How to Find a Tabletop Label Printer That Fits Your Needs

Once you’re aware of the different printing technologies and the pros and cons each one offers, here are some helpful tips for identifying which tabletop label printer fits your application needs.

If you’re unsure which print technology is right for you, you can find more detailed information on that here.

I understand the different printing technologies and their pros & cons, now how do I buy a tabletop label printer that fits my needs?

Now that you’re aware of the three key technologies available in a desktop format for printing color labels, how do you go about selecting the right printing technology and model for your unique application?

Start by looking at your product:

Consider its container size(s) and your favorite look and colors. Do you prefer your labels to have a shiny, glossy look, or perhaps a semi-gloss or a matte look is more appropriate? Will printing colors on white label substrate do the job, or does your product require you to print on clear or colored substrates of different textures? Nobody else knows your product or your branding requirements like you do, so only you can make that decision. This will ultimately help you arrive at the necessary label sizes that you’ll need and the vital elements of your label artwork.

Decide on your product packaging, transportation, and storage through its journey from the manufacturing location to the end-consumer:

Are there any special environmental conditions to consider? For example, does your product need refrigeration requiring labels that must withstand water droplets due to condensation? Will the product labels need to withstand prolonged exposure to moisture or sunlight? Do the labels need to withstand exposure to certain chemicals that perhaps makeup part of your product? In addition to helping you select the right printing technology, these choices may influence your material preference and the adhesive backing.

Estimate Print Volumes:

Based on the sales forecast of all your SKUs, estimate your daily, weekly, or monthly print volumes by label size. Also, consider what a typical print run would be like. For example, let’s say you print 1000 labels of 4×3 in four separate print jobs on almost a daily basis. That is useful information.

Consider Variable Data:

Do you need your tabletop color label printer to print variable data information on your labels, i.e., serial numbers, dates, lot codes, etc.? If so, you’ll want your vendor to provide labeling software that’ll help you meet these specific requirements.

How will you be applying labels?

Will you be applying labels to your product(s) by hand, or by using an automatic label applicator?  Which is the most efficient option for your labeling and production needs?

Once you’ve given the above questions a thought, you’re ready to shop around for an appropriate label printer as an educated buyer. Some tips as you browse websites for printer specifications and contact label printer manufacturers or distributors:

Do they carry printers based on a single technology or different technologies?

Printer manufacturers/distributors who only carry one printing technology are more likely to push for their technology/product than look out for your needs.

Do they offer a total solution, for instance, label material supplies, software, and technical support along with the printers and ink?

If they do, they are more likely to ensure that the right printer is selected for your needs, and is functional so they can earn revenues from inks and materials. Like document printers, label printers are a very competitive segment, and hardware sales are typically made at very thin margins. By ensuring the printers, the inks, and the labels are engineered and tested for compatibility will ensure a longer lifetime of your investment.

Do they offer free remote web-based support?

Think of your label printer as a production machine that will invariably require some periodic maintenance and upkeep. Search for available support videos on the company’s website or YouTube channel, or sometimes it may be easier to call, email, chat, or have a live web-based conference call.  Do they offer the kind of support you’re looking for?

Does the printer company provide labeling software as well?

If you have any special or unique software requirements now or in the future, consider how much easier it’ll be for you to deal with a single vendor to ensure software and hardware are compatible.

Questions? Let us know, we’re here to help!

At AstroNova, we offer a total labeling solution. We provide the tools you need to integrate production efficiencies into your business and keep up with industry demands from a wide variety of label printers, materials, technical support, training, and a library of support videos. Contact us to schedule a free, web-based demonstration and to speak with one of our specialists!

Which Printing Technology is Right for You?

New to Printing In-House, Or Considering Making the Change for Your Business? It’s Important to Understand the Key Differences in Printing Technologies

While no single printing technology is perfect for all applications, it’s important to understand your specific application and the unique challenges it presents.  From there, you can find the best printing solution specific to your needs.

There are a variety of printing technologies on the market today, but which one is the best fit for your business or personal needs?

What are the different fundamental printing technologies used in desktop color label printers?

