The Zebra ZD series offers a broad range of capabilities for an even broader range of industries. It’s been introduced as an upgrade to the extremely popular GX and GK lines—so if you’re looking to replace your Zebra desktop printer in the near future, the ZD series is worth considering.

Similar to the GX and GK series’, the only major limiting factor with this printer series is its application defining compact size. The “D” in ZD stands for desktop, meaning it’s a smaller printer intended for use on small to medium sized jobs—for larger jobs Zebra offers their tabletop ZT series.

Zebra’s ZD desktop series is comprised of three subseries, the ZD200, ZD400, and ZD600. All three are available in both direct thermal models and thermal transfer. Our review will focus on the thermal transfer versions of all three since it’s the preferred print technology in the industries we serve. In addition to print technology options, the three share several standard features including:

  • A compact clamshell design for space savings and easy reloading
  • Standard 203 dpi print resolution
  • A standard ½ Inch ribbon core (and an optional 1 inch ribbon core adapter on the ZD400 and ZD600 series models)
  • A floating print head design that helps the print head last longer
  • A moveable media sensor for increased media compatibility

Now let’s break down the major features and differentiators of each subseries to determine if this line is right for your space. 

Zebra ZD220

The ZD220 is the most basic model in the ZD series. That said, the lack of bells and whistles serves as a point of differentiation that might appeal to some. This stripped down model continues to offer the same high performance quality Zebra is known for with standard 203 dpi image quality and 4 inches per second print speeds.

Just like the GX430, this model features a simple single button interface with one LED light to indicate status. The minimalistic interface allows for simple operation and easy identification of printer status.

The 220 is a small printer, leaving plenty of room on desktops to perform other tasks. Its size also makes it easy to transport and store so you can use it on an as-needed basis.

A peeler can be added to this model for peel and present operation to reduce effort required during labeling.

However, while the minimalistic interface makes identification of status and operation simple, it does make setup and setting adjustments more complicated. Employees who are involved in adjusting printer settings or resolving errors should be trained properly to do so if you purchase this printer.

Additionally, this printer is relatively small and can’t hold large rolls of media, or support very small imagery with the limited resolution. The ZD220 can carry a maximum of 5-inch media rolls and it can print up to 4.09 inches in width.

Due to its simplicity the ZD220 is being promoted as the value model of the ZD series. By limiting features this model offers the same durability and basic print quality as the rest of the series at a lower cost. Zebra is listing the direct thermal model of the ZD220 for $550, and the thermal transfer model at $650. Prices can vary depending on where you purchase your printer and whether or not you add the optional peeler.

If your facility is looking for a basic barcode printer without any unnecessary flair, the ZD220 could offer a lot of value. Zebra is known for their high quality printers and by removing any superficial features they are able to offer a lower cost desktop printer without compromising on quality.

Zebra ZD420/421

The ZD421 is a recent improvement upon the previous model—the ZD420. The most significant differences between the 421 and 420 are the new media guide and media handling options for improved media flexibility.

There are two versions of the ZD421, the standard ZD421 and the ZD421 HC (HC stands for healthcare). Both versions have a very similar set of features and benefits, however the ZD421 HC includes a white plastic exterior that is able to withstand harsh sanitization processes common in the healthcare field.

As an upgrade to the single button and single light interface featured on the 220 model, the ZD421 has 3 buttons and 5 LED status icons. The icons light up to indicate the printer status and the buttons allow for much easier operation and setting adjustments in comparison to the 220.

For print quality, the 421 offers a 300 dpi model as well as the standard 203 dpi. The 203 dpi model prints at 6 inches per second, and 4 inches per second on the 300 dpi model. 300 dpi will work great for most applications, the only exception being very small scale printing. An example would be a half-inch 2D barcode for the bottom of a vial, something like that may require 600 dpi. If you’re in need of a printer for small scale label printing we recommend the cab Mach 4S.

Both the print head and the dry roller were designed to easily pop in and out of the printer without the use of tools, allowing for easy replacements maintenance.

While there is an optional cutter available, this cutter is not heavy duty and will likely struggle to cut through labels or heavy duty-liners. We specifically don’t recommend using this cutter with poly liners. Over time, this can lead to damage which may require servicing or replacing your cutter.

The ZD421 is the middle of the road option in the ZD printer series. The main thing that sets this one apart from the 220 is the many opportunities for upgrades. Zebra is listing the standard model at $695, and $740 with the added peeler. Added warranties, service contracts, features or discounts will all impact the pricing depending on how you want your model to function and where you purchase it.

Zebra ZD620/621

Just like the ZD421, the ZD620 is also available in both the standard model and a healthcare model (ZD621 HC) that can withstand common medical sanitization processes.

Additionally, the ZD621 offers a number of added features, more than any other model in the ZD series, which is why Zebra is calling it their “performance” model.

With print speeds of up to 8 inches per second on the standard model (6 inches per second on the 300 dpi model) the ZD621 can increase efficiency in a variety of applications. Whether you’re labeling tubes, boxes or books, you won’t be waiting for your printer to catch up while you work.

Despite the fast print speeds, the ZD621 remains a low volume printer. The mechanics of the printer were not designed to run 24/7 and the media capacity won’t allow it without frequent media replacements. The media chamber on the ZD621 can only contain rolls up to 5 inches, meaning higher volume applications will require frequent reloading.

The ZD621 is backwards compatible with almost any desktop printer. Zebra’s Print DNA Tool Suite is able to support languages that are normally associated with other, non-Zebra, printers simplifying your transition no matter your existing print strategy.

If your facility is looking for a greener print solution the ZD621 may serve as a good choice. Optional configurations allow the 621 to accommodate liner-less media so you can print more labels per roll while reducing waste. It should be kept in mind that if you do decide to use liner-less media in your ZD621, it must be properly matched to the platen in order to avoid damage. Zebra offers a variety of liner-less media that are supported by the ZD621.

Additionally, the ZD621 can be set up to include Bluetooth low energy mode if one of your facilities green goals is to be more energy efficient.

Although it comes standard with the same 3 button/5 LED icon interface as the 421, the ZD621 features the option to upgrade the interface to include 10 buttons and a small LCD screen. The screen can clearly display the printer status where it can be seen from a distance. Plus, in combination with the buttons, the screen allows for easy interaction, simplifying set-up and adjustments for operators of any knowledge level.

Another optional feature is the ability to incorporate encoding. RFID enhanced barcode labels can allow for increased process compatibility, efficiency and security making them an excellent option for high value samples.

Due to the variety of high tech, efficiency boosting and green options available with this model, Zebra is calling the ZD621 the performance model of the series, bringing it up to the highest price tier of the series. Zebra is listing the standard ZD621 model at around $895 and $940 with an added peeler. When considering purchasing any printer, this model especially, it’s important to consider which features will offer the most value to you. Extraneous features that don’t offer value may lead to unnecessary up-front costs, and missing out on the right warranty or service contract might lead to avoidable future costs.

Final thoughts on the Zebra ZD series

The ZD series is a successful upgrade to the respected GX and GK printers and our team of experts support both lines with the same enthusiasm. While there is no rush to replace your older models so long as your warranties or service contracts are still active, it is important to keep in mind that Zebra will discontinue the GX and GK printers.

The ZD series are small but versatile printers that can accommodate labeling needs in a broad range of industries – including anything from biological sample labels to simple receipts.

If you’re ready to dicuss your printer needs with an expert contact us today.


About author Chelsea Payeur

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