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Miniguide to portable printers


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Miniguide to portable printers

  1. 1. 30-Minute Mini-Guide to Portable Printers.
  2. 2. My name is Miles and I've written this miniguide to help you learn more about portable label and receipt printers. I want to make this free of jargon or marketing speak – so please let me know if you find any. I timed myself reading this and it took less than 30 minutes. OK, I appreciate you're a busy person and you want information quickly and efficiently – so I'll shut up and let you read. In this mini guide you'll learn: What portable printers are, How portable printers are able to help your organisation, How they are used What the different kinds of mobile printer are, What kind of labels or paper you use How you connect these printers to your computers and How you print with them. What are portable printers? Portable printers are a class of small label or receipt printers that can be carried or wheeled to where they need to be used. Unlike their larger desk-bound cousins, they are battery powered and are built to be carried, with handles or straps. Generally they are little slower and have a smaller paper or label capacity. Seven ways portable printers can help your organisation If you're not currently using a mobile printer, or you need to convince someone, here's how portable printers will help. 1. They are faster than handwriting labels or receipts 2. You can produce barcodes (it takes hours to handwrite just one barcode with a pen) 3. You can read all of the labels or receipts it produces – unlike many handwritten documents. This means you (or a data entry person) make fewer mistakes and look more professional. 4. You save time as you don't have to walk to and from a desk-bound printer 5. Mobile printers are relatively tough – they bounce better than a desk-bound printer
  3. 3. 6. You can power them from a truck or van – so you can taken them anywhere. 7. Many models don't use cables so they're easy to use and popular with staff. In a drive to raise productivity, portable printers are being used to replace centrally printed labels in many industries. Organisations are replacing handwritten notes such as receipts, tickets and works orders. They're using clearly printed labels and barcodes to reduce errors and increasing efficiency. How can you use mobile printing? Here is a picture of how mobile printing is used: Shelf Edge Labelling. Portable printers are used in retail for shelf edge labelling. Use a handheld computer to access the store database – check what's currently printed on the shelf edge (or better still scan it with the handheld computer) and if it needs updating, print a new label there and then. Portable printers reduce errors – and speed up the process. Portable Point of Sale (POS). Before mobile communications took off, the truly portable shop was a market trader with a bag of cash. With the rise of plastic you need a little more than a bag of change. Receipts are important and you can produce receipts from the palm of your hand with these printers. Queue Busting. Another retail or service use for portable printers is 'queue busting', (a less exciting alternative to Ghost Busting – if you're old enough to remember). Tying in to portable POS, retail staff are able to take payments from customers anywhere in store, not just at the checkout. A key part of this process is the portable printer, for producing customer receipts. Warehouse labelling. In the warehouse portable printers are used to print updated quantity labels, identify damaged stock or updating the status of work-in-progress. With modern warehouses stretching over vast areas, portable printers could save hours of walking to and from fixed printers. Van sales. Out on the road, transport drivers print delivery notes, receipts and invoices at the time of delivery. Portable printers are used to confirm delivery Shelf Edge Labelling Portable POS Queue Busting Warehouse Labelling
  4. 4. and details of service. Most portable printers come with in-cab charging and cradles so the printer charges and doesn't take flight on corners. Healthcare. In healthcare, bedside sample labelling prevents the life-threatening consequences of mis-labelling or losing samples. Hospitality. Hotels and restaurants are able to serve customers at the table-side or in the room by printing receipts or bills. Public Sector. In public service, currently under pressure to save money, mobile printers can be used, unfortunately, for printing speeding or parking tickets quickly and legibly. Portable printers are also used for inspection reports and receipts. What kinds of portable printers are available? In the past few years printers have become smaller lighter, tougher and easier to use. At the same time they're faster, print more clearly and can print onto paper, plastic or direct thermal labels. Also with the rise of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, printers no longer need cables – you can print conveniently from your handheld computer, tablet or phone and use the hardware to connect to the wider world using 3G or Wi-Fi. Parking Tickets Healthcare: Sample Labelling
