Barcode Printers: Laser and Thermal Printers
Investigating Barcode Printers
There are barcode printers to suit every need and budget, from industrial scale printing to creating a few on your home computer. Here is a guide to the technology involved, with the pros and cons of various systems.
Thermal Transfer Barcode Printers
These use the same process as direct thermal printing except that the printhead heats a ribbon to deposit wax or resin onto the label, forming the image. They are a good option if you need a dedicated label printer.
Pros: Fast and quiet output. They print on demand with no wastage but with the kind of precision important in barcode printing. They are capable of printing on various kinds of paper and synthetic media. Thermal transfer barcode printers generally produce durable, long-life labels and can use colored ribbons.
Cons: Can be very expensive, with ribbon replacement being particularly costly. They can also only print labels.
Direct Thermal Barcode Printers
Chemically treated paper stock is passed over rows of tiny heating elements (up to 400 per inch) which switch on and off, turning the paper black and creating an image. Direct thermal printers are mainly used industrially for printing large numbers of labels.
Pros: Fast and quiet output. These are simple to use and require little maintenance. They also print on demand with no wastage and produce precise, readable barcodes.
Cons: The labels are prone to fading after a few months. They can also darken in contact with some chemicals, for example those used in highlighter pens. Printheads wear quickly due to abrasive print stock and they can also only print labels.
Laser Barcode Printers
A laser beam removes static charge from a roller within the printer. Toner sticks to the charged areas and is printed onto the paper. Commonly found in UK office environments these printers have many uses including barcode printing.
Pros: Very high resolution, very fast and can be used for other tasks. These printers can also print large format labels and in color.
Cons: Not good for synthetic media. They're expensive on color and only print whole pages of labels, causing wastage. Complex paper feed can cause problems with peeling labels.
Tiny droplets of ink are shot onto the surface of the print media. These are very common in the home and businesses, suited to small outputs of barcode labels.
Pros: High resolution. They can be used for other tasks , are low cost and provide economical color printing.
Cons: Slow printing. The ink is not water-resistant and they only print whole sheets causing wastage. Ink cartridges can be expensive
Very small points hammer onto a ribbon which deposits ink onto the paper. This is a much older-style of office printing which are not recommended for barcodes due to the unreliable print quality.
Pros: Small and low-cost. They can be used for other tasks and can also print large labels as well as printing labels one by one.
Cons: Low resolution. Slow and noisy printing. Fading ribbons produce unreadable UPC codes.