ZE500 Print Engine Setup Overview

Article ID: 74853455

Issue / Question

How can I communicate with this printer?

How can I print from an app or program?

How can I setup the printer driver?

How can I improve the print quality?

How can I setup this printer to use the labels and ribbon I have?

Applicable To


Resolution / Answer

ZE500 Print Engine Setup Overview 

The Zebra ZE500 Print Engine can be used in a wide variety of applications using many different media combinations to suit your printing needs. This flexibility is due to the printer's ability to be configured and adjusted for all the variability an application may introduce. Understanding the printer configurations will enhance your ability to optimize your printer to meet your printing needs.

The printer comes from the factory set to Applicator print mode (you will have to set the appropriate applicator port to allow for communication between the print engine and applicator) and adjusted for full with paper label stock with wax ribbon. This means the applicator system will have to trigger a print to occur. You can put the printer into Tear-Off print mode for testing if you do not yet want to connect the applicator. Many printing applications will function with these factory settings and require no additional adjustments beyond the communications setup and minor darkness adjustment.

The ZE500 print engines are available in a right-hand configuration (the print mechanism is on the right) and a left-hand configuration (the print mechanism is on the left). Make sure the unit is stable when mounted in place for production to prevent any unnecessary wear or damage. Once the unit is properly set up, you can connect it to an applicator system if needed (please contact your applicator manufacturer for information on how to properly configure the applicator).  

There are 5 sections in this article:

IMPORTANT! All printer settings can be impacted by commands from a mismatched or misconfigured driver or software application. A printer that is functioning fine after setup but fails or indicates an error after label requests are received is most likely affected by the host side misconfiguration of the driver or printer software settings. The host device that generates the printer commands for printing typically has a setup configuration that sends these as commands to the printer. Make sure all settings match the printer settings to avoid intermittent issues.

Media Related Settings and Calibration

Understanding your media
The ZE500 supports the use of many types and shapes of labels or tags and knowing your media detail is important for proper configuration.  Refer to ZE500 Specifications for the media specs for the print engine.

Here are the details you should know for printer media setup and configuration:

Media Related Configurations
There are 3 selections for Media Type:

  • Default: Gap/Notch (Web)
  • Continuous
  • Black Mark (Mark)

Refer to: User Guide: Media Type

There are 2 selections for Print Method:

  • Default: Thermal Transfer (Using Ribbon)
  • Direct Thermal (No Ribbon)

Refer to ZE Print Method for more information.

There are 5 selections for Print Mode:

  • Default: Applicator
  • Tear off
  • Stream
  • Rewind
  • RFID (If ZE500R is used)

Refer to ZE Print Mode for more information.
This is related to the label presentation after printing and is limited to the options you have installed. Refer to Print Mode for more details.

Media Loading: The media must be properly loaded for the Print Mode you intend to use.


Understanding the Media Sensors
The printer comes with two sensors for label tracking based on the Media Type used.

  • Transmissive Sensor - This is an adjustable gap/notch/hole sensor. You will find it located on the mechanism that opens and closes above the pinch roller where the media is first fed into the print engine. Refer to User Guide: Transmissive Sensor for more details.
  • Reflective Sensor - This sensor is used for sensing media that uses a black mark or line as the separating indicator between labels. You will see a red LED light on the inner wall in a fixed position for black mark sensing. This is the reflective sensor.


Positioning the moveable sensor
The moveable or adjustable position sensor must be placed so the top of the form can be detected. This can be an inter-label gap, a hole, or a notch. When using typical labels on a backing with an inter-label gap, the sensor can be positioned along the width of the label as long as it is not over the rounded edge. If using a hole or a notch, position the sensor directly under the hole or notch so it is seen as the labels feed. Refer to User Guide: Adjust the Sensors for more details on positioning the moveable sensor.

Media Feed (Power Up Action)
The printer can be configured to position or calibrate the media after head closure or when powered on. These are configured using the LCD Display or can be configured from your utility or application.

