With the recent acquisition of Source Technologies, Datamax-O’Neil has got hold of an innovative line up of label printers.
I posted some thoughts on the acquisition a while ago and we now have one of the new printers to check out. Our demo printer is the STp.1120n (I hope Datamax switches to easier to remember names!), which is a 300 DPI Near-Edge style printer. While ours still has the old Source Technologies branding, future orders will have the orange Datamax logo as you can see in the photo on the left.
Until this week, I’d not had much experience with the Source Technologies printers, but I had been rather impressed with what I had seen. Since some of the SourceTech designers were former Datamax engineers, it is no surprise that the printers are very I-Class like in design.
Let’s have a look at the STp. 1120n and see what it is all about…
The printer is the usual grey metal box, nice and cleanly designed. The front of the machine in particular is nicely done and there is no a single button to be seen – all interaction is via the colour touch screen.
The cover hinges up in the same way as most other industrial printers and there is a good size window to be able to peek in and see how much of the label and ribbon rolls are left.
The rear of the printer takes the Steve Jobs approach to connectivity – no legacy ports, just USB and Ethernet. There is a blank plate covering where the optional I/O card or wireless card would go.
To be honest, I’m happy with just the two provided ports – I wish all printers came with Ethernet. With $99.00 inkjets from BestBuy coming with Ethernet, there is no excuse for this to be missing on industrial printers costing much more.
Opening up the cover allows access to the inside of the printer where the labels and ribbons are loaded.
All the Performance Series printers are setup so that the labels run on the center-line of the printer, not down the left-hand edge. This is a feature I’ve wanted for ages – indeed, I often cheat with our existing Datamax H-Class printers to get the labels to run on center. Nice to have this as standard.
The Performance Series printers differ from the norm in having a self loading feature for the labels so just before the labels disappear into the printhead area, there is a little pinch roller assembly to drive them through. The labels have a guide to ensure they keep tracking correctly, this is set using a green (all the operator adjustment parts are this colour) knob on the side of the print mounting plate. Like most industrial printers, the STp. 1120n can use label rolls of up to 8 inches in diameter and up to 4 inches wide.
One of the unique features of the Performance Series printers, is the use of the PCL5 language. This is intended to allow easy integration of the printers into print environments where there are other types of printer – PCL being a common language for laser printers.
In my case, I wanted to print from BarTender – my usual label software. The Performance Series is one of the very few printer models not supported by BarTender so I had to use the Source Technology driver that was supplied with the machine. As you would expect, the experience isn’t as seamless as using a Seagull driver with BarTender, but it isn’t too bad.
Before the acquisition by Datamax, the SourceTech folks had told me that a Seagull driver was in the works – at the moment, I’m not sure if this is still the case.
In any event, it wasn’t difficult to get the SourceTech driver installed and the printer connected to my laptop via USB.
Getting the labels and ribbons loaded and set up is somewhat different than with other printers.
It is easy enough to get the ribbon loaded. The STp. 1120n can work with either coated in or coated out ribbons. What is important though, is that you have to tell the printer which you are using. The ribbon unwind hub is powered and it you don’t use the touchscreen to get into the settings and set the ribbon wind, you might well find the hub rotating in the wrong direction (like I did!).
I also found I had to be careful not to knock over the machine while loading the ribbon. It seems that all the weight in the printer is distributed way over to the left hand side so a gentle push while putting the ribbon on the tight hub gets it swaying. This is a little disconcerting the first time of trying.
Loading the labels is interesting too – thanks to the auto-load feature.
I found the best technique was load the ribbon first (I do this on any printer) close the printhead, set the little guides, using the green knob, and shove the labels under the pinch roller.
If the gods are smiling, the roller will grab the labels and feed them through ready to print.
I found that the auto-load works best on wider label widths, it would feed 4 inch wide labels happily every time As the labels get narrower, the system finds it more of a challenge.
According to the specs, the minimum label web width is one inch. To be honest, the guide doesn’t really close up enough for this, I’d suggest keeping to about 1 1/4 inch width for decent results.
I found the auto-feed system to be interesting, but I wouldn’t say it saves any time over just threading the printer manually. It is great when it works, but several times I had labels that pulled the old “wrap themselves around the platen roller” trick, much to my annoyance.
The area around the pinch roller is a little complicated too – there are several sensors for jobs like sensing the gap between the labels and detecting the end of the roll of labels – in this cluster. We had a few problems getting them to work all at the same time – especially when running narrow web widths using a clear synthetic backing liner.
Once everything is set up, the STp. 1120n prints nicely, just like most barcode printers. Datamax is promoting this near-edge version as the ideal machine for thicker label substrates such as card or synthetic tags.
I used the printer on regular labels and it worked just fine. I like the fact that the printhead is self-leveling and that the pressure can be adjusted from the touch-screen panel.
Talking about the touch-screen, the menu structure is easy to navigate – obviously it takes a while to learn where everything is hiding, but menu is well thought out.
The display is also a quick reference as to the happiness of the printer. When all is well, it is dark blue/black in colour, changes to yellow if something needs attention (low label roll for example) and red when unhappy. I only saw System Error 595 the one time!
The Performance Series is a cool new addition to the Datamax-O’Neil line up. It is going to be interesting to see how the new products are absorbed into the existing Datamax range. I’d like to see the touch screen find it’s way onto other Datamax models, the centerline labels as well.
Another point of interest is that the printer is basically a Linux computer – this could lead to some smart printing applications being run on the printers in the future.
What I Liked
- MADE IN USA! The Source printers were built in North Carolina and production is being moved to the Datamax plant in Orlando.
- Centerline label path – if you’ve struggled with small labels on other printers, you’ll know what I mean!
- Modern touchscreen controls
- Near-Edge print option – not needed for most printing jobs, but great for certain applications.
What I Didn’t Like
- Not really designed for narrow web widths
- Tendency to want to fall over whilst loading ribbon
- Auto-load labels feature – too finicky with narrow labels. A bit of a gimmick I’d say.
Would I Buy One?
This is a tough question. There are some applications (especially if PCL language is needed) where these Performance Series printers make a lot of sense. They are also a more modern design concept than the mainstream Datamax products.
The traditional Datamax printers are more robustly engineered however, and offer a wider range of possible printhead resolutions (203, 300, 400 and 600 DPI compared to 300 and 600 in the Performance Series). Don’t tell Steve Jobs, but the older Datamax’s have legacy ports like serial and parallel too, not a big deal for me but might be important for some customers.
I think what I’d really want is some of the Performance Series features engineered into the H-Class form-factor. That would be a great printer!
What do you think? Is there a Datamax-O’Neil Performance Series in your future? Need help with choosing the perfect label printer for your application? We’d love to help you so give me a call at 603-598-1553 to get started!