Maintaining Barcode Label Accuracy and Quality as Label Sizes Get Infinitely Smaller

Maintaining Barcode Label Accuracy and Quality as Label Sizes Get Infinitely Smaller

Barcode label printers must be designed for the task at hand. Barcodes can only optimize business efficiency if they are accurate and can be read successfully. As barcode label sizes get smaller, challenges grow. Even the smallest barcode defect can render a barcode label unscannable. Our thermal printers have been designed with sophisticated enhancements that keep up with barcode label trends and help to ensure optimal barcode print quality.

In this blog we’ll cover applications on tiny barcode labels, tips to enhance barcode label printing success, and ways our printer models improve barcode printing effectiveness.

The Challenge: Barcode Usage Proliferates, Requirements Expand

Barcodes have been stunningly successful since their introduction in 1974. They convey large amounts of information rapidly without any special infrastructure and easily print on the label with other content. Their effectiveness has made them ubiquitous, and that presents new challenges. As barcode label usage expands into more applications, the requirements have also broadened.

Barcodes have long been used in transportation, logistics, and retail applications. Now a variety of tiny devices are seeking to use barcodes too. Electronic device manufacturers, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, food growers, distillers, vintners, and many other industries want to use barcode labeling for track and trace, product information, distribution handling, and product authentication. The labels in many of these industries continue to shrink as does the size of their products and packaging.

As label sizes decrease and the requirement for content increases, the available real estate on the barcode is reduced. This forces a greater amount of data to be printed onto smaller labels. Issues that could be invisible to the human eye, such as a tiny smudge or wrinkle, could lead to bad or unreadable barcodes. A variance as small as a thousandth of an inch can render a barcode unreadable.

Most tiny barcode labels use high resolution 300 dpi and 600 dpi printers to produce highly accurate label registration with precise calibration. Our thermal printer’s registration and calibration are unmatched, performing consistently to accurately print barcodes on small labels. This holds true for our industrial printers and our desktop printers such as the TX Series, which offers 300 dpi and 600 dpi versions.

How to Optimize Printing: As Label Sizes Shrink, Print Quality Requirements Grow

As the size of barcodes decrease, print quality requirements escalate. Engineering challenges encompass every aspect of paper movement, dot placement, and printhead control. Simply increasing the dots per inch of the printhead is not enough to ensure consistent quality. Any smear, spread, fluctuation, dust, or error could put the dot in the wrong place, potentially rendering the barcode unreadable.

For more than 30 years, TSC Printronix Auto ID has developed printers with a singular focus on quality, robustness, and customer satisfaction. Our printer benefits include sophisticated enhancements in motor control, printhead control, and device management that work together to produce consistently high-quality barcodes, even with demandingly small dimensions. Print head replacement programs, advanced alerts, and supplies tested for optimal quality all contribute to optimized print quality.

Routinely cleaning your printer can also improve performance and reduce downtime. A piece of dust under the printhead can cause your barcode to fail or scan incorrectly when it’s run through a barcode validator or a handheld scanner. A clean printer can prevent labels from being voided out and reprinted incorrectly, and avert barcodes that scan incorrectly due to dust under the printhead. Read more tips for cleaning your thermal barcode printer in a previous blog.

Trust But Verify: Barcode Verification to Ensure Compliance and Readability

Even with the best printer engineering, a barcode printer can be affected by various factors such as dust buildup on the printhead, a ribbon wrinkle, or other environmental factors. To ensure that barcodes are readable and meet the recipient’s grade requirements, it is highly advised that you inspect barcodes. Barcode inspection provides an insurance policy against potential read failures downstream at the receiving location. A failed barcode at the recipient location can result in chargebacks, fines, audits, returned goods, or pose a challenge to your working relationship with the customer.

Consistent barcode testing and quality can be achieved using the Printronix Auto ID T8000 and T6000e ODV-2D barcode inspection printers. These printers have an integrated barcode inspection system that is tied to the print controller and can retract and overstrike bad labels and automatically reprint them. Up to 50 barcodes on each label can be found and graded, and the results can be delivered in real-time to any application.

Improve Labels, Enhance Business with Our Printers and Thermal Smart Control

If your brand image, process improvements, customer mandates, or avoiding chargebacks and fines depends on consistent label quality, we can help. Beyond advanced engineering such as integrated barcode inspection systems in our industrial printers and a range of desktop barcode printers that excel at calibration, TSC printers also feature Thermal Smart Control.

When you’re printing a high volume of labels, the printhead dots tend to heat up eventually causing more heat transfer than is desirable. This can result in barcode lines that grow out of the specification, sometimes into the line next to it. This is referred to as “welding.”

Thermal Smart Control uses the printer’s fast processor to keep track of how many times each dot has fired, as well as the dots on either side. For large batches of labels, the printer reduces the energy used to prevent this welding phenomena and preserve barcode quality. Printer models with this feature include our industrial MX240P Series, our MH241 Series, and our desktop barcode printer TX200 Series.

To learn more about our high-resolution industrial printers or to optimize barcode label quality with our barcode inspection technology, contact your local TSC Printronix Auto ID sales representative.