There are three fundamental printing technologies used in desktop label printing: Water Based Inkjet (WBIJ), Electrophotographic (EP), and Thermal Transfer (TT). Let’s take a deeper dive into each one and examine the attributes that make each of them unique in the world of printing:

printing technology

Electrophotographic (EP): 

Originally a photocopying technique, EP technology (also called laser or LED printing) provided a way to do higher volume document printing at faster speeds and lower maintenance frequency. Instead of using light reflected from an original document as in the old photocopiers, a laser (sometimes an LED) was used to translate computer data into light pulses that would expose a light-sensitive, photo-conducting drum or belt. The coloring agents used in electrophotographic systems are called toners. They come in two forms – dry and liquid. Dry toners are used in all desktop and office printer/copier systems. Both dry and liquid toner systems are used in electrophotographic digital presses.  Dry toners consist of pigments or dyes embedded inside polymer beads. The fusing process melts the polymer beads to the surface of the paper. In addition to the colorants within the polymer beads are “charge agents” that allow the toner to be charged opposite to that of the photo conducting drum. EP technology provides a unique capability-  EP allows you to print with White ink (toner) along with traditional CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black), so these printers can offer a 5-color format – CMYK + White. With water-based inkjet (WBIJ) printers, you’re largely limited to printing on white substrates using just CMYK coloring. However,  the availability of using white toner with EP printers opens a huge world of possibilities in label printing, especially on colored and clear substrates.  The black matte Castle Vineyards label shown here displays the branding possibilities using white toner provides.

Water-Based Inkjet (WBIJ):

While this technology has been powering our small home and office printers for a long time now, it has matured and become robust enough for the desktop label printing segment in just the last decade. It revolutionized this segment by allowing people to rethink how to best fulfill their needs for short-run prime labels without the constraints of hiring a third party, where long lead times, high minimum order quantity, and outrageous label costs are typically the norm. As this technology continues to improve and advance, its appeal continues to attract new customers in different segments. An inkjet printer creates an image by firing tiny droplets of ink onto the paper. The complete image is built up from many small dots and it’s important to note the quality of an image is determined by the number of dots per inch (DPI) and the range of colors possible. A few different colors of ink can be combined to produce virtually any color (except for white). Cyan (C), Magenta(M), Yellow(Y) & Black(K) are commonly used colors, referred to in the industry as CMYK. The liquid portion of the inks used in these printers is predominantly water, hence “water-based inkjet”.

These water-based inks have color components that can be either dye-based or pigment-based, the ink chemistry and properties differ accordingly. In dye-based inkjet inks, the colored dyes are chemically bonded to the liquid portion of the ink, forming a “solution.” In contrast, pigmented inks are “suspensions.” That is, particles of coloration are suspended within a liquid and held between water molecules. Dyes seep into the paper substrate more easily than pigments, which primarily sit up on the surface of the paper. Ultimately, dye-based inks are brighter and have a wider color range than pigmented inks. Also, they can typically print on a wider variety of label substrates.  printing technology

Pigment-Based Inkjet:

Pigmented inks have a longer life span and are more color-fast than dyes. If prolonged exposure to sunlight or other elements of nature is expected, dye-based inks will need some protection like lamination or varnish to prevent color fading over time while pigmented inks can withstand the elements for longer without fading. There are important niches like chemicals or even other consumer labels or packaging applications for which printed labels must withstand exposure to sunlight or moisture for extended periods of time. However, protection may still be required for pigment inks if continuous outdoor exposure over several weeks or months without any color shift is expected.

Thermal Transfer:

Thermal Transfer Printing is the oldest print technology around, the printers based on this technology are ubiquitous in space of monochrome or one-color printing. These printers are fast, economical, easy to maintain, and generally do a good job when the objective is to put on simple information like product manufacturing/expiry dates or bar-codes near the point of sale. At resolutions of 300 or 600 dpi, the labels out of thermal transfer printers are generally not suitable for most prime label applications. However, there are a few niche labeling applications that still favor thermal transfer technology over competing technologies, which is why you’ll still find some manufacturers making 4-color thermal transfer printing systems. There are niche labeling applications that still favor thermal transfer technology, which is why AstroNova still manufactures its QLS 4100Xe printerprinting technologyprinting technologyA few advantages of Thermal Transfer Printing technology include:

  1. Availability of CMYK process AND spot color ribbons such as metallic gold, silver, white, signal red or blue, and many more
  2. Ability to print on low-cost substrates of varying thicknesses with a very high level of durability and resistance to solvents, moisture and UV exposure
  3. Low maintenance requirements & can easily handle dusty, dirty, manufacturing environments

There are several unique applications calling for thermal transfer technology. For example, many electronic applications require that the labels applied are UL recognized, which means they have been tested and proven to withstand a battery of tests as detailed in the UL 969 standard (for example). Or perhaps you’re looking to produce multi-layer flexible electronic circuits in short runs on high-temperature PET substrates.  Thermal Transfer is the technology of choice for such demanding applications.

