Cost is an important deciding factor in any purchase—but it’s not always the best way to determine the value your barcode label printer will offer you.
While it is possible to determine the cost of an individual barcode label printer, due to the great variation in available options it’s difficult to find a specific answer for label printers in general. Barcode printers can cost anywhere from a hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.
Instead of focusing directly on cost, here we will look at the eight major cost determining factors of label printers.
1. Print Technology
Label printers are typically available in one of three print technologies. These print technologies differ in their features and application, which leads them to vary in cost—even if they share similar features.
In general, thermal transfer is the least costly option, while laser label printers tend to be on the higher end in terms of price—leaving inkjet printers somewhere in the middle. While this should give you a general idea of what you can expect, it’s not quite that simple.
We generally don’t recommend your standard laser printer for label printing—even if you already have one in your facility! Not only are laser printers themselves generally higher in cost but so are the consumables.
Over time you will find a higher return on your investment through thermal transfer or inkjet printing, even if that means purchasing a second printer.
All of the factors we discuss throughout this article will impact the cost of different printers in different ways. Not all print technologies are capable of performing in the same way or offer the same features—leading to greater or lesser variations in cost between print technologies.
2. Print Resolution
Resolution capabilities will have an impact on the overall cost of your printer—generally the higher the dpi (dots-per-inch) capability, the higher the cost.
Typically, a thermal transfer printer will allow for 203 dpi, 300 dpi or 600 dpi printing, inkjet printers range from around 180-720 dpi and laser printers can provide up to 2,400 dpi!
While image resolution is important, you need to keep your application in mind. For the average barcode printing application in the lab, 203-300 dpi should be perfectly fine—however if you require particularly small labels (for example, those placed on tube caps) you might want to consider a printer capable of 600 dpi resolution.
3. Print Volume Capability
Proper engineering is necessary to ensure printers can keep up with higher demands, which is why lower volume printers tend to be lower in up-front costs than larger, higher demand printers.
Facilities printing tens or hundreds of thousands of labels per day will likely be willing to pay a premium to ensure their printer can keep up with necessary demand.
If your facility is in this situation you might also want to consider implementing an automation strategy. Not only will high volume automation equipment be able to keep up with demand, but your employees will have more time to focus on the tasks that bring the most value to your company’s mission.
If you only need to print a few, or a few hundred labels per day—you probably don’t want to make a large investment since your printer doesn’t play as large of a role in your processes. Instead, you’ll likely want to look for a lower volume printer that is budget friendly and won’t take up valuable real estate.
Even if you’re working with smaller volumes, you may still want to consider automation—there are benchtop label automation options to ensure accuracy and reduce the burden of labeling in your facility.
4. Color Capability
Generally, printers capable of printing in color are more costly than black and white printers for a couple of reasons—technology, engineering and consumables.
When it comes to thermal transfer, color can be tricky—you can generally only print a single color at a time with the exception of a few dual ribbon options (the cab XC6 is one of the exceptions we recommend most often). The difference in engineering between a single color thermal transfer printer versus a dual color printer is very significant—leading to a significant difference in cost.
In contrast, it’s not quite as complicated to find inkjet or laser printers capable of printing in color leading to very little difference in cost between black and white or color models—in fact it’s rare to find a solely black and white inkjet printer at all.
When it comes to consumables color is going to cost you. Inkjet and laser printers generally require four ink or toner cartridges at any given time—cyan, magenta, yellow and black—while a thermal transfer printer will only require up to two colored ribbons at a time.
5. Print Durability
Ensuring your printed image can stand up to specific conditions will depend highly on print technology and consumables—which will impact cost.
Luckily, in this case the most durable label printing option is also the least costly—thermal transfer. Laser and inkjet print technologies are also reasonably durable, though they are more costly.
When it comes to durability, it’s important to keep in mind the sensitivities of specific technologies—laser technology is sensitive to high temperatures while inkjet is sensitive to excessive moisture.
Thermal transfer technology doesn’t have many major sensitivities, with the right ribbon and media combination labels can be exposed to extreme temperatures, moisture and chemicals.
If both color and durability are important to your processes you’ll want to consider an inkjet printer. A properly engineered label can aid in better performance but may lead to increased label costs.
You could also order labels pre-printed (or pre-marked labware) from a supplier who can utilize more durable print technologies capable of including color. They will also likely be able to offer protective coverings to further increase durability.
If color isn’t necessary in your processes, thermal transfer is a great option that is cost effective, durable and allows for printing on-demand.
Connectivity and WiFi capabilities can have an impact on the price of your printer; some printers require USB’s Ethernet cords, etc., and some are wireless. The different connectivity capabilities will make a difference in the overall price of your inkjet printer.
7. Recurring Costs
Every printer—no matter the technology—is going to require consumables and maintenance. However, your print technology will impact your recurring costs related to consumables and maintenance.
As previously mentioned, laser and inkjet printers generally require more consumables—this is in part because toner and ink generally cost more than thermal transfer ribbon. Even more, these technologies require at least four different ink or toner cartridges at a time vs. up to two thermal transfer ribbons.
The cost of the labels themselves will also impact cost. Generally you will want to work with your supplier to find the most effective strategy for your application—both in cost and quality.
When it comes to maintaining your printer—while it requires recurring costs—regular maintenance will help you avoid spending more in the future. Replacing thermal transfer printheads, laser fuser cartridges—or any other parts can be costly, so it’s best to ensure you’re properly maintaining your printer’s health.
While cost is certainly important, you need to ensure you’re choosing not only the right printer, but the right accessories. Different applications have different needs so it’s not uncommon for suppliers to offer optional accessories to accommodate special requirements.
Accessories will add to the cost of your overall print solution, however, they can offer significant value to your processes. A few examples our customers often find valuable include:
- Label applicators
Take time to evaluate your processes. Choosing the right accessories for your printer is important; you don’t want to over-invest in your solution. Locate pain points in your labeling process and see if there are accessory options that may correct them.
It may even be a good idea to consult your supplier. Having likely helped customers with similar processes and problems they may have insights on the most suitable optional features for your particular application.
Focus on the Value…
A variety of factors will play into the overall cost of your barcode label printer, which is why it’s more important to focus on which features will offer value to your processes than solely on price.
It is absolutely possible there will be multiple printers available that meet your needs, so comparing features and cost before you purchase will help—you just need to ensure you’re purchasing from a trustworthy source.
Working with a supplier or barcode solutions partner, like Computype, who is familiar with your industry and application needs is a great way to ensure you’re getting a trustworthy printer suited to your budget and processes.
A trustworthy supplier or partner can compare costs, features and benefits of a variety of printers to ensure you get the most value out of your investment. It’s also likely they’ll be able to offer service agreements to insure the lasting success of your solution.