There are a lot of tables and charts around that compare the costs of using either hot stamp or thermal coders for printing on labels and flexible packaging.
You won’t find any of those in this article, but having used and sold both for many years, here is a personal view on the comparison.
Some years ago, I had a business that sold hot stamp imprinters. We did well with these, they were better than the incumbent machine and were capable of producing rather nice print at high speeds.
However, they were not without their frustrations. Having to set up all the little engraved steel type characters was rather painful, to say the least! The printers also had to be rebuilt quite frequently – the print technology is basically brute force which means that any amount of output of the printer is working very hard!
Hot stamp printers also tend to use quite a lot of printing ribbon, the adjustments on them for how much ribbon is used are mechanical and often not adjusted from one job to another. Perhaps the most frustrating issues though is related to the fact that the print technology is mechanical and fixed to using engraved steel (or other metal) type.
Even making up simple print formats can be tricky – I’ve messed up loads myself, so I know from experience. Because you are working with a mirror image of the print, it is so easy to get things in the wrong order – I’ve seen many people actually use a mirror while setting up to get everything looking “the right way around”.
When finished, it often seems that one character is a little taller or shorter than the others, messing up your otherwise nice print. Need to print any custom logos? Be prepared to spend handsomely for custom engraving.
Those little type characters are easy to lose as well, when we were the supplier, it was great knowing that the clients would lose a lot of type and have to buy more!
In these days of barcodes and variable printing, the hot stamp printer comes up short! With a lot of users needing to be able to print either real time or variable data, an alternative is needed for sure.
Thermal Transfer Overprinting has evolved to be a good alternative to hot stamp and has some clear advantages. It wasn’t always that way though…
Some years ago, I was involved installing some of the very first thermal transfer overprinters into the pharmaceutical industry. The thinking behind this was to try and eliminate errors caused by operators incorrectly building up the metal date and lot codes. Rather than have somebody manually put together the typeholder to print, it makes sense to be able to download the information directly from a database.
15 years ago when this happened, the technology of thermal printing unfortunately was not quite up to the job. Problems with print quality (the pharmaceutical companies at that time were busy installing OCR systems to inspect the print and they were not very forgiving) and being able to keep up with the production line speeds meant it was doomed to failure.
Fast forward to today, and it is a different story!
Every aspect of the Thermal Transfer Overprinter (TTO) has been much improved. The engineering, the printheads, the construction, the firmware, the communications, the print design software – all are much better developed and work better together than the very early machines.
ID Technology has a comprehensive line up of TTO printers, perfect for many applications. There are some obvious improvements over hot stamp printers:
- All digital – no messing with those pesky type characters
- Wide range of barcodes built in – all the common linear and 2D barcodes
- Need graphics? No problem
- Truetype fonts
- Database connectivity – avoid errors caused by operators on the line
- Refined and easy to use print format software
- Can print in both continuous and intermittent mode (Intermittent only for hot stamp)
- Precise ribbon feed control – automatically uses the minimum of thermal ribbon for each print to keep operating costs low. Includes some crafty additional ribbon saving techniques too
- Gentle on the labels or film. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen hot stamp printers punching holes in the label because of being set too close or the air pressure too high!
- Self aligning – no trying to tweak the brackets to get the print even
- High speed operation – especially on film in continuous mode!
- No high pressure reciprocating motion – less wear, less downtime.
So is the hot stamp printer dead?
Of course not! There are still applications where the hot stamp printer has advantages.
For very high speed labeling machines, some hot stamp printers can operate up to 1,000 labels per minute and still give good results (of course, for those jobs a laser coder from IDT might be a better way of printing, but that’s another story!)
Changes to the information to be printed occur only occasionally? A hot stamp might be just fine for you.
Need to add barcodes or real-time data though – a digital printer like the TTO is the way to go!
Want to get your variable data printing sorted? Learn more about the ID Technology TTO products here or feel free to call me at 603-598-1553 x237 to get started. You can also use the form on our contact page.