Intermec 3240 Hands-on Review

Intermec 3240 – the retro label printer

The Intermec website says: “ In addition to printing on small or oddly shaped labels, the 3240 is perfect for printing on a variety of substrates that are difficult to print on, such as Kapton or ultra-smooth polyesters and synthetics”

Since we produce and print a lot of very small Kapton and polyester labels, this seems to be a printer model that we should pay some attention to.

I’ve used the 3240 on a couple of jobs over the last few days and thought it would be a good idea to share some thoughts.

First, the 3240 is one of the only label printers specially designed to handle very small labels. It is a design from the old 3400 series of Intermec printers and, unlike all the other Intermec products, missed out on later design refreshes. I assume this is because this is a product with limited sales so the redesign investment didn’t make sense.

Having said that, a lot of Intermec users still prefer the 3400 design over the newer models so many would appreciate the 3240’s origins.

Where the standard in label printers has been for a 4 inch print width, the 3240 is limited to a maximum of 2.5 inches. This is a good thing since printing narrow label webs on a 4 inch printer causes all kinds of wrinkling issues with the thermal transfer ribbon.

Intermec’s other claim is that the 3240 holds label registration more accurately than other printer models. From what I’ve experienced, this is indeed the case – the print position shows almost zero variation throughout a print run. A really nice feature is to be able to fine tune the position of the print on the label just by pressing a switch. I wish more printers had this ability because it really helps with reducing change over time.

So despite having been designed back when Thomas Jefferson was President, the 3240 seems to still do the job it was intended for. There are a few things in need of improvement though.

First, it seems odd to me that a printer intended to be used for very small labels is limited to 400 DPI. Sure, 400 DPI is nice in that it can print the 7.5 mil barcode size, but I struggled to get really good print quality with tiny fonts. I think 600 DPI would really help with print clarity with small labels and fonts. As far as I’m aware, Intermec has never produced a 600 DPI printer of any type.

The old design presents some headaches as well. I hate having to use a printer without a keypad and display to help with setting up. In addition, for those of us spoiled by having modern machines with lots of connectivity, the 3240 has to be ordered with the specific type of port that is needed.

I was also frustrated by the fact the 3240 has a rather small max ribbon roll diameter. Having to strip ribbon to get the roll small enough to fit on the machine is not a good use of time.

The printer is expensive as well. It costs more than getting a more versatile 600 DPI printer from other manufactures or indeed Intermec’s own 400 DPI PM4i.

So I wonder if Intermec intends to refresh the 3240 at some point. I firmly believe that there is a market for a small footprint, high resolution printer that can efficiently handle very small labels.

Would I buy one?

If the 3240 was 600 DPI, I’d be tempted to say yes. As things stand today, it is hard to justify – even though there are undoubtedly some unique features. My search for the perfect printer for small labels continues!

Do you need to print very small labels for your business? What is your printer of choice for this job?

Update – Jan 9th, 2013.

Well, all good things come to an end – the last ship date for a 3240 printer is the end of February 2013. I assume it will be gracefully retired to the Smithsonian.

The good news is that (other than some firmware issues) the replacement model, the Intermec PM43 is better in every respect. I especially like the Compact version, the PM43C.

You can see my review of the new model here at Labeling News.

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