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How Label Orientation Affects Printer Performance

Our service department sometimes receives calls from customers about the print quality of their barcodes; barcodes that are too light on an edge, or barcodes that don’t have enough contrast to scan properly. It turns out that these types of problems are sometimes not with the printer, but with the way the label printing is oriented.

For clear high-quality barcodes on your labels, your media width should match your printer width.  Always use the highest wide-to-narrow ratio that the printer allows. When designing your labels, keep in mind that the best format prints barcodes in the horizontal (picket fence) orientation.

Some Reasons to Change Label Orientation

Sometimes, you might want to format labels in the vertical (or ladder) orientation to use narrower labels in a wide label printer. For example, you have available a printer that prints 6” wide  x 4” long compliance label but another application needs a label that is 3” wide x 5” long. You can rotate the label and information and print the barcode in a ladder orientation.

Wide-label printers allow “multiple across” printing that is valuable for batch printing application. So you can use your 6″ printer to print, for example, six 1″ die-cut labels across simultaneously for more efficient use of print resources.

Wide-label printers can also multitask, letting you perform “kit label” printing. By using a single printer configured to print multiple formats,  an assembly station can print on demand all the component labels it needs for each assembly.

Changing the label orientation is an efficient way to make the most of a wide printer. Just keep in mind that printing in a ladder orientation will affect printer performance and print resolution.

When rotating labels so they print in the ladder orientation you’ll most likely notice poor edge definition of barcodes and alphanumeric characters. This is a result of the uneven heating and cooling of the resistor elements, or dots, which causes more friction as the label passes against the printhead. The drag against the label makes the edges a bit jagged and less defined. To fix this, you’ll have to slow down the print speed below your normal production speed. Barcodes printed in this manner can also have dimensional errors that you’ll have to address in the design software.

If you need to print small high density barcodes, you’ll probably find that you must print them in picket fence orientation in order to get acceptable results.

Do you have questions about how best to create your barcode labels? Give us a call; we have a variety of resources to help you get the most from your printers and software.


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  1. David Holliday says:

    You can see in the label in the photo that the bars on the ladder orientation barcode are actually thicker than those on the picket fence one; making the spaces proportionally narrower.

    Most modern scanners will probably still read the codes (they are pretty smart these days at handling crappy barcodes), but there is always the risk that the codes won’t read.

    Unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise (or the barcodes have a really big x-dimension, so accuracy is less important) it is always a good practice to design the labels with picket fence barcodes!

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