These configurations are detailed as follows:

  • Calibrate (Default)
  • Feed
  • Length
  • No Motion
  • Short Cal

Setting the Media Feed (Power Up Action) on the printer: Refer to ZE Media Feed for more information.
For recommendations on these selections, refer to Media Feed Setup Details.


Maximum Label Length

NOTE You probably don't have to change this from the 39" default so ignore the Maximum Label Length discussion if you have defaulted the printer or are setting the printer up for the first time. If your printer is feeding less than a label length and experiencing a Media Out Error then you may want to see if this setting was incorrectly configured.

Label Length Max Setting - It should be noted that if the printer Maximum Length setting is changed from the default 39'' it should be set to a value 1'' longer than the longest label you intend to use.
For example, on a 203dpi printer using a 6" label, set the Maximum Length value to 7". ( 7x203 = 1421)
Here is the ZPL - ^XA^ML1421^XZ
Refer to: ZE Maximum Label Length

To view the existing Maximum Length setting on the printer print a configuration label or request a configuration from your host, refer to Printing or Downloading the Configuration Settings of a Zebra ZPL Compatible Printer .

To set the Label Length to Maximum:
LCD Display - MAXIMUM LENGTH (Set to 1" longer than the actual length)

There are no settings in the Zebra Setup Utility so if required create a ZPL file with the recommended Maximum Label Length. For example: 

^XA^MLxxxxx^XZ (Sets the length in dots)
^XA^JUS^XZ (Saves the value)

Send the file using your utility or application. Refer to Zebra Setup Utilities: Sending Files to a Printer for more information.


Calibrate the printer for the media 
This step assumes you have not changed the Media Feed Power Up Action from the default Calibrate setting.

  • With media loaded power on the printer.
  • The printer should complete the power-on self-test and begin to feed labels.
  • The printer should stop feeding labels and be in the printer-ready state.
  • Press the FEED button several times. A single label should feed and come to the same resting position each time. 
  • The printer has been calibrated successfully. 

If the printer fails to feed properly or there is a Media Out indication, perform the Manual Calibration Procedure. Refer to Zebra Setup Utilities: Sending Files to a Printer for more information.

Refer to this video for printer calibration:


Ribbon Setup

This applies to applications where the use of ribbon is required. This is referred to as Thermal Transfer printing where an inked ribbon is used to produce the image on the label.

Loading the Ribbon: Refer to User Guide: Load Ribbon and Media

Ribbon Basics: This explains the ribbon types and typical darkness and speed selections. Refer to Ribbon Basics for more information.

Ribbon Detection and Loading: The printer uses a reflective plate and a sensor that shines and receives light to detect the presence of ribbon. The ribbon is loaded between the sensor and the reflector plate.

Ribbon Configuration: Selecting Thermal Transfer if you are using Ribbon, or Direct Thermal if you are not using Ribbon. Refer to ZE Print Method for more information.

Print Quality

Print quality is a product of proper printer setup and the use of compatible media for the application. The four impacting factors to consider are:

  • The Media and Ribbon (if used) capabilities
    Not all media is the same when it comes to being compatible with your application or needs. Printing speed, the durability of the image/media, environment are just a few factors to consider when determining the printer setup for the application. Trying to compensate for poor media compatibility by using high printhead pressure and/or darkness settings can impact your printer’s printhead life. If you feel that your media may not be a good match, please contact your Zebra reseller for verification or Zebra customer service. Refer to the Partner and Application Locator for more details.
  • Printhead Pressure 
    You may need to adjust printhead pressure if printing is too light on one side, if you use thick media, or if the media drifts from side to side during printing. Use the lowest printhead pressure necessary to produce good print quality. Uneven pressure will cause ribbon wrinkle, poor print quality, and horizontal media drift.