  5. 5. Mobile printer shapes and sizes One of the problems with putting in new computer systems is ease of use. If your printer is too big, cumbersome or difficult to hold staff won't want to use it. Confidence in the system could be lost and the benefits wasted. It's really important to make sure the printer will be welcomed by staff. Another thing to bear in mind is that not all printers need to be 'carry-able'. I've described some of the options here: Hand-held portable and wearable printers. These printers hang from the belt or shoulder strap so you keep your hands free. Most wearable printers come with wireless options, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so you can get rid of annoying cables. These printers balance battery life and label/paper storage against size, weight and convenience. Vehicle mounted printers. Most mobile printers can be used successfully in vehicles - delivery trucks, forklifts, vans, emergency and military vehicles. Most printers can be used with special permanent mounts and hook up to the vehicle's power supply. Obviously you'll need to replace ink or paper ever so often so these printers can be easily removed from the vehicle. This is also important if you need to print closer to the customer. Zebra, the leading maker of label printers, has a 'palette' (think painters palette, not warehouse pallet) which holds a portable printer and one of a range of handheld terminals from the Motorola. Cart mounted printers. One interesting way to overcome the mobility problem is by putting a desktop printer on a cart or trolley that can be wheeled around. Printers can be powered from batteries and there's usually enough space for a PC/laptop or handheld computer to 'drive' the printer. This solution could save money or allow you to print more labels or different colours and materials (i.e. paper or plastic labels). This solution is often seen in libraries or warehouses or other large buildings such as hospitals schools and universities. Tiny belt mounted printers Vehicle mounted printers
  6. 6. How to connect to your portable printer. Cables are quickly becoming optional today, thankfully. Whilst most portable printers come with a cable option, almost all of them have wireless options as well. Particularly with portable printers, cable free is the way to go. Your users will appreciate the ease of use and you'll have fewer maintenance problems. Setting up a wireless printer might take a few minutes longer, but the reliability payback in terms of fewer 'connector' or frayed cable problems make it a worthy investment. Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a small radio chip that is usually built into the printer's electronics. Bluetooth enables items to talk to one another wirelessly. It replaces the communication cable. You'll find it on phones, laptops, portable and handheld computers and of course printers. Bluetooth equipped devices can talk to one another up to 100m away, but most devices use the short range standard which connects up to 10m away. Bluetooth is reasonably secure, power efficient and wirelessly connects two or more devices. Unlike Wi-Fi it doesn't need a hub through which to talk. Imagine it as an invisible cable from your handheld computer to the printer. Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is found all over the place these days - many homes and public places have a wifi network. Like Bluetooth it's a small radio chip that allows the device access to a wireless network. A Wi-Fi network is usually made up of a number of antennas which mesh together to cover an area with radio waves. Wi-Fi equipped devices are able to connect to the Wi-Fi network when they're bathing in the radio waves. Through this Wi-fi Network they can reach other computers spread out around the organisation and, via the internet, the world. Another technical name for Wi-fi is 802.11. 802.11 is the international standard that enables different manufacturers' equipment to talk to one another. Wi-fi lets your devices talk to one another at different speeds, depending on the '802.11' standard your printer and network meet. At a basic level, the 802.11 standard communicates at 11 Mbps, which is enough for basic print jobs. The new 802.11n standard allows much faster data speeds and improved security. Check the printer specifications to see what Wi-fi standard the printer is capable of talking to. Pretty much all printers are 'backwards' compatible, so they'll always be able to communicate with older Wi-fi standards. Sometimes the printer will receive it's commands from distant network computers, in other cases from the person carrying it. For printers used outdoors and away from the Wifi Network, Bluetooth would be a better way for a handheld computer to print on a portable printer.
