In order to maximize the benefits that on-demand label printing can bring, there has been a need over the last few years to move from large centrally located label printers to smaller ones that are located right where the label will be used.
This trend means that for this “distributed printing” model, the tradition industrial printers such as the Zebra Xi and the Datamax H-Class become overkill – too costly and take up too much space.
While the number of labels that are produced at each node of the printing network will be less than when using a central printer serving all nodes, the type of label and the quality of the printing remains the same. This creates a problem for many smaller printer models.
If you read Labeling News regularly, you’ll have noticed that I’ve never been happy with the small printers that the major manufacturers offer and I’m always wishing for a smaller (but still industrial build quality) printer that we can offer to our clients.
Enter the Cognitive C-Series.
The C-Series isn’t new – it has been around for a while – but this is the first time I’ve had one in the test lab (my office) at the WincoPlex to put through its paces.
Cognitive claims that the C-Series should be the only label printer an enterprise needs and it can handle all the jobs that would be done on both desktop and industrial printers.
Out of the box, the printer feels to be robustly built and is certainly small – here it is posing with my favorite small industrial printer, the Datamax M-Class. Indeed, if the C-Series provides me with an M-Class in a smaller package, I’ll be happy man.
Let’s see how close it comes…
The Model Range
The C-Series comes in both 2 inch and 4 inch wide versions and customers can choose 203 or 300 DPI resolutions. As with most thermal printers, both direct thermal and thermal transfer modes are supported.
Label rolls can be full size, up to 8 inches in diameter and ribbon rolls of up to 5,500 inches in length.
Our test printer is a 4 inches wide, 300 DPI version with thermal transfer printing.
As we’ve come to expect these days, the covers of the printer are plastic, but the mail components mounting the printhead and the ribbon feed are more robustly designed, mainly from metal.
In order to get everything to fit in the small available space, some creativity has been used with the printhead mount and latching mechanism – nicely done, although obviously not as roomy for loading the supplies as with larger printers.
The printer has a full set of connectivity ports (I’m always happy to see this) with Ethernet, USB, USB host and a little mini serial/parallel port that would need an adaptor to utilize. To keep the overall size small, the power supply is an external brick.
There is a small LCD display on top of the printer which allows access to the menu system via 5 buttons. The screen isn’t as good as those used on some other printers, but it works OK and the menu system is easy to navigate (I did have one problem in the menu which will be mentioned later)
As is usual these days, the printer is able to emulate the programming files of competitors products to make it easy to drop into environments where other printer brands are used.
Unfortunately Cognitive doesn’t build its printers in the US, the test printer was made in Taiwan – I seem to recall being told that current production models are made in Mexico.
Loading the Media
I have to admit, I’ve yet to find a printer where the loading of the labels and ribbons couldn’t be improved and the Cxi is no exception. As you might expect, the need to be able to handle full size rolls of labels in such a small space has required some compromise.
The ribbons (as supplied by Cognitive) come in those little little kits with the full roll of ribbon being attached to the rewind core in a package. Using this makes the ribbon quite easy to install, but I’m not certain about the availability of other ribbon brands for these machines.
The ribbon rolls have 0.5 inch diameter cores with notches that align which little spring loaded gizmos to mount the ribbon rolls.
To be fair, it seems to work OK, but I’d much prefer a way to mount larger diameter cores, even if an adaptor is needed, al la Datamax E-Class.
The labels have to sit on a little plastic core that sits in the printer. Mine had a tendency to fall on the floor and roll under things – it would be a good idea to get a couple of spares, I’d say.
Once this part is figured out, if you want to run full size rolls, you need to open up the covers to make room. This works, but does seem to be a little of an afterthought.
The labels run on the centerline of the printer (I love this!), but other than the spring loaded locator for the label roll, there isn’t really much in the way of positive guides for the labels. This isn’t a big deal for large labels, but not great for the small labels we would want to run. Again, a quick look at the E-Class would show how a positive label guide can be incorporated into a small printer.
I should mention here that I really like the way Cognitive has designed the adjustable label sensor into the machine – very neat and works well.
Using the Printer
Once the little plastic label core has been retrieved from under the desk (I’m getting way too old to be crawling around the office on my knees!) and the labels and ribbon installed, it is time to go some printing.
The printer came with a resource CD, but I surfed over to Seagull Scientific and downloaded the Seagull driver for the printer. I’ve been playing around with the new BarTender 10 so this is what I wanted to use for some test printing.
Driver downloaded and installed and connected by USB, everything worked the first time. I only had the one roll of wax ribbon for the printer so didn’t get to do any testing on polyester or polyamide labels, but did get to use some small paper ones. (I’ve since run some tests on polyester labels and resin ribbons, with good results).
As expected, the printer works fine. When sending a label format, the print process starts right away and the printer is plenty fast enough for most jobs.
The only issue I experienced was with adjusting the print to get it on the center line of the label. It seemed to not be possible to do this from the printer front panel (the printer froze and had to be rebooted every time I tried) and the configuration software on the CD failed to connect to the printer, either by USB or Ethernet. A call to tech support didn’t resolve the issue and I got busy with too many other things to get to the bottom of this, even though the nice Cognitive people offered to help.
The first time I saw the C-Series printer, I really liked the idea of what it might be capable of. It seemed to me that it really could be my long sought after small footprint, high quality machine. It does come very close, but isn’t really a printer for very accurate printing on small labels – I rather wish I was running the design team because the C-Series could be developed into just what I want.
What I Liked
- Size – not much bigger than an E-Class or GX, the C-Series is a perfect size to use in small spaces in manufacturing cells.
- Build Quality – nicely made, with some clever ideas to fit everything into such a small space.
- Connectivity – the demo unit has all the connections I need.
- The Label Sensor – simple to adjust and works well.
What I Didn’t Like
- Resolution – for our market, 600 DPI is really a must
- Handling Small Labels – this really ties in with the resolution thing; the C-Series doesn’t seem to have been designed with tiny labels in mind. For most users, probably not a problem.
- Handling Large Rolls of Labels – although the specs confirm that 8 inch diameter rolls can be handled, it seems as though this might have been added as an afterthought.
- Tricky ribbon loading.
Who Would Use It?
There are a number of applications where the C-Series makes a lot of sense.
For a client looking for a more robust alternative to the clamshell printers such as the Zebra GX or Datamax E-Class, this is a very viable option. Having a larger label roll capacity than most small small printers, gives the C-Series an advantage here and this is certainly a much better built machine than the plastic models.
Use printers like the M-Class or the Zebra ZM400 but very limited space? The C-Series could be a good alternative. Sure, there are compromises and it isn’t as easy to load the media – but heck, it will fit in your small space so stop complaining!
What Would I Add To The Next Version?
If this were my product, the C-Series MkII would include the following:
- Better handing of small label sizes
- Ability to use full size ribbon cores
- More positive label guides
- Higher resolution
- More robust configuration software
All in all, the Cxi is a very interesting product with some great ideas built in. Nice to see a label printer company with some original thinking.
Do you use this cognitive printer or need an industrial strength label printer with small space requirements? I’d love to hear from you at 603-598-1553.
Update: Gary The Label Guy and I installed some of these printers today and I noticed that the demo printer used for this review had a part missing.
When using a 3 inch core label on this CXi, there are a pair of plastic core inserts that are pressed into the core and make the label roll a much better fit on the plastic roll holder thingy. Works much better with these!
Also, the machines we installed for the client were direct thermal versions – not having to mess around with the ribbon makes the whole thing a lot easier.