    To adjust the printhead pressure on a ZE500 Printer, refer to Printhead Pressure Adjustment for more information.
    Printhead Pressure Details: Refer to Printhead Pressure for more information.
  • Print Speed 
    The printer is capable of printing at multiple print speeds. The speed selection takes the media/ribbon (if used) compatibilities into consideration since if high Darkness and Pressure settings are required to achieve acceptable print then slower rates should be used. If your application requires the highest print speeds available be sure your media supplier has recommended the correct media for your application. For more information, refer to ZE Print Speed. Setting Print Speed: Refer to Setting the Print Speed on a Zebra Printer for more information. 
  • Print Darkness 
    Print Darkness (also may be referred to as Density or Burn Temperature) is a user-adjustable setting. If you have an LCD Display the setting can be adjusted and changes to the darkness observed during printing. You can also use a setup utility or the printer webpage if available to set the print darkness. Avoid overheating the ribbon as it can melt if set too high. Vary the darkness to produce the best print quality.
NOTE Please ensure that any application that you print from has the settings set consistent with how you configure the printer to avoid the application changing your applied settings.


Communications Setup

  • USB 
    If printing via USB, it is recommended that you install the latest ZDesigner Windows printer driver before connecting your printer to your PC.  For information on USB communication, refer to Installing ZebraDesigner Driver for USB Printer for more information.
  • Serial 
    RS232 Null Modem, all parameters must be matched on the printer and host. Refer to Printer Setup and Operation for more information.
  • Wired Ethernet Network
    Printers that include a ZebraNet Print Server option can be connected to an Ethernet Network. If your network supports DHCP the printer can obtain an IP Address when the cable is connected.  If a DHCP address is acquired, you can use the ZebraNet Web Interface to configure your network settings using the path of typing the DHCP assigned IP address into a browser and then clicking Print Server Settings > Print Server (Username: admin  Password: 1234) > TCP/IP Configuration and then modify your settings and then click submit so you can reset the network card to apply settings.
    Refer to Using the ZebraNet Print Server Web Page to Configure the Printer for more information. 
    Refer to ZebraNet Print Server - Install, Setup, Configure and Troubleshoot on a Wired Network for more information about configuring a printer with the ZebraNet Option.

You can use one of the following Utilities to set specific parameters or set a permanent IP address for your printer queue:

  • ZebraNet Bridge 
    ZebraNet Bridge can be used to discover and assign the desired network settings. Refer to Support Content Migration for more information. 
  • Wireless Setup 
    Configuring for Wireless communication requires that you establish a local PC connection via the USB, Serial, or Parallel Port or a host connected over the wired Ethernet Port. There are utilities that have wireless setup capabilities and are listed below.  Refer to Setting up and Troubleshooting a Printer for a Wireless Network for more information about the wireless setup.


Printing App, Driver, or Program

Zebra printers are command interpretation engines using printer commands to define the printed images. The printer must receive the commands in the supported printer language such as ZPL or EPL. The printer will not respond if the label format received does not contain the required programming commands for label printing. Programming commands can be entered into a file and communicated to the printer, received as an output through a driver from an application, or created using one of many Zebra Label Software packages on the market.
For a general overview of this information, refer to Label Format Creation.

Zebra offers ZebraDesigner Software for Label Design. Refer to ZebraDesigner Professional 3 for more information.


Utilities and Drivers

Application or Utility Comment
Zebra Setup Utility
Refer to: Zebra Setup Utilities: Downloading ZSU and Configuring Printer Settings
This is a free Windows-based utility that features a printer setup wizard for a simple printer or network setup.  
ZebraNet Bridge
Refer to: Setup or Modifying a Zebra Printer Configuration Using ZebraNet Bridge
This is an enterprise application for network printer management but is free to use for configuring a network or locally connected printer
ZebraNet Print Server Webpage
Refer to: Using the ZebraNet Print Server Web Page to Configure the Printer
The ZebraNet Print Server has a Webpage that is accessed from a browser when you enter the printer's IP Address. Printer configurations can be viewed and altered.
ZebraDesigner Driver
Refer to: Configure or Modify Basic ZebraDesigner Driver Settings Information
If you are using the ZebraDesigner Driver there is a Printing Preferences section that allows you to configure your printer.

Helpful Information:

+ Product Codes

  • ZE500 Print Engines
  • ZE500 Print Engines
  • ZE500R RFID Print Engine
  • ZE500R RFID Print Engine