  7. 7. Cables Most portable printers keep the option to print using cables. Cables options are cheaper but as I mentioned earlier, less convenient. Perhaps the most common situation where cables are still used would be in vehicle use, where the printer and terminal are not carried much. Most connectors are USB or Mini USB, but there are still a few printers still using Serial (if you're older than 30 you might remember serial connectors). Accessories When it comes to accessories, most mobile printers come with cables, but more useful 'mobility' accessories include shoulder straps, belt clips, vehicle mounts, printer chargers, soft cases and printer stands. When you buy a printer, check what accessories are available and (if it's not possible to 'try before you buy') see if you can get photos of the accessories to check they'll do what you need them to do. Managing your printers Portable printers can print onto a wide range of things from RFID tags (special electronic chips that communicate wirelessly with a specially equipped reader), sticky labels, receipts and tickets. With such a wide range of materials and documents, printers need to be fine tuned to print well. Print speeds, darkness settings are two settings that you won't find on laser printers, but can be adjusted on a portable printer and need special software to run them. Zebra printers come with something called Zebralink which enables IT staff to remotely manage and monitor the printers from anywhere on the network. That can be quite useful if your organisation has grouped specialist expertise in one place, but the printer fleet is spread around the country or world. Zebralink sends messages about the printer's status and enables you to keep an eye on problems with your printers. If you combine ZebraLink with Zebra's ZebraNet Bridge software, you're able to not only monitor your printers, but you can update the printer software and setup the printers remotely. Help I've got a couple of lines spare here and I wanted to ask you to do two things for me: If you like this mini guide – email me at and tell me Click these buttons to share this guide with your friends and colleagues on Linkedin and Facebook. Mobile Printer Connectors Vehicle stand
  8. 8. Printing with a Portable Printer. As you probably know, there are a number of types of printer: Laser, Inkjet, Dot matrix and Thermal Portable printers usually use Thermal technology. Thermal label printers are perfect for mobile printing because they can be made smaller, they can print onto a range of different materials, they're tough and don't need much maintenance. Finally they are perfect for printing barcodes, which is a common task for mobile printers. Laser printers would simply be too big and inkjet or impact printers would be less reliable and more expensive. What are Thermal printers? Thermal printers are printers that use heat to create images on paper. There are two kinds of thermal printers, but they both work in a similar way. Both use a heated printhead to create the image on the label or paper. The printhead comprises of hundreds of tiny elements that heat and cool as the paper slides underneath. Direct thermal printers need special chemically treated paper to create a black and white image. As the elements on the print head heat up, the paper under those elements turns black and the image is built up. This happens extremely quickly (printers can be as quick as 100mm per second). The other method is called Thermal Transfer. The same printhead is used to melt wax or resin onto your label and produce the image. Again, this is done at high speed. There are a number of benefits and disadvantages to each method. Thermal transfer is able to print onto a wider range of materials. You can print onto plastic, paper, card etc. With thermal transfer printers you can use different coloured inks. In some printing situations you need plastic labels – say for example you're labelling assets used outdoors, or plant samples in a field trial. Sometimes labels need to be resistant to chemicals and thermal transfer is the only way you can print chemical resistant labels. One disadvantage, however, is that thermal transfer does require an extra consumable item which may increase the cost of printing and is an extra thing for the operator to have to think about. Also, you need to have a special printer with the components to handle these ink ribbons. The printer becomes a little bigger, more bulky and expensive. At the moment there aren't many portable thermal transfer printers. Direct thermal label printers are much simpler (no need for ribbon components) and the
  9. 9. user doesn't have to think about replacing ink. However, direct thermal printers produce less durable images. Thermal coated paper or tags tend not to cope with scratching very well and they will turn brown over time when exposed to heat. That's not a problem for short life labels which are only expected to last a few months or for food labels where they will remain cool. Most portable printers print using direct thermal because it's simple to use, small, compact and convenient. In use it's been found the type of documents printed by portable printers tend to have a short life so there isn't any need for thermal transfer. But if you're printing asset labels which do need to last a long time, or you need labels that resist chemicals and solvents then the P4T from Zebra is probably the best option. Power Management As you'll appreciate no printer can work without power and all mobile printers use batteries. A good mobile printer battery will last a shift, in other words, 8 hours. If the printer is used on the road, access to a mains charger might be hours away. Printers losing charge part way through the day would mean the driver needs to return to base. That makes you either a hero or a villain depending on how committed the driver is to his or her job. Either way, your boss probably won't be too impressed. An unexpected return to base could cost hundreds of pounds in lost time and fuel costs. So it's important to make sure the printer you buy has a battery that will last. There's no hard and fast rule about how long a battery will last. Battery life depends on how much printing is done, what size labels or receipts are printed, what materials the printer is printing onto, how much wireless communication is going on and battery condition. Battery condition in turn depends on how well charged it was and how old the battery is. How to avoid a flat printer battery. Some of this is obvious, but here's a checklist to help you avoid a flat battery. ✔ First – test the printer in a typical scenario before you commit to buying hundreds of them. If it doesn't last, test another model. ✔ Secondly – consider charging options. If you're using the printer in a vehicle, then you need to buy a vehicle charger. Look at battery chargers that will charge spare batteries. Again test this before you buy a fleet of printers. ✔ Thirdly – consider spare batteries. It could cost more to have a lorry return to base Mobile Printer batteries
