Labels being ‘the sales pitch of a product from the shelf’ hold the utmost significance for brands and companies. Self-adhesive materials or card stocks are printed with the labels to bestow the products with identity and this process is known as ‘Label Printing’. The computer printers executing this task are called Label printers. The stand-alone machines for printing labels that have their in-built keyboards and displays are known as ‘Label makers’. Such printers are different from ordinary ones and have a wide variety of applications. They have their feed mechanisms for handling rolled stock or tear sheets.

Label printing mechanism

Different types of printing mechanisms including impact, laser, and thermal methods are used by label printers. The type of material used for printing labels also spans over a wide range. The following are the mechanisms used in different label printers:

Thermal transfer printing

In thermal transfer printing, ink is transferred from the ribbon to the label using heat that results in a permanent print. There exists a specific ribbon type for each kind of label material so choosing the right combination of ribbon and label material is requisite for the durability and high quality of the finished product. This type of printing works with all three grades of ribbons, wax being the most popular and best suited for semi-gloss and matte labels, wax/resin being suitable for synthetic labels, and resin suitable for coated synthetic labels. This type offers a large variety of face stock and adhesive options owing to its lower heat settings as compared to other label printing technologies. The thermal transfer type is preferred by industries for durable and high-quality labels. Large and continuous thermal transfer printing systems are professionally used to perform a high volume of work whereas entry-level desktop models are used for small level printing.

Direct Thermal Printing

DT printing is very much similar to thermal transfer printing technology but it lacks the requirement of the ink ribbon. The printed images are created with the help of a special heat-activated chemical present beneath the label along with the heat-sensitive paper. The chemical used in this type is quite expensive and thus increases the overall cost of the labels but the cost of ink ribbons is minimized. These labels are best suitable for short duration applications as they cannot withstand heat, UV exposure, and sunlight and fade away. Too much heat is required to get as sharp and vibrant results as thermal transfer printers but this heat intensity can drastically effect the line definition. Some printers can switch between thermal transfer and direct thermal mode as well.

Laser Printing

In this type of printing, dry toners either in black or full colour are used for laser sheets. This leads us to the choice of adding graphics and using color-coding. It results in quite durable print results even if exposed to UV light but intensive chemical exposure can harm the labels and shrink their durability. A cartridge system of wet ink is used and this type of label printing is very economical technology. The standard sheet-fed printers can be used for laser and inkjet labels, and are very cost-effective for on the spot, on-demand printing. A major problem with this type of printers is that they print the whole sheet, so if a single or two labels are required, you still need to run the full sheet through the printer. Moreover, a printed sheet can jam the printer if you run it through the printer again.

Types of label printers

The label printers can be categorized into the following types as per their area of use and capabilities.

Desktop label printers

Desktop label printers are the simple printers that are required to perform light to medium volume printing and are very cost-effective. They can use a stock roll up to 4 inches wide.

Commercial label printers

These printers are used for medium-duty and are capable of holding a stock of roll of about 8 inches in width.

Industrial label printers

Industrial label printers are designed to perform heavy duty work and continuous operations at large industries and factories.

Industrial portable printers

These industrial printers are handy and are used to perform heavy-duty operations where there are no computers. They are handheld and can be taken to the location for on spot operations. They have the application on construction sites and production floors.

RFID Readers

This is a specialized type of label printers that use radio frequency waves for labelling. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tagging is done by simultaneously printing and encoding on the tags enclosed in labelling material. There are many applications of RFID including vehicle tagging, Race timing, Inventory tracking, and much more. The barcode system having dozens of applications also falls under this category.

Personal label printers or label makers

These are portable small devices used in home, office, or small businesses. These printers are generally inexpensive and are best suited for low volume applications, the only drawback is that they require special tapes for printing which are quite expensive at times.

Label printer applicators

They are used for automation of the labelling process technology. These applicators are required at warehouses and manufacturing areas where large scale continuous labelling is required.

Labelling software

Labelling software is intended to design and format labels for printing. The software is compatible with general-purpose personalized computers and can use native OS printer drivers. A labelling software can use sheet or continuous fed labels in an ordinary computer printer or might work with specialized label printers.

In older times, labelling was done using mechanical systems. Tapes were embossed manually by using a hammer that caused an extrusion on the opposite side of the plate which resulted in visual contrast. Letters were represented on the tapes by this method, but now digital label printing has revolutionized this area and dominated the method of embossing.