Datamax Corporation H-Class Thermal Printer
Datamax printers have been around for a long time and are well established in the marketplace. The Datamax product range starts with the low end plastic E-Class and (until now) ends with the robust I-Class.
While the I-Class is a decent printer, it isn’t perceived as being as good as competitor’s products like the Zebra Xi series when it comes to the more demanding jobs. Since research companies such as VDC are predicting that the fastest growth is going to be in the expensive high performance part of the printer market, Datamax needed a new product to compete in this area. The fact that the RFID version of the I-Class was a terrible design only increased the pressure for a new high performance product.
The result is the Datamax H-Class – a complete new design with a wide range of models. I’ve had the chance to play with several H-Class versions, mostly the H-4310X RFID, a 300 DPI, 4 inch printer complete with Datamax’s latest RFID set up. So what’s to love (or not love) about this new product?
The H-Class consists of a family of printers, built in a modular fashion for simplicity and to keep costs under control.
There are three print widths available:
4 inches – 203, 300, 406 and 600 DPI
6 inches – 203 and 300 DPI
8 inches – 300 DPI
Maximum print speeds range from 12 IPS on 203 DPI models to 6 IPS on the 600 DPI model.
On the Outside.
The first thing you notice about this printer is its size. Much taller than the old I-Class, it has a nice industrial look.
The front panel is very different to previous Datamax models. I call it “where did I leave my PDA?” because of the large blue display. It’s apparent that this is the company’s first time at using this kind of interface, because it’s basically the I-Class menu moved to a new screen. I’d like to see something a bit more creative, hopefully one day a touchscreen.
Also on, or near, the front of the printer are two USB ports and an SDIO slot. The USB ports are of the host flavour, allowing the use of USB peripherals such as scanners, keyboards or scales.
The SDIO allows the use of SD memory cards for fonts, graphics, formats or anything else that is too big for the printer memory. Note that although Datamax refers to this slot as SDIO, as far as I know it does not allow the use of any SDIO devices such as SDIO WiFi cards.
The back of the printer isn’t as pretty but it is a sight for sore eyes! The H-Class comes standard with all the connectivity you could ever want, serial, parallel, USB, network. In addition, the (very expensive) Datamax wireless card can be added as an option – I was hoping to use a cheaper SDIO card, but as mentioned above, this isn’t possible.
My only serious complaint about the outside of the printer is the hinged door. Because the printer is so tall, the door needs a huge amount of room to swing open. This makes it hard to use the printer close to another one or in a confined space. I don’t know if the DMX folks have ever looked at the bi-fold doors offered by competitors like Zebra and CAB to see how this should be designed, but they really need to change this.
On the Inside
Make sure you allow plenty of room for the door to swing up and take a peek inside. The interior of an H-Class looks like no previous Datamax model. You can see why the printer is so heavy to lug around, everything is really beefy and looks as though it’s built to last.
Datamax models have always been simple to thread, especially compared to Zebra, and the H-Class continues this tradition. Both labels and ribbon can be loaded in a couple of seconds. Unlike earlier products that needed the ribbon to be wound a particular way, the H-Class can use both inside and outside wound ribbons, a very good feature. The printhead latch seems to be much more robust than that in the I-Class (which had a tendency to break way too easily) and you’ll notice the new, easier to adjust, label sensor while threading the labels.
The only poor part of the label path is the horrible el-cheapo plastic thing that’s supposed to be the label guide. While the I-Class version was hardly well engineered, this part is really poor. The one on the demo machine just slides along its shaft and does nothing to help whatsoever. I can’t believe the engineers couldn’t have come up with something better.
Unlike the I-Class, where the RFID encoder was attached to the cover, the encoder in the H-Class is positioned just before the print position. This brings Datamax into line with most of the other RFID printers on the market – a smart move as it happens.
If you check out the label rewind, you’ll see why the X (eXtended) version of the H-Class is so tall. This is the first Datamax printer to be able to re-wind a full eight inch diameter label roll. Zebra have had this feature on the Xi printers for some time, so it’s a case of DMX catching up. To use the re-winder you need to take off the cover at the front of the printer – another example of Datamax using a piece of cheap plastic when something a bit classier would not have cost much more.
All the adjustments inside the printer are clearly marked and easy to use. With the exception of the couple of cheapo parts, the design and use of everything inside the printer is first class.
Well, all I can say is that the H-Class RFID is a huge step forward on the old I-Class. To be fair, that’s not difficult since the I-Class was a disaster when trying to use for RFID encoding. Datamax was smart enough to dump the RFID version of the I, the same day the H was released.
On the H-Class, RFID is simple to set up and calibrate and it encodes accurately and quickly with no fuss at all.
One of the many problems with the I-Class was that it needed the RFID inlay to be positioned right at the leading edge of the label to have a chance of working. The labels would not function on any other brand of printer. With the H-Class, there is a wide range of position for the inlay and labels designed for just about any other will run without any issues. The only exception is the I-Class label design. If you have labels designed to run on the I-Class, it’s best to just dump them.
Note that not all software packages have drivers for the H-Class RFID. I usually use Bartender which interfaces with the printer very well.
The H-Class is the best Datamax printer so far, and stacks up really well against offerings from the major competitors. The H-Class arrives really well equipped and is ready to tackle tough jobs. It’s my printer of choice for any labeling or RFID jobs I need to do. A quick update: Our test H-Class was an early unit and the label guide on more recent ones used seems to be better than on this example.