The variety of technologies available for barcode printing can be overwhelming. Further complicating the decision is whether it is better to invest in a barcoding system or to purchase pre-printed barcode labels.
On Demand Vs. Preprinted Labels
Thousands of companies have benefited from ordering preprinted barcode labels from service bureaus rather than investing in a barcoding system. Preprinted labels are useful in operations that require only a low volume of identical (i.e., fixed, non-variable data) labels, often with extensive use of colors or graphics.
However, companies that start with preprinted labels quickly discover the limitations of this solution option. Besides restricted flexibility, the use of preprinted labels prevents companies from including variable customer data or combinations of text and barcode information.
As a result, most companies find the financial commitment of printing on-demand barcodes worth the initial investment because of the added value from printing customized information on each label. For many applications requiring high-volume, mission-critical labels, the added cost of preprinted labels quickly exceeds the cost of the entire system. To the surprise of many barcoding novices, most of the companies that order preprinted labels also have barcoding systems. The preprinted labels are ordered with the necessary color, graphics or standardized text (such as return addresses on shipping labels) and are then fed through a barcode printer to receive customized (i.e., variable) information.
Whether a user elects to use preprinted or plain labels, media selection is critical to the success of any barcode integration. The variety of ribbons, paper, and synthetic labels and tags is too great for discussion in this document, but the barcode application, the intended life span of the label, and the environment to which the label will be exposed all have a direct impact on media selection. It is advisable to pretest a variety of media in an application before purchasing mass quantities.The variety of technologies available for barcode printing can be overwhelming. Further complicating the decision is whether it is better to invest in a barcoding system or to purchase pre-printed barcode labels.
Individuals new to barcoding often gravitate toward familiar technologies (such as laser printers, dot matrix printers or ink jet printers) that are already connected to a network and, therefore, deemed suitable for barcode labeling. While these printers can be used for some applications, they are often not the ideal solution for professional barcode labeling. The common limitations among these traditional office technologies include print speed and flexibility, as well as the inability to print labels that are durable enough, or have the longevity or clarity required for all but the most basic barcoding applications.
What is Dot Matrix Printing
Dot matrix technology uses a hammer or pin to transfer pigment from a ribbon onto the substrate (see Figure 1). Due to the inaccuracy of dot placement and low resolution of the printing technology, these printers are nearly unusable for barcoding.
Dot matrix printers are readily accessible and inexpensive to purchase
They can print on virtually any type of form, check, or document and can print on wide-web, multipart (carbon) forms
Dot matrix printers use multi-pass ribbons, which can result in reduced overall cost for ribbons and label materials
Dot matrix printers print low- to medium-density barcodes that may not meet certain end-user guidelines. The dot size on the matrix printer limits the narrower element size and density of the barcode
Continuous ribbon re-use on dot matrix printers requires close monitoring of ribbon condition to ensure adequate barcode contrast. Ribbon ink that has become exhausted can also produce an image that is inadequate for scanning, resulting in a low read rate and a high error rate
Ink saturation can result in paper “bleed,” which can cause image distortion
A dot matrix-printed label is limited in durability. Dot matrix printers typically cannot produce chemical- or water-resistant labels
Printing of single labels results in significant waste. The design of the dot matrix printer’s print carriage, sitting far below the media, also does not allow the label space to be maximized
Dot matrix printing offers no graphics printing capability
Barcode print speed is greatly reduced when the best ink coverage for optimal print quality is specified