Buying a Label Printer

If you find yourself faced with sourcing a new barcode label printer, what do you consider first?

Here at ID Technology, we help people with this just about every day. These are the steps I take…

how to buy a label printer - infographic

1. Application

I like to look at the application itself first because this determines the specs and features of the printer I’ll need to purchase. Included in this section would be:

The size of the label that needs to be printed.

  • Label material – is the label a simple paper one or a synthetic? Is the material direct thermal or will my printer need use use a thermal transfer ribbon?
  • Speed – volume. Will my printer need to be able to print large numbers of labels quickly or will it be used less frequently? To put it another way, will this machine need to have a high or lower duty cycle?
  • Dots Per Inch – what resolution printer will I need to be able to print the text, barcodes or graphics that my printer needs? I wrote about choosing the resolution for a label printer a while ago.
  • Environment – Is the printer going to be used in a nice clean office environment, something more industrial, somewhere really dirty?
  • Space – is there a limited amount of room for the new printer?
  • Does this printer need to be mobile (either personally or on a forklift) or will it be used on a bench or table?

So far so good – by looking at the application I already have a pretty good feel for the kind of machine I’m going to need. Let’s now take a look at the software and connectivity?

2. Data/Connectivity

For my new printer to be able to perform useful tasks, it is going to need to be able to receive data that can be printed onto the labels. It is therefore important to understand the data and know how it will be sent to the printer.

It is common, especially in larger organizations, for the companies ERP or other overlaying software to take care of producing printed labels. In many cases, the control software will be sending files to the printer in the native printer language. For example, the most common printer language is Zebra’s ZPL, although some systems might use Datamax’s DPL or Intermec’s IPL.

When this kind of file is used, my usual suggestion would be to stick with the brand of printer that matches the language of the label files. While all the label printer manufacturers have emulation firmware that allows them to use each others files, our experience has been that this is never 100% and getting it right can be tricky. Of course, you might have a good reason to use a different printer brand – just expect to have to work a little to get it just right.

Using label software such as BarTender or LabelView? This keeps all the options open since the software companies supply printer drivers for just about every make and model.

Of course, all this nice data has to be able to be sent to the printer somehow so the types of connectivity offered need to be checked out.

Back in the old days, the main ways of connecting printers to computers was by using a serial or parallel cable. Some people are still using these, but as IT assets are refreshed, new computers probably won’t have these ports. As a result, make sure that any printer you buy has USB connectivity and ideally Ethernet as well.

Over the last few years there has been a tendency for new printer models to include all the ports as standard. I’ve noticed a bit of a reversal in this of late – more port types becoming optional, rather than included as standard.

If you expect to have to move the printer around, wireless might be needed as well – obviously this is essential for mobile printers.

3. Brand/Model

OK, so by looking at the application, checking what kind of data is involved and coming up with the requirements of how to get the printer connected so as to be able to get data to it. Now we can narrow down the search to a printer brand and model.logos of printer brands

All of the printer companies have a range of products ranging from plastic clamshell desktop models through to big robust industrial printers.

In past times, many users of label printers would use a high speed industrial printer located in a central position to print labels for multiple users. Today, many companies want to implement printing where the label is printed so a number of smaller printers in individual workcells might be better.

If you’ve taken into account the issues back in Part 1, this should be straightforward.

If you have a favorite printer brand (or you need to stick to the printers that your software supports) then stick right with it. All of the current printer manufacturers make excellent products that will do a good job.

Barcode Label Printers - Datamax Zebra Intermec

Label Printers from ID Technology

4. Buy

The label printer manufacturers sell their products through IT channels, rather than directly to end users. Unless you work for a huge user of these products (Walmart or UPS for example) you probably won’t be buying your printer from Zebra or Datamax.

There are several options available:

  • On-line retailer. CDW and Dell are two that come to mind, but there are many others. These outlets usually sell a whole bunch of IT hardware and work on the high volume/low margin model.
    If you are looking for the lowest price and don’t need anything in the way of support, this can be the way to go.
  • Software Integrator. If you work with an integrator for your ERP or other software, this company might well offer printers and other barcode software as part of the solution.
  • Value Added Reseller (that’s us – so I’m a little biased here!). Talking to your friendly VAR is a great way to purchase your new printer (and many other things as well). There are obviously many types of VAR, all with different specialties. In our case we specialize in labels and label printing so we work with many clients to help them find exactly the right label printer for the application.
    A good VAR will do more than just sell you the hardware. While the cost might be a little higher than the high volume online guy, a good label VAR can offer technical support, setup and training and also ongoing service. Also, if you need help with label software and label design, your VAR should have the technical resources to help with this as well.

While there are a lot of variables to take into account when purchasing a label printer, following these 4 steps should make it straightforward.

What do you think? If you need to decide on a printer model, what things do you take into account? What have I missed? Budget maybe?

Need to automate your label printing and application? You’ve come to the right place! ID Technology manufactures the best selling line up of label printer applicators.

If you need to identify the best barcode label printer for your operation, we’d be delighted to help. You can call me at 603-598-1553

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