In the barcode printer business, the mid-range industrial sector is one of the most important and also one with potential to grow as companies step up from desktop printers and scale down from the heavy super industrial models.
The printer manufacturers have come up with several mid-range models of late – Intermec’s PM43 and Sato’s CL4NX being good examples.
In the case of Zebra Technologies, the mid-range model has been the ZM400 – a big step down in quality from the company’s high end Xi4 model. How will the new ZT400 fit in the Zebra line-up and how does it compare with the competitors? Let’s find out…
First, let me point out that the ZT400 I have was provided by Zebra as a review machine. It is marked as being a prototype, although it seems to be a current production machine. This is also a 6 inch wide version – most label printers are in the 4 inch wide category, but having personally struggled with the 6 inch ZM600, I wanted to see if the new machine is an improvement. The naming convention is a little different with the new machine – ZT410 is the 4 inch wide version and ZT420, the 6 inch.
Both ZT410 and ZT420 come in the usual 203 and 300 DPI resolutions. The ZT410 can also be specified with 600 DPI for high resolution printing.
Our ZT420 is packaged in the expected grey metal box (bi-fold cover which is nice), and overall looks very much like the older ZM series.
The main differences are much bigger buttons (straight from the ZT200 range) on the front panel and the fact that Zebra seems to have forgotten the parallel port (actually it wasn’t forgotten and does appear on the options list). My first thought was that losing ports is bad, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I used a parallel cable – I don’t think I even have one, so not a big deal. The ZT400 range does have Ethernet, USB and serial as standard and also brings in Bluetooth. Wi-Fi connectivity is available as an option too. We enjoyed printing to the ZT420 using Zebra’s iPhone app over Bluetooth. Oh, if you have an Android smartphone you can connect your device to the printer using Zebra’s built in NFC – us technology deprived iPhone users don’t have that luxury.
There’s a USB host port on the front of the printer to allow for keyboards or scanners to be connected. The ZT400’s also come with Zebra’s Link-OS for mobile device and cloud connections.
To me the biggest surprise on the exterior of the printer is that Zebra hasn’t followed the current trend to go for a colour display. The ZT400 has a monochrome display that is about the same size as that on the ZM models – it does seem to be higher resolution and easier to read though.
First of all, thank you Zebra for getting rid of the awful cantilevered printhead mount of the ZM printers (if we can now get Datamax to abandon that same thing on the M-Class we’d really be making progress!)!
The new printhead mounting is borrowed from the ZT200 printers. While it works fine, I do wonder how long lasting the little piece of flexible plastic that lifts the printhead will prove to be.
I’m also concerned about the way the printhead pressure is applied. We struggled with getting the even pressure to get labels to track correctly on the ZM600 and the bar that applies the pressure on the ZT420 doesn’t inspire confidence. I would have liked to have seen something beefier on this 6 inch wide printer.
On my printing tests on a 6 inch wide label, the machine suffered from ribbon wrinkle – this might have been due to the fact I only had inside wound ribbon (unlike most printer companies, Zebra products are designed to only work with outside wound), but I’m suspicious of that wobbly bar.
The hanger for the label roll is more robust than either the ZT200 or ZM printers which is a good thing.
Using the ZT420
Getting the media threaded and ready to go on a ZT410/420 is simple – straight from the ZT200. I would have liked to see an improvement in the little plastic label guide, which caused us no end of trouble on the ZM600 model, but it is the same.
Next step, download the Seagull driver – well, this is a new model and there doesn’t seem to be a driver as yet (same problem with the Sato), no problem – the ZM600 driver should work fine.
Of course, there are the usual problems with using a USB connection where the driver name doesn’t match the printer ID – no problem, switch to Ethernet. Finding how to save a new IP address was a challenge, but the printer is finally up and running.
The menu is right from the ZT200 series and is a big improvement over the ZM printers – just takes a little figuring out. It took me forever (and an unsuccessful call to tech support) to figure out how to save the IP address when I set it – thank goodness for Google.
I’ve been printing happily today from NiceLabel using the ZM600 driver so all is good. The only downside to using the old driver is that I can’t test the printer at the new top speeds – the ZT410 is rated to run at up to 14 IPS and the ZT420 up to 12 IPS (the 203 DPI versions, I assume). With the ZM600 driver, my 300 DPI ZT420 is stuck at a pedestrian 8 IPS.
The ZT400 series is an incremental improvement over the ZM printers. I would have preferred to have seen a more radical redesign, but Zebra is usually pretty conservative with these things.
I’ve said before that I think there is too big a gap between the really robust Xi Series printers and the next level down. I’d like to see the ZT series grow to fill that at some point – still a ways to go at the moment.
What I Like:
Better interface than the previous model – even though the new menu has a bit of a learning curve, it is way better than the old one.
Goodbye cantilevered printhead mount!
Bi-fold cover – I like the little flashlight that illuminates the interior of the printer too.
Zebra’s QR code that takes you to a mobile enhanced site with tutorial videos to get help, if needed
RFID (UHF) is available on both 4 and 6 inch models.
What I Don’t Like:
Not made in USA
Some parts could have been better engineered – the label guide & print pressure mechanism are fine for a 4 inch printer, but could be beefier on a 6 inch, for example
No colour or touch screen display (yeah, I know a nice colour or touch screen doesn’t really add to the functionality of the printer – unless using for a smart printing application – but it is rather expected these days).
Please Zebra could you design the printers so I can use both inside and outside wound ribbons?
Would I Buy One?
This is a tough question. In the past, I’ve always taken the view that if you need ZPL language it is best to stick with Zebra. As the competitors ZPL emulation improves, that might not be such an important factor as in the past.
Need a 6 inch wide mid-range machine? The ZT420 is probably the way to go – there are not too many others in that sector – you’d need to go with the more expensive H-Class to get a Datamax 6 inch printer, for example.
In the super competitive 4 inch printer market, I don’t think the ZT is the necessarily the best printer, but with Zebra’s market share and reseller network it should do well.
One thing is for sure – the ZT400 series is an improvement on the previous generation machine.
Want more info on the ZT400 series or need to improve your labeling operations? ID Technology can certainly help. Call us toll free at: 888-438-3242 Option#3 or you can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org