Over the last few years, we’ve gotten involved in several applications needing colour labels to be printed. There certainly seems to be an increase in the demand for colour – GHS labeling being just one application.
One of the problems for us has been that the equipment available for on-demand colour printing, has just not really been up to the job. Thermal transfer colour printers have always been expensive and complicated and inkjet or laser printers have basically been a desktop printer with something to hold the labels.
I really want to find a good solution for colour printing, so I was happy to get mty hands on a VP495 printer from VP Color.
Obviously the VP495 is a desktop printer with a label unwind attached. The unwind is powered because the little motor in the printer isn’t designed to drive a large roll of 8 inch wide labels.
What’s in The Box?
Actually two boxes arrived at our shop, one contains the printer, the other the powered unwind.
The printer box has the printer itself, CD with driver and stuff (along with the nearly useless BarTender Ultralite), quick start guide and power and USB cables. Also included are two printheads and four ink cartridges. Unpacking is just like getting a new HP inkjet printer from BestBuy.
The second box has the unwind, its power cables and a metal plate to hold the printer and unwind in the proper relationship.
We’ll the powered unwind is nicely designed and built, but I must confess I expected a little more from the printer itself. We really are talking about HP inkjet from BestBuy here. While I’m always surprised at the durability of all the tiny parts in a desktop inkjet printer, I’d really like to see something a little more industrial in a machine that is sold for industrial applications.
The overall printer design really isn’t changed much from the one that might be on your desk at home.
The VP495 uses pigment based inks – this produces very durable prints when used with compatible label materials, allowing the label to comply with the BS5609 mandate.
If you have ever got home from BestBuy with a new inkjet printer, you’ll recognize the steps needed to set up the VP495, indeed you’ll feel right at home with the multi-language quick guide.
Once the ink cartridges and the separate printheads (be sure to give the printheads that little shake!) are clipped into place, the printer is ready to go – just get the driver loaded.
For some reason the CD that came with the printer wasn’t readable on my laptop. No problem though – it is a simple matter to get the driver from Seagull’s site and (did I mention this already?) BarTender Ultralite is useless anyway – you need to invest in BarTender Pro or Automation if you want to do any serious label printing.
I booted up the printer (takes a long time so might be a good time to go and get a coffee) and used the Windows “found new hardware” thingy to get my driver installed and connected via USB – the printer has an Ethernet port as well, by the way.
OK, now to the serious stuff. I had a couple of GHS labels I’d already designed in BarTender so I wanted to see how well they would print on the VP495.
The first discovery is that there is zero chance of this printer working properly on anything other than inkjet specific label material. I tried using paper, polypropylene, polyester – very poor results on all of them.
Using inkjet labels supplied by VIP Color and the print results are pretty good.
For those of us used to the fast response of thermal transfer printing however, we are going to have to get used to a huge difference in response time and print speed.
I don’t why but this and other colour inkjet printers I’ve used are really slow to respond to just about any command. Press the feed button and the user is greeted by a “Please Wait” message on the screen which remains for a while until the labels start to feed. Send a print job and be prepared to wait a while before the printer leaps into action.
When printing finally starts expect to see the kind of behavior you’d see on a desktop inkjet printer – see my quick video below:
I have to be honest, I’m having trouble getting my head around this class of printer. No doubt, that of the colour inkjet label printers I’ve had the opportunity to use, the VP495 has to be at the top of the pile, but it is hard to visualize it as a hard working production machine.
Having said that, as the need for colour printing increases – and all the indications are that it will, see this VDC blog post as an example – the manufacturers of this kind of printer are going to have to step up and come up with something designed for the job – not just put a label unwind on a desktop printer.
What I Liked
- Good print quality when used with compatible label media
- Very durable print – no need for over laminating the labels
- Seagull driver and BarTender compatibility
- A solution to BS5609/GHS labeling mandates – one of a very small number of on demand printers that can achieve this.
What I didn’t Like
- Not made in USA. Yes, I know I always say this, but I’d be way more enthusiastic about selling a product if it wasn’t imported from Asia
- Not very industrial – maybe this doesn’t matter too much, but I’d like to see something built like a Datamax H-Class or Zebra Xi4 for the tough chemical company jobs with fewer tiny moving parts
- Slow response times – as I mentioned, this isn’t specific to the VP495 and is a problem on all the colour inkjet printers I’ve seen
- Needs inkjet specific media – I might be fighting some physical laws here, but it would be great if inks existed that allowed printing on a wider range of label and tag materials
What I’d Change
I wouldn’t change anything – I would just work hard on developing a new generation printer that addressed the issues inherent in this kind of reciprocating head inkjet technology. Continuous inkjet technology, such as that developed by Memjet seems to be a much more interesting proposition for me. Our friends at VIPColor will be launching a Memjet based printer in the near future – that’s the one I really want to test out!
It would also be nice if the industrial printer makers like Zebra or Datamax were to get involved in colour printing. I can see something built on a real printer platform like the Datamax H-Class, complete with Memjet technology, being a good way forward.
Would I buy It?
If I needed a way to be able to print good quality, durable colour labels, I might well have to because the VIP printer is the best of the current bunch. I’d rather have a Memjet printer or some other options though!
What do you think?
Do you have to print colour labels in your operation? How do you achieve this – have you used any of the inkjet based printers? I’d be interested to learn your thoughts. We’d love to help with any of your labeling or printing needs – give me a call at 603-598-1553 x237 or use the contact form.
We installed this demo printer in a customer’s plant to print GHS compliant labels. The printer performed very well, printing a range of labels using The Wercs software with the Seagull printer driver.
The print quality was excellent, speed was OK (can always be faster!), although it was interesting that the throughput was higher in Premium mode than in Normal mode, which was surprising. Changing label sizes was quick and easy.