Next Steps:

Now that you’re aware of the three key technologies available in a desktop format for printing color labels, you can start identifying the right printer and label materials that fit your needs. When buying a label printer for the first time, it’s advised to consider professional installation and a training package. This is not only to ensure the label printer is installed and works properly but to also ensure that you or any employees who will be using the printer are trained to use it properly and perform essential maintenance on a periodic or as-needed basis.

Have any questions on which label printer, inks, or materials will best suit your business and printing needs?  Contact us today, we’re here to help! 

Top 10 Benefits of Printing Labels In-House

It’s no secret that printing labels in-house offers businesses a breadth of benefits and has become an integral part of a company’s packaging production process.  Today, thousands of manufacturers, processors, and retailers around the world are increasing their sales revenue and profit margins by producing their own color labels in their factories and offices.

Printing labels on-demand provides benefits, like:

Benefit #1: Private Labeling

Private labeling has exploded over the last decade, especially in the food, beverage, cosmetic, chemical, medical, CBD, and dietary supplement industries.  Studies have shown most consumers prefer to buy private label or store brand labeled goods because of the higher perceived quality or value that the product provides.  Manufacturers who use in-house color label printers are able to command a competitive edge in the marketplace and a greater market share serving more customers with privately labeled products that are quickly customized in affordable, short-run label quantities.

printing labels in-house

Benefit #2: Produce Labels Instantly

Having the ability to print the exact number of labels you want, anytime you need them, affects more than product marketing, it’s also a tool to increase productivity by making labels on-demand. Even the best forecasting and purchasing practices can leave the packaging department hunting for labels at the last minute. For manufacturers with a family of multiple products, having the right label in inventory at the right time for the right product is often a challenge – easily fixed with in-house printing. With an in-house color label printer, manufacturers have the flexibility to print labels instantly, changeover packaging lines in minutes, and immediately start labeling new products.

Benefit #3: Cut Costs & Reduce Inventory

In-house label printing cuts costs for short-run, small quantity labels and simultaneously allows businesses to replace inventories with lean, just-in-time production practices.
Even with the best inventory management practices, it is difficult to predict how many labels will actually be used before products or label designs change. Additionally, the economics of traditional label printing requires print houses to ask to purchase large quantities of labels, usually more than you need at the current time. As a result, rolls of purchased labels perpetually remain in inventory. After a long period of storage, labels may become dirty, damaged, or yellowed and can lose adhesive properties. The labels, or even the products to which the labels
will be applied, may also become obsolete before they are used.

Benefit #4: Gain Production Flexibility – Label Any Product, Any Time

Traditionally, full-color primary display labels were printed off-site by a commercial label print house, while “back panel” labels with product-specific text and barcodes were printed in-house on a simple barcode label printer.  Today, QuickLabel printers have changed the label printing workflow by bringing it entirely in-house. For example, with QuickLabel, both the primary display “front panel” full-color label and the product-specific text and barcode “back panel” label can be printed simultaneously, in a single print pass.

The traditional labeling process:
  1. Design labels
  2. Order labels
  3. Wait for label proofs
  4. Makes changes
  5. Wait for second label proof
  6. Accept and return proof
  7. Wait to receive printed labels
  8. Receive and inventory labels
  9. Apply labels
The QuickLabel labeling process:
  1. Design labels
  2. Print your own proof
  3. Make changes on the fly
  4. Print labels
  5. Apply labels

Benefit #5: Maintain In-House Quality Control

For companies in highly regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, hazardous chemicals, and increasingly, dietary supplements and foods, it’s critical for the packaging process to meet quality standards established by third-party auditors and maintained by in-house quality management systems.  With a QuickLabel printer, it costs nothing to add or remove label content, a benefit to companies in regulated industries where required label changes are a costly fact of life. Country of Origin labeling legislation, more stringent labeling disclosures and new GHS chemical hazard labeling requirements are recent examples of governmental labeling standards that have caused companies to completely revamp their labels. Creating color labels on-demand with an in-house QuickLabel printer allows your company to ensure that it maintains strict control over labels so that your production operation is always able to label the right product, for the right customer, at the right time.

