The Sato CL4NX is a brand new industrial class of thermal transfer label printer, designed to compete with products such as the Datamax-O’Neil I-Class, Zebra ZM400 (soon to be replaced by the much better ZT400) and Intermec PM43.
It is clear that Sato has made a decision to reduce the number of SKUs in the product line, the CL4NX is a worldwide model where a lot of items that might have been optional in the past have been built into the basic machine.
OK, let’s take a look at what you get with the new machine…
The CL4NX is packaged in the industry standard grey metal body. It looks more modern than the older Sato designs and interestingly, after I left the machine on the table in our conference room, just about everyone who passed by thought the printer was a new model from Intermec. Yes, with its colour display, the CL4NX does look rather like Intermec’s PM43 printers.
The display is the first thing you notice on the new printer. Unlike the Intermec, Sato’s new display isn’t a touch screen. while I was using the printer I was constantly pressing the screen expecting something to happen. Instead, everything is controlled by the keys underneath the display. The Sato story is that this is more robust and easier for those big tough warehouse guys with big hands. Personally, I kept trying to make things happen by pressing on the screen!
Having said that, the touchscreens used by other printer companies are not always the most responsive, maybe Sato is right to stick with conventional buttons? In any case, the display is of good quality – good enough to play video!
There are two other interesting features on the outside of the printer…
First, the cover is of the bi-fold type. This might not seem to be a big deal, but it is so frustrating when trying to use a label printer where space is limited (like just about every application!) and there isn’t room to swing open the cover. Every label printer should come with a bi-fold hinge cover like this!
Then looking at the rear of the printer, there is a full set of ports – serial, parallel, USB, Ethernet and applicator IO port. Prior to this, you had to specify Sato printers with the actual connectivity board that was needed. Every other manufacturer has provided all the ports for years and it is nice that Sato has caught up. The CL4NX also has a couple of USB host ports and Bluetooth is standard. This means the only connectivity option is wireless networking.
The inside of the CL4NX is simple and nicely thought out.
The labels are carried on a metal hanger (I know most of our technicians feel the simple hanger works better in most cases than a more complicated rotating hub) and threading take s just a couple of seconds. The labels pass around a spring actuated damper which helps control the label tension. This is important because Sato claims improved print accuracy over older models.
The CL4NX uses the industry standard 8 inch diameter label rolls, but can also be adapted to accept 10 inch diameter rolls, if needed. Ribbons are easy to thread and can be up to 600 m (1,970 ft) in length.
The printhead (this model printer uses 4 inch wide printheads) comes in 203, 305 and 609 DPI resolutions and is simple to replace, without the need for any tools – the platen roller can also be replaced in a few seconds.
I like the fact that the printhead mount opens very wide, giving easy access for threading media and for cleaning or maintenance.
One of the unique features of the CL4NX is that the colour display can play video. This is done in conjunction with the on-board help system and the printer can be told to play tutorial style videos to show the operator how to perform various tasks.
The menu system seems to be pretty easy to use, anyone with a basic idea of how to use thermal printers will have no problems.
Although the Datasheet doesn’t mention RFID, I understand the new printer will have the ability to handle UHF RFID labels, including the close pitch type used in the retail industry.
Since Sato uses NiceLabel drivers, the NiceLabel software has a driver available for the CL4NX. At the moment, a Seagull driver doesn’t seem to be ready, but I’m sure it will be soon.
The Sato CL4NX fits into the mid-range of industrial printers where it has some decent competition:
Intermec PM43 – the Sato closely resembles the PM43 (as I mentioned earlier, a lot of people assumed it was an Intermec product) which is not a bad thing. Although I fought with firmware issues when I tested it, I did like the Intermec design. The big blue LED on the front of the Sato looks as though it came straight from the PM43.
Datamax M-Class – the M-Class has long been one of my favorite small industrial printers, although it is starting to show its age compared to some of the new products out there.
Datamax Performance Series – this is another modern looking design (complete with touchscreen interface) that Datamax-O’Neil inherited with their Source Technologies acquisition. For someone needing PCL language capabilities (I’ve not found anyone yet) this might be an option. Generally not as well engineered as the traditional printers in the Datamax line.
Zebra ZM400 – although Zebra sells a lot of ZM printers, I think it is the worst Zebra product made in recent years. Thank goodness, the ZM400 and 600 will soon be replaced with the new ZT400 series.
What I Liked
- Very nice, simple overall design
- Improved connectivity over previous models
- Bi-fold cover
- The nice display with video (just need to be able to hack it for Netflix!)
- Simple threading and usability
What I Don’t Like
- Not made in USA
- No touchscreen
- Not a colour printer – OK, I wasn’t really expecting it to be, but our friends at VDC had hinted that the CL4NX might have colour capabilities in a blog post a while ago.
The new CL4NX is a strong new addition into a rather crowded (but high sales volume) part of the label printer market. The basic thermal transfer technology hasn’t really changed for many years and I’m sure it is hard for designers to come up with new products that are full of new ideas.
The new printer has all the right features and is certainly more interesting than previous tabletop printers from the company.
I’ve never been excited by Sato tabletop printers in the past (the print engines are another story!), but the CL4NX is a really good effort.
Want to learn more? You can download the datasheet here.
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