Case Label Printer Options

Case labels are an essential element of both primary and secondary packaging, as they provide a place to include traceable codes and essential information for consumers. For example, food case labels typically contain expiration dates, ingredient lists, machine-scannable codes, and other markings that enhance traceability, inform consumers, and appease regulations set by legal authorities and distribution partners. Operations in fields such as beverage bottling and canning, chemical manufacturing, and pharmaceutical production also apply case labels to shipping cartons to maintain full product traceability, direct shipments, and ensure proper handling across the distribution network.

To create case labels, companies can choose from a variety of printer options. Case label printers are diverse and utilize different technologies to better meet the needs of different operations. 

In this blog, we take a look at today’s most popular case label printers, explain their differences, and demonstrate which applications each is well-suited for.

Today’s Most Popular Case Label Printer Options

The top case label printer technologies available on the market today include direct thermal label printers, thermal transfer overprinters, print and apply labeling machines, and high-resolution case coders.

1. Direct Thermal Label Printer

Direct thermal label printers are the most affordable case label printer option on the market. 

Compact and fast, direct thermal printers do not use ink, toner, or similar substances to create markings. Instead, they apply heat to specially-coated labels or paper stock. The label darkens when exposed to heat, thereby creating the intended image, code, or message. 

Direct thermal printers are small, fast, affordable, and