Benefit #6: One Pass Label Printing – including dates, barcodes, and serialization

Quality Control managers are relieved of many of the stringent regulatory burdens that apply to labels because all information can be printed on the fly, including serializing
barcodes, lot codes, batch codes, and expiration dates. Labels can be printed physically close to the product receiving the label, reducing the possibility of human error in the labeling process and eliminating the need to stock printed labels in inventory, and to quarantine and discard obsolete labels.

Benefit #7: Reduce Delivery Time to Market

Now more than ever, customer convenience and keeping up with demand are high priorities for most companies.  Consumers not only expect things faster, but product demands have never been higher, especially for industries like medical, pharmaceutical, sanitation, and food and beverage.  With an in-house label printer, print labels on-demand and get shipments out the door to retailers and customers faster, easier, and more efficiently, reducing lengthy and unnecessary downtimes.

Benefit #8: Be Ready to Ship Labeled Products at Any Time

At one time or another, production managers have been in the predicament of not being able to ship products to a waiting customer. The result is often missed deadlines, costly expedited shipments, backorders, reduced profitability, and lost revenue. In these cases, awaiting customers may decide to choose an alternate vendor rather than wait to receive a late shipment.
Owning an in-house label printer takes the unpredictability out of label availability. As long as managers maintain a stock of printing supplies, they are always ready to print the labels they need.

Benefit #9: Produce Short-Runs

There are a variety of perks attributed to producing short-runs.  Some which include providing consumers with limited-time offerings like seasonal flavorings for holidays, producing customized products for customers, eliminating unnecessary waste by not printing more than you need, or simply the flexibility of running a small, limited batch of labels for any variety of reasons.  One instance we’ve seen of this is companies switching their production process to meet the needs of their community by producing sanitation or protection supplies in difficult times like COVID-19.

Benefit #10: Offer Contract Labeling

Contract packagers provide custom labeling services to businesses that want to outsource packaging services, both to control quality and costs. If you are a professional contract packager, you already understand the revenue-producing value of flexible, in-house label printing. If you’re a company considering the purchase of a color label printer for your own use, you may also be able to benefit by providing labeling services to other companies in your geographic area or industry. The flexibility of owning a color label printer allows owners to act as contract packagers, making labels in any size, shape, or design, satisfying the branding requirements and technical requirements of customers. Printing labels as a service will allow you to increase revenue and profit while also absorbing excess production capacity.

Have any questions on how QuickLabel can help or more specifically how owning an in-house label printer can breathe new life into your business? Contact us for more information or a free consultation today!

7 Tips for Evaluating a Color Label Printer

These 7 Tips Will Help you Evaluate Any Color Label Printing Solution

Whether you’re currently printing your own product labels, or you’re considering printing your labels in your facility, you want to ensure you’re making the right decision and best investment for your business. Many companies consider their first or additional systems for several reasons – keeping up with demand, looking to reduce total cost of ownership or cost per label, or improving operational efficiencies. But, currently, the biggest reason is that people want to control their labeling under their own roof.

While there is undoubtedly a breadth of benefits labeling in-house and on-demand provides, there are several factors to consider before making a decision. Considering label printing systems for your business is more complicated than evaluating a standard at-home desktop printer.

Here are some tips to make this process easier for you:

1. Observe as a full roll of labels is printed
Get an in-person demonstration 

This is vital.  It’s important not to rely on “canned” printed label samples or a video from the manufacturer.  Witnessing the labels print will expose any technical shortcomings in the printer.   Ultimately, you’re the expert on your labels and how they should look.  If print quality and color-matching is a priority, you’ll get the best demonstration of a printer’s capabilities by seeing your label artwork printed.  So, before committing to a purchase, it’s advised to schedule a demonstration and request to watch while your labels are printed in real-time.

2. Ask to see your label format printed
You can evaluate your own labels better than a sample or pre-printed label 

To ensure you see all the capabilities of the printer, provide digital label artwork to your printer salesman prior to the demonstration.  It’s important to note that if your artwork was designed for a different output device, whether it’s your office inkjet or a commercial flexographic press,  your salesperson may need to adjust the colors to match expectations.

Color Label Printer3. Compare “how long it takes to print”, not just “print speed”
Time the print job while you watch 

When evaluating “print speed,” it’s natural to assume that you are evaluating “how fast it takes to produce a print job.”  However, there are many technical reasons why this is not the case.  Factors such as pauses for maintenance procedures, processing time delays, and the time it takes to load a printer with blank labels and inks all have a significant impact on throughput.  These are all factors your production department needs to measure when evaluating.

4. Compare “print quality”, not just “print resolution”
Be the judge

All label printers list a specification for “resolution”, but this does not necessarily imply “print quality”.  “What resolution should I be looking for?” is a notoriously difficult question to answer, given there’s often some trade-off between print quality and print speed.  In addition to the physical dot size produced by the label printer, the halftone printing algorithm, substrate material, and ink set each has a tremendous bearing on the appearance and color gamut of the printed label.  So, when comparing 1200 dpi to 1600 dpi to 2400 dpi, your own perception of quality is much more accurate than the technical specification.

5. Ask how much it costs to print your roll of labels
Request a quote 

Importantly, after the full role of your label designs is printed, ask your salesperson to calculate the cost of the printed label roll, including the costs of the ink and the label material.  This will give you a realistic estimate of the finished cost per label, so ultimately, you can extrapolate how much you’d be paying each time you print your own labels.

6. Determine where you’ll purchase your labels
Select a substrate and a provider 

If you have a special performance or print quality requirement, the odds are that you will want to “spec in” a particular label material that works well with your printer.  So, determine who offers labels created from the material and whether the delivery timeframe and cost of the die-cut label is in line with your expectations.  Be advised, a good label solution provider should be able to offer a variety of compatible materials in a range of different price points.   AstroNova’s GetLabels division offers the widest variety of premium label materials for all of your labeling applications.

7. Ask who will maintain and repair your printer?
Who will service and fix any problems? 

Regular on-site maintenance of a printing system is necessary to prevent breakdowns due to wear.  So, don’t be afraid to ask who will be available to provide on-site maintenance service (or whether you are expected to do this yourself).  Because a label printer is a critical part of the packaging process,  it’s essential to find out whether on-site repair service and 24-hour telephone support are available.  These things may come at an extra cost or may be included as part of the warranty – find out!

Questions? Let us know, we’re here to help!

Interested in how bringing label printing in-house can provide you with significant cost and time savings?
Contact us to schedule a free, web-based demonstration and to speak with one of our specialists!

Best Practices for Cleaning Your Printer

At AstroNova, we understand right now with current events, depending on the industry, keeping up with demands may be more critical than ever. As part of AstroNova’s commitment to our customers in maintaining a safe and hygienic workplace, we’ve provided an outline that includes recommended disinfection materials and procedures you may find helpful when cleaning your printer. Studies show that frequently disinfecting commonly used surfaces is essential in preventing the spread of germs and viruses, which may remain viable for days on a variety of surfaces. Whether you own a QuickLabel or TrojanLabel printer or not, we hope you find this information helpful.

Recommended Procedure for Disinfecting and Cleaning Your Printer

The CDC recommends the following disinfecting products:

  1. Diluted household bleach solutions (5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water)
  2. Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol
  3. Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective

Materials Required

  1. Disposable gloves
  2. Disinfectant solution
  3. Cleaning cloth/towel

Procedure

  1. Wear disposable gloves and ensure disposal of them after completion of this procedure
  2. Turn your printer Off
  3. Clean the exterior of the printer
  4. Apply disinfection solution on the cleaning cloth ( Do not apply the solution directly on the printer)
  5. Thoroughly wipe the exterior of the printer and the most commonly touched surfaces, such as media guides, ink doors, and handles
  6. Wipe the surrounding area where the printer is installed
  7. Wipe the shelves where your label material is stored
  8. After completion dispose of the gloves and cleaning wipe
  9. Wait for the surface of the printer to dry then turn it ON
  10. Repeat this procedure at the start and end of your shift

In conclusion, preventative actions like these are necessary to stop the spread of any type of viruses to protect your health. Ensure taking your time when following this procedure and repeat it as often as needed.

Questions?

If you have any printer or printer supply-related questions, feel free to contact us. From medical device to chemical, sanitation, nutraceutical, food and beverage, and everything in between, AstroNova has all your hardware, software, and material needs for labeling.