens and outdoors.
6. Costs Involved
Every printer has associated costs with it and understanding these costs can help in choosing the right printer. Label printers and receipt printers have vastly different applications and accordingly the costs also vary. While receipt printers are designed to work all day, every day, label printers are ready to print when the need arises. The costs involved include initial purchasing expenses and costs for operating the printer.
- Label Printer: The cost of a label printer is most often compared against the cost of having labels printed and shipped from a supplier. An in-house labelling system is significantly more cost-efficient than purchasing printed labels if there is a recurring requirement. The initial purchase cost varies depending upon the printing technology involved, but label printers are more expensive than receipt printers.
- Apart from the purchasing expense, the running costs are for the label rolls and ribbons when applicable. A direct thermal label printer does not require any ribbons or inks, saving you money in the long run, even though direct thermal label rolls are slightly more expensive. A thermal transfer label printer has higher operating costs as you need ribbons and ink in addition to paper, but the printing quality is far superior. When selecting a label printer budget, the main factors to consider are the desired applications, printing quality, durability, and speed.
- Receipt Printer: As receipt printers are necessary for almost all POS systems and even used by businesses that don’t have POS setups, they come in a variety of price points. The initial purchase cost of a receipt printer can be a lot cheaper than a label printer. However, investing more in a good quality receipt printer is better in the long run. The operating costs of a receipt printer depend upon the printing technology, with dot matrix impact receipt printers having the lowest running costs. The ribbons of a dot matrix receipt printer are long lasting and inexpensive to replace.
- Thermal receipt printers, especially those with direct thermal printing technology also have low operating costs. Receipt rolls for dot matrix printers primarily consisting of basic paper are the least expensive, followed by thermal receipt rolls. Specialised receipt rolls with layers of carbon paper to print duplicates are the most expensive type of receipt rolls. When considering a budget for receipt printers, evaluate the required printing quality, speed and whether multiple receipt copies are needed.
7. Printer Maintenance
For the purchase of any type of equipment, it is important to have a clear understanding of the maintenance required. Adequate maintenance reduces the downtime involved that could otherwise hamper business. Always choose a good quality printer sold by a reputed brand so that you have minimal needs for repair.
- Label Printer: Maintenance of a label printer is easy and will depend upon how frequently it is used and the volume of printing. The lifespan of thermal printheads is based on millions of linear inches printed. Problems with a label printer could cause a postponement on adding new items to the shelves or delay shipments. Adequate maintenance will ensure peak performance of the label printer for good quality and fast printing.
- For a thermal label printer, every time the label roll or ribbons are changed, the printhead should be carefully cleaned. Abrasion, corrosion and contamination can lead to a faster deterioration of a thermal printhead. For optimum performance of the label printer, use good quality label rolls, clean any dust build-up, monitor room temperature, and avoid touching the printhead with bare hands when cleaning. When the printhead reaches the end of its lifecycle, it can be replaced with a compatible printhead thereby renewing its capabilities.
- Receipt Printer: As receipt printers are designed to be used all-day every day, they are generally built to be sturdy and robust. Accordingly, there are less chances of downtime, but proper care should be taken around the printer. Issues with a receipt printer can be disastrous as they can hamper the POS process and discourage customers from completing transactions. Due to the use of continuous receipt rolls, receipt printers run the risk of frequent paper jams. Whenever there is a paper jam, the printer needs to be turned off, excess paper removed, receipt roll reset and then printer can be turned on.
- As receipt printers are used throughout the day, the printhead is more likely to heat up and should be handled cautiously. The printhead of thermal receipt printers and dot matrix receipt printers should be thoroughly cleaned every time a new receipt roll is added. Overall cleaning and dusting of the receipt printer should ideally be done every day or several times a week.
Using a Single Printer for Labels and Receipts
If you have a limited budget or want to minimise the number of printers for your business, it may be tempting to buy a single printer for labels and receipts. Many of the leading printer manufacturing brands boast of the versatile applications of their printers, blurring the line between label and receipt printers. Carefully analyse your requirements from a printer, both in terms of labels and receipts, before considering a single printer for both applications.
For businesses with occasional requirements for labels and downtimes when receipts are not needed, having a single printer can be useful. Keep in mind, the printing media for labels and receipts vary greatly, especially for adhesive labels. So, you would likely have to switch the printing rolls when you move from printing receipts to labels or vice versa.
- Label Printer for Receipts: A label printer can be used for printing labels and receipts, but breaks should be given in-between continuous printing. There are dedicated templates available for printing receipts on label printers. As label printers support better printing quality than receipt printers, you can get high-definition receipts, making your brand more memorable for customers. A mobile label printer can be setup and integrated with many POS systems and accurately meet the needs of receipt printing. However, label printers tend to heat up with consecutive use, due to which cooling down periods would be needed between successive printing. Multiple receipts cannot be printed simultaneously and thermal printers need to be kept away from warm surroundings. Configuring a label printer to automatically print receipts by connecting it with a POS system can also be a hassle.
- Receipt Printer for Labels: Although technically a receipt printer can be used to print labels, it is not advisable, especially if you want to print barcodes. Receipt printers have limited typesetting software due to which printing complex designs can be a challenge. The printing clarity is average, especially when using dot matrix receipt printers, but can improve with a thermal receipt printer. Most receipt printers are designed to print on light weight and thin receipt rolls. Label rolls, in comparison, are thicker and heavier due to attached adhesives and can fast-track the wear and tear of a receipt printer. Since receipt printers are smaller, there are less options for different sizes of labels. If the receipt printer is used throughout the day for receipts and then again for printing labels, adequate downtime needs to be given to the printer to cool down.
- General Printer for Labels and Receipts: Another option is to opt for a general office or home printer, for example a laser or inkjet printer, to print labels and receipts. While both laser and inkjet printers are immensely popular for general office and home use, they are not specially designed for label and receipt printing. Laser printers can be used for printing labels and receipts, but the toner cartridge replacements are expensive and detailed images do not have good clarity. Inkjet printers are less expensive and have good quality printing, but the printouts require drying time and only specific printing materials are compatible. Most office and home printers, including laser and inkjet printers, are large and bulky, making them unsuitable for use as receipt printers in busy and compact POS environments.
Over the years, printers have evolved into having distinct purposes, including dedicated label and receipt printers. Label printers are used for producing bulk customised labels of good quality and high resolution to support barcoding systems. Label rolls are thicker and are available with a variety of adhesive capabilities. Receipt printers on the other hand, focus on speed and legibility with flexible lengths using thin continuous receipt rolls.
Although a label printer can be used to print receipts, it would likely not be as fast or easy to integrate as specialised receipt printers. Using receipt printers for printing labels results in poor label quality and damage to the printer due to the thicker label materials. General printers can be used for labels and receipts but with limited efficiency and effectiveness.
Investing in dedicated label printers and receipt printers are the best way to get excellent labels and receipts, whenever required. Always choose a good brand for printers to get a long-life and minimum downtime. Here at POS Plaza, you can find a wide range of the top label printers, receipt printers and compatible rolls. Reach out to us today to help you find the best label printers, receipt printers, and consumables for your business needs.