The capability to be able to reliably print colour labels on demand has been a holy grail for many people for some time – check out my thoughts on the issue that I wrote here, for example.
At the moment, there are a lot of Memjet powered printers coming on the market, and I had the chance to check out one of the latest variants, the VP700 from VIPColor.
The printer is actually the same machine as the Afinia L801 printer. It is built by VIPColor’s parent company, Venture Corporation in Malaysia using the Memjet print engine – I’m told that Venture manufactures all the Memjet print engines, although I can’t verify this.
Anyway, what are my thoughts so far?
Out of the Box
The box in this case is a pallet – this is not to be confused with getting a new Zebra or Datamax printer , the package weighs about 120 pounds and needs to be delivered by the freight version of UPS. Unpacking the machine and lifting it onto a table is a two man job unless you are really rugged.
The packing job is pretty good and all the loose parts are located in cutouts in the foam packaging.
Getting the machine ready to use starts with removing the tape and cardboard that protects it during shipping. Once that’s done it is time to power up. The VP700 comes with 5 ink cartridges, Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and 2 Black ones. These are not the ink cartridges from your HP printer at home – each holds 250 ml and look as though they’ll last for a fair bit of use.
The ink cartridges are placed into their clearly marked slots and then the Memjet printhead itself is unpacked and put into place – a little fiddly to do, I was afraid of breaking something as it seems a little delicate. Once the printhead is located into place, it is well protected, though.
Once the ink and printhead are in place, the printer goes off into a “Printhead Servicing” routine. This takes quite a while and is a good time to go and get a coffee or check your email. The printer makes some inkjet like noises to remind you that it is still working and hasn’t forgotten about you! During this process, the little clear plastic tubes leading to the printhead get filled with the various coloured inks.
While all this was going on, I loaded the printer driver (comes on a disc with the printer) onto my laptop and connect to the printer via the included (that’s a nice touch) USB cable. An Ethernet port is also standard on the printer if you need to add it to your network.
I also started to design my first label using BarTender, my label design software of choice. If you’re used to setting up labels in BarTender for thermal printers, the procedure is a little different because you need to first set the label size in the VIP driver, rather than in the label software.
Once set up, the label is ready to print.
Loading the Labels
Unlike the VIP 495 printer I tested a while ago, the VP700 has a proper built-in label unwind, not a separate assembly as on the older machine. Like the 495 though, the label needs to be presented to the start of the feed mechanism and it is grabbed by the rollers and dragged into the machine. I’d prefer to be able open the print area and thread the labels manually, probably because that’s what I’m used to. In any case, it sometimes took me more than one attempt to get the labels to feed properly into the machine.
Anyway, once everything is ready it’s time for some serious label printing…
Labels ready, printhead primed, BarTender ready – click on print and send labels to the printer.
Ah, wait a second – the labels are no longer loaded and the printer has a “No Media” error (I would have sworn I had loaded them!). Turns out that the VP700 has a feature which removes the labels from the machine if they have been sitting idle for too long. I spoke to the Tech Support guy and he said that the labels can crease if left under the printhead for a long time, causing a slight quality issue with the first label of the next print job. To avoid this, the labels are automatically removed. This can be overridden in the printer controls, which I think is how I’d set it.
What’s annoying with having to reload the labels is that I found sometimes they refuse to feed in and I have to reboot the machine to get things back on track.
Right, labels back in place, ready to go. I sent 5 labels and they printed nicely and were cut into individual labels by the built-in cutter. The only problem with this was that I had set the driver to not cut the labels like this. The cure was to make the change in Printer Properties in BarTender, which overrides the driver setting.
How did it print? Here’s a quick video…
The printing is great – fast (12 inches per second) and the quality (on inkjet compatible glossy labels) was very good. Just as with a home inkjet printer there are settings for different types of label material. So far I’ve only used the default settings and not had a chance to play with any of the options. I also found the print to be remarkably durable.
It seems there are only 2 speed settings, 6 inches per second and 12 inches per second. I’ve mostly used 12 because it is cool to see colour labels be produced at high speed. Switching to 6 IPS does seem to give better print quality, especially when laying down large areas of ink. I believe that the when using the slower speed, the resolution changes from 1600 x 800 to 1600 x 1600 pixels which would explain the improvement.
There is no question that the Memjet based printers are a huge advance over the traditional moving head type inkjet printers.
The VP700 printer is refined, quiet, very fast and gives good results. I’ve been doing a lot of test labels for interested clients and getting good quality printing is really simple. If the client sends me the label artwork as a PDF, I just open the file in Photoshop, make it the size I want and import it into a BarTender label. Really simple and the results are outstanding. I’ve been generally running the printer in the higher resolution 6 IPS mode to get the best quality.
Of course, the first question any potential purchaser of this printer has is “how much will the printed labels cost?” The VP700 has a nice utility included with the driver that monitors how much ink is used to print a particular label – enabling a good estimate of the cost to be put together.
In this example, the label was 6 x 8 inches in size with almost 100% ink coverage. The cost per printed label is just under 9 cents each (Obviously, the price of the blank label needs to be added to this to get the total cost).
Like all Memjet printers, it has an 8-inch wide printhead and to me, that is its biggest drawback. It is rare for us to need to print labels that are more than 4 inches wide (although, I must admit that some of the test labels I’ve been producing have been 6 inches or so wide) so the VP700 (and all the crop of current Memjet printers) is a much bigger beast than it needs to be.
Give me VP700 performance with a 4 (or 5) inches wide printhead, all mounted in a Zebra Xi4 chassis and I’d be very happy.
Having said that, the VP700 is a very good colour label printer, the best I’ve come across so far.
What I liked…
- Industrial build quality (other than noted below)
- Impressive speed and print quality
- Simple controls
- Works happily with BarTender
What I didn’t like…
- Not made in USA
- Lots of small, non-industrial looking, parts in the Memjet label feed area
- The auto label feed feature which is a little painful at times
Would I buy one?
Yes I would, the VP700 isn’t perfect, but is the best I’ve seen so far!
What do you think? Have you had any experience with Memjet powered label printers? If you need to print colour labels in your organization, we’d love to help. Printers, applicators, labels – ID Technology is a leader in the labeling business.
Give me a call at 603-598-1553 x237 to get started!