How to Pick a Barcode Printer

Selecting the most suitable barcode printer starts with carefully considering both the business requirements and the physical characteristics of your operating environment. These considerations should also include defining how you plan to use your barcode printer, such as exactly what type of barcode labels you plan to print, where the labels will be used or affixed, and the approximate frequency of printer use.

There are several types of barcode printing technology and barcode printer designs to consider, as well as characteristics you should look for when choosing a printer that can efficiently handle what you need it to do. In this guide, we’ll explore the various types of printers and the most important considerations to determine which option will be the best investment for your company.

Barcode Printing Technology

The first step in choosing the right barcode printer is understanding the different types of printing technologies available along with the pros and cons of each option. Some well-known technologies include: thermal, dot matrix, laser and inkjet barcode printers. Although use cases may differ, most organizations find the advantages of thermal barcode printers prove to be the best fit for their operational needs.

Thermal Printing Technology

Thermal printers use heat to print barcodes, text and graphics on barcode labels. Depending on the specific type of thermal printer you choose, heat may be applied directly to your label to create the barcode and text (direct thermal) or to a ribbon that transfers the ink on the ribbon to the label (thermal transfer). Thermal barcode printers are the most efficient and versatile option, able to accurately and quickly print high-quality barcodes, text and graphics on a variety of label substrates and label sizes. Thermal barcode printing technology may meet your organizations’ barcode printing needs needs more effectively, and choosing this option will give you the best value for your money for the vast majority of business uses. Direct thermal and thermal transfer printing are the dominant print technology used to print labels worldwide.

Other Types of Printing Technology

Dot matrix, laser, and inkjet barcode printers are also available, but these are rarely efficient choices for printing  barcode labels. These solutions tend to deliver poor results due to issues such as: low print quality and/or unreadable barcodes, adhesive and ink bleed, paper waste due to printing entire sheets at a time, inefficient printing due to rendering barcodes as images, barcode printing size limitations and more. These types of printing technology are often unable to print on all the label facestocks available, limiting the types of labels that can be used. These methods are more expensive and produce more paper waste than thermal printing technology.

Important Considerations When Choosing a Barcode Printer

In order to choose the barcode printer that best meets your needs, it is crucial to consider both how well the printer itself works and the quality of the labels it produces.

Barcode Printer Performance

Choosing a reliable printer that works efficiently and consistently is essential in order to avoid wasting time and money by dealing with slow equipment, reprinting labels or having to make frequent repairs. Since thermal printers are able to print high-resolution labels one at a time as needed instead of requiring an entire sheet, this also ensures proper, efficient usage of the paper and equipment. Your barcode printer should be capable of printing at a high speed to ensure that you are able to create the volume of labels you need within a reasonable amount of time. During the selection process, it’s also important to take into account the label size and resolution you’ll need, because not all printers are able to print small barcodes at a high enough resolution to work properly. Your barcode printer also needs to be compatible with your computers, software and other equipment, and if your selection requires the convenience of a wireless printer, be sure it will connect properly with your network and Wi-Fi.

Barcode Label Quality

First and foremost, your barcode printer needs to create high-quality labels that accomplish your purpose. Barcodes that are incomplete, smeared or difficult to read can lead to inventory and/or asset management errors, accounting mistakes, inefficiencies and other problems for your company, which means that choosing a high-speed printer that consistently creates complete, high-quality barcode labels is a must.

Thermal Transfer vs. Direct Thermal Barcode Printers

Choosing the right type of barcode printer can ensure that your purchase effectively meets the needs of your business and proves to be a reliable investment. As cost-effective, efficient barcode printers that produce high-resolution labels, thermal transfer and direct thermal printers consistently are the most popular choices for a variety of organizations.

Thermal Transfer Barcode Printers

Thermal transfer barcode printers work by heating a ribbon, which applies ink to your labels. Although thermal transfer printing technology is slightly more expensive than direct thermal printing technology, it offers much more flexibility with the kinds and types of labels you are able to print. One of the advantages is that a thermal transfer printer can print both thermal transfer and direct thermal labels. The subsequent label durability makes thermal transfer printing a much stronger option for any barcodes that you require to last and stay readable for months on end or use in hot, cold, damp, rough, or other imperfect conditions. These barcodes will withstand exposure to water, extreme temperatures, sunlight and physical damage.

Direct Thermal Barcode Printers

Direct thermal barcode printers apply your barcodes directly to your labels using heat, rather than an ink ribbon. Creating labels with only heat means that these barcodes can be made illegible by exposure to sunlight, excessively hot or wet storage areas. This means that these labels work well for short-term uses, such as event tickets and shipping labels, price labels and are not a good option for barcodes that need to last.

Printers That Are Capable of Both Types of Thermal Printing

Depending on the nature of your business and the specific types of barcodes you plan to print, choosing a barcode printer that is capable of both thermal transfer printing and direct thermal printing can be a great way to get more out of your investment. Even if your business does not currently require printing both short-term and durable, long-term barcodes, a barcode printer that can print via both methods is a future-proof investment. Purchasing a printer upfront that can handle both types makes your options more flexible and is likely to be more cost-effective over time than purchasing a second printer later on.

Types of Thermal Barcode Printers

One of the last considerations when selecting a thermal printer is to consider your label size requirements as well as your overall printing usage, essentially, selecting an option that can handle your print volume. Although many basic desktop and industrial thermal printers are versatile enough to handle a variety of uses, more specialized models are also available to make printing certain specific types of barcode labels more efficient. Mobile printers enable easy on-demand or out-of-office printing from phones, tablets and laptops, and specialized thermal printers for tickets and wristbands handle the unique needs of these smaller barcodes better than many general thermal printers. These printers create labels that are the proper size without having to adjust them yourself, are able to handle the demands of wristbands and tickets better, and give you more options for printing in your office or on the go. While desktop barcode printers may be suitable for lower print needs, industrial barcode printers are ideal for high-volume printing operations.

Purchasing the right barcode printer for your company is essential to take advantage of the cost-effective labeling, management and tracking possibilities enabled by printing barcode labels in-house. Your selection should reflect your barcode label printing needs, sizing and durability requirements and should efficiently and reliably deliver the quality labels your organization needs. Although these considerations can help you narrow down your choices, consulting with BarcodeShack's industry experts can help you make the right decision that best meets the needs of your organization!