  10. 10. for a replacement battery, just once, than the cost of a new battery. ✔ Fourthly – Choose an efficient printer. Whilst you have to consider the batteries, the printers play a big part in battery life. Modern portable printers have a number of energy efficiency features that will prevent the dreaded flat battery scenario. Features include battery health monitoring – warning users when they need to recharge. Putting components to sleep (such as display and wireless communication) – to save power, and an important (and frankly geeky) feature important for thermal printers is managing the printhead so it doesn't have to heat up so much – saving precious battery life. ✔ Finally – you must manage your battery maintenance. As anyone with a mobile phone will know, batteries don't last forever. Gradually, over the life of the battery the full charge will decline and the battery will discharge more quickly. Even without being used, a battery will lose it's total capacity. Have a way of tracking batteries so each one gets it's share of use and replace it before it's unable to last a whole shift. Have a process where you periodically check the batteries at the end of a shift. Speak to your friendly printer supplier (like us!) for advice and help with these ideas. How to put money in your pocket using mobile printers You'll realise portable printers bring big benefits in terms of convenience - by printing where the label or receipt is needed. What you need to do is convince the bank manager (or your manager) that investing in these printers will actually pay off over a short period of time. The best portable printer solutions take advantage of being able to change the work processes to benefit from this “point of use printing'' convenience. New ways of doing things only need to save a few minutes on each transaction to add up to big time savings over the course of the day or week. Research from companies who have successfully used portable printers show that van drivers using portable printers (cutting out the need to handwrite documents) on delivery routes or for service delivery are able to serve more customers per shift. That incremental improvement means more work can be done, without adding to the wage bill. As well as productivity improvements on the road or in the warehouse, time is saved for back office staff as well. Printed documents mean that that data is stored electronically – no more transcribing and deciphering handwriting. Back office time is saved and you can bill your clients more quickly. Where to use portable printers Here are some ideas of how to use portable printers.
  11. 11. Field sales and service Use portable printers and handheld computers to cut invoice delays Boost your bank balance by using a portable computer or printer with a built in card reader to accept payments at the time of delivery or service. Use portable terminals to seamlessly and automatically transfer work assignments and service/delivery records wirelessly whilst your drivers are still on the road. No more waiting for the driver to return before entering the information (and ultimately billing your customers). Hospitality Impress your customers by printing receipts and tickets for them whilst they're queuing. Offer top quality service and increase staff productivity at the same time. Serve more tables in your restaurant by printing bills and accepting payment at the table-side. If you could save employing one extra waiter or waitress how quickly would you pay off the system? Airlines: issue receipts in the air with a portable printer. Hospitals and labs How to save lives in hospitals by reducing mislabelling errors: take sample, print label with a portable printer and stick. Once it's correctly labelled it's recorded and can be tracked. Replenish stocks on the ward and label them with a portable or cart based printer. Police and criminal justice Dare I say it – print parking and speeding tickets there and then. Legible and more accurate, mobile ticket writing means the data is recorded on the portable computer making the whole process more efficient. Identify, label and track crime scene exhibits using barcodes. Print the exhibit details on the label so it can be read by anyone on the investigative team. Factories Label samples for quality control. Update details of the stock item whilst you're standing in front of it. Label work in progress with the stage it's progressed to. Make sure the right label goes on the right pallet by labelling whilst you're next to it.
  12. 12. Parcels and logistics Give your customers personalised delivery receipts, collection receipts by printing it on-site. Label parcels at pickup Retail and shops Do your shelf edge labelling at the shelf edge! No more walking back and forth to the printer. Use portable printers to serve customers anywhere in-store, not just at the checkout. Conclusion All businesses and even government departments and agencies are under pressure to do more for less. Whilst we wait for Britain's factories and offices to be equipped with robots capable of replacing humans, we need to use today's technology to enable us (humans) to get more done. Portable printers fill a niche for workers who print labels and documents, yet need to save time walking to and from a fixed printer. Portable printers make changes to whole work processes possible – unlocking even greater productivity benefits. Finally portable printers improve accuracy and reduce mis-labelling – other benefits that hits the bottom line. If you are considering a portable printer and want advice or help would be a wise choice. Experienced with using these printers, they're specialists in label printing – so they have up to date knowledge, so you can be confident you're getting the most appropriate printer at an appropriate price. No only will you find our people helpful, friendly and knowledgeable, you'll also find we've got everything you need – servicing, labels, ribbons and software. Pick up the phone (0800 033 7058) for advice or head over to to find out more. Miles Green is the owner of label products. He's been supplying customers of all shapes and sizes barcode printers and labels since 1994. Recently he's lived in New Zealand and Japan and is married with two sons. He'd love to hear what you think of this miniguide so drop him a line at