The Labels Printers We Use and Why We Use Them
Not only do we sell barcode printers, labels and scanners we also print tens of thousands of labels each month for our customers. In this short article I want to share with you the hardware and software that we use in our business, and why we use them.
We have three printers – a Zebra ZM400, a Zebra 170XiII and a Toshiba TEC 572.
Zebra ZM 400
This is our work horse printer. It’s a tough 4 inch wide industrial printer with a metal case and with a capacity for printing tens of thousands of label each day. It’s fast and it’s reliable. What’s special about this particular model is that it has a 300 DPI printhead. That’s certainly good enough quality for the print jobs we do. We’ve not been asked for very high resolution labels so 300 dpi has proved to suit our work. Usual printers are 203 DPI but our ZM400 prints high definition labels which can be used to present product labels and print small barcodes. It’s six years old and has given no sign of stopping.
What is special about this printer is that it’s 6 inches wide. When we have a choice we tend not to use it. Compared to the ZM400 it’s a little fiddly to load ribbons and labels. Once it’s set up it will print for days on end (and from time to time it does). The Zebra Xi series has always been Zebra’s top of the range printers and built for non-stop mission critical printing. We do have one particular job that requires six across labels and this printer is ideal. Six across labels means the output it 50% greater than the ZM400 – if we were using it every day it would pay for itself in no time, because it’s capable of printing more labels every second. In addition to having a very reliable printer, we also need the 170 XiII just in case somebody asks for a very wide label.
With a metal case, this is a very durable printer. On one occasion when we loaned it out to a customer it was dropped. Even though the case was bent slightly the printer has worked ever since. Despite it’s age (it is more than 15 years old) it’s still going strong.
This printer is what’s called a near edge printer. This means that it copes very well with different thicknesses of media. It has a straight through paper path – in other words the labels come off the roll and feed straight under the printhead, through the platen roller and out the front of the printer. That’s useful when you’re printing onto thicker materials such as cardboard tags.
This printer is also a 300 dpi model. It too has a metal case.
It uses different thermal ink ribbons to the two Zebras – near edge ribbons, ribbons with a different composition of wax on it. That’s useful when a customer needs us to test ribbons for them. Not only that, the ribbons are 600m long, compared to Zebra’s 450m so on long jobs there’s less machine watching in case the ribbon runs out. With it’s Near Edge technology, the TEC 572 has “Ribbon Save”. The ribbon stops being pulled through the printer when there’s nothing on the label to print. With traditional printers, if you produce a meter of labels you use a meter of thermal ribbon whether you have text on the label or not. The TEC stops the ribbon moving when there’s no text to print on the labels. We don’t tend to use ribbon save because it slows the printer down – but if saving ribbons was important to us, we would.
This printer is getting on a little also. But with a metal case and available spares, it’ll give us years more printing without a problem.
Label Rewind unit
We couldn’t print longer runs without this handy tool. You switch it on, load an empty cardboard roll onto it, attach the first label out of the printer to it and switch it on. It takes up the tension and waits for more labels to print. As the printer feeds out labels it re-winds them onto the roll. As it’s an external rewind unit, it has a separate power supply and sits on the desk at the front of the printer. This is useful for us, because we can use it with any of the printers we have. Before we bought this unit, we’d sit for hours laboriously rolling labels onto rolls.
Label Design Software
We’ve been using Seagull Scientific’s Bartender label design software for years. It’s powerful and fairly easy to use. Because we can find ourselves using it for a wide range of different jobs we need something that’s flexible and powerful. There’s lots that’s good for example serialisation – you can have number sequences, letter sequences, specify how many numbers/letters the sequence jumps. Bartender handles GS128 barcodes well. GS128 barcodes are the large barcodes that you see on pallets and outer case labels. It’s a barcode that encodes best before dates, lot numbers, pack sizes, manufacturing dates – the list goes on. Without Bartender managing those “application identifiers”, printing GS128 barcodes would be much more difficult. Another benefit is the ability to program the software. One project saw us printing very complex labels. The label included printing from databases and adding a roll identifier (a label that told the user what range of numbers was printed on the roll). Bartender also allowed us to print in reverse order so the last label printed was the first label in the sequence.
For advice and ideas for using Bartender, call us on 01359 271 111.