Bar code symbols may be produced in a variety of ways: by direct marking, as with laser etching or with ink jet printing; or, more commonly by imaging or printing the bar code symbol onto a separate label. For our purposes, the terms "print" and "printer" refer to the production of a bar code whether the image is printed, etched, or imaged. The importance of precise bar code printing cannot be overstated; success of the whole set of integrated technologies that comprise an entire bar code system depends upon bar code print quality.
Bar code printing applications fall into two categories:
For assistance in making the selection between off-site and on-site printing review the Bar Code Labels - Make or Buy document.
On-site printing generally takes place at or near the point of use. The data encoded is usually variable, entered by an operator through a keyboard or downloaded from the host computer. The most common bar code print technologies for on-site use are:
On-site bar code printers come in a range of configurations as well as a wide variety of technologies. Users’ choices include:
Clearly, with the staggering range of choices available, users need to carefully determine their application parameters before going to purchase a bar code printer.
On-site printing most often involves purchasing label-design software as well as printer hardware. Bar code printers come with their own proprietary programming languages that support all the standard symbologies, and they are capable of printing simple data-static or serialized bar code labels on their own. However, labels that require additional formatted text, graphics, or multiple fields will require a separate label-design software package. Currently, more than 100 packages exist that are designed for a wide range of platforms and have a wider range of features. Once the purview of programmers, label design can now be accomplished by non-programmers via easy-to-use WYSIWYG graphical interfaces.
Generally speaking, commercial label printers may use flexographic, letterpress, offset lithographic, rotogravure, photocomposition, hot stamping, laser etching, or digital processes to produce a consistently higher-grade label than those labels produced by on-site printers. If the content of the bar code symbol is known ahead of use, a commercial label supplier is generally the best choice. However, there are tradeoffs. Commercially supplied labels have to be ordered, stocked, and placed in inventory. A business with frequent product line changes and/or label changes will have to weigh its options carefully.
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