Well, I honestly found myself asking the same question at first too, but I can assure you I’m here for a reason. The short answer to what I do is assist customers in using their labels with a computer. I usually do this by either building or introducing them to software that allows them to print labels from their computer. There are two main areas I find myself addressing during a project, one of them is data management and the other is printing—for the sake of this discussion, I’ll focus on printing.
The most basic form of label printing
Printing has been part of computing since the very beginning. Before the monitor, an external printer was connected to the computer for output. Think about the keyboard shortcuts you first learned: cut, copy, paste, close, save, and print. With such a long history between the printer and the computer, printing a document is pretty easy. Surely that means printing a label should be easy too!
Well sort of…
There’s a lot to consider when you want to print a label. First of all, you need to consider the size of your label. Most printers are formatted to print on a standard 8.5”x11” or A4 size sheet, and labels typically aren’t that large.
To accommodate standard inkjet and laser printers, labels can be printed in sheets that contain a set of die cut labels. These sheets are available in standard printer sizes like 8.5”x11” and A4. I used these a lot as a kid when I had a paper route. I’d print my address onto a sheet of labels, stick them onto a billing envelope and include it in the first paper of each month so customers could send their bills directly to me. At the time I used a word processing program that allowed me to enter my address and have it formatted to print onto a “standard” address label sheet.
What if my labels aren’t standard?
At Computype, we usually aren’t producing “standard” address labels. Not that we couldn’t make them, we just tend to get involved when the requirements around a label are more complex—because that’s what our customers need. For example, when durability in very hot or very cold environments is necessary, or when a label will be exposed to a variety of chemicals that would dissolve or smear a paper label. As a result, the printing requirements need to address these concerns too, which may be beyond the capabilities of a typical inkjet or laser printer.
Our recommended approach to label printing is to use labels on rolls of liner and a smaller label printer. The printer will likely utilize thermal transfer print technology, where the ink is essentially heated up and melted onto the label resulting in a durable print that will stand up better than liquid or powder inks or toners.
The advantage of using a label printer with a PC is that on the surface you’re just using a printer—plug it into a power source, connect it to your PC, and you’re ready to print a label! Go on… Try it out with your word processor…
Didn’t work so well? Well you’re not alone. The thing about most word processing programs is that they are set up to print standard page sizes. Check your page layout and you’ll find it is usually set at something like an 8.5 inches wide by 11 inches in height, with margins of 1 inch on the top, left, right and bottom. When you try to use these settings with a 1 inch tall by 2 inch wide label, your margins alone have set your printable area to… well by my math 0 inches by -1 inches.
So let’s explore how you can print a label properly. In some situations you may be able to get started with a standard word processor like Microsoft Word. The first item of business is to set your page size to match your label size. You can then set all of your margins to fit in your label such as 1/8th an inch. Type some text into your new page and see how it prints… Not bad huh? Maybe that’s all you need. You’re good right?
What if I want more than text?
Wait? You want a barcode? You want to rotate your text? You want to add a logo? Well that’s great! However, word processors are designed for word processing and typically don’t host many design features let alone the ability to create barcodes.
This is where label design software comes into play, whether you just want to add a simple barcode system, your brand logo alongside a barcode, or a whole system of different label formats—barcode design software is going to be the solution.
Label design software simplifies the process of accommodating a wider variety of labels and gives you a much wider array of design options no matter your label size. Most standard label design programs will allow you to reformat your text, include barcodes and add imagery and logos. Even variable data can be accommodated by these programs! The two main programs we recommend—depending on specific needs—are NiceLabel and BarTender.
There are, however, situations where standard, out-of-the-box label design software won’t cut it, and that’s where I play the biggest role—in building custom software. In part two of this post we’ll go into more detail about label design software and the situations that lead some of our customers to require customized programs, so stay tuned if you’re looking for more details.
In short, printing has been a part of computing since the very beginning, making it a simple process as long as your project and expectations are pretty standard. Most of the customers we serve are working under unique conditions that effect the printing process, whether that be due to size or durability requirements which just aren’t compatible with a standard approach.
Additionally, most of the customers we serve utilize barcodes for the tracking and organization of their assets making it difficult for them to accommodate their needs without label design software.
If your on-demand labeling requirements aren’t being met with a basic approach it might be time to look into a label software program like Bartender, NiceLabel, or in more complex cases custom software. Check out part two of this installment if you’re unsure if standard or custom software is more suited to your needs and please reach out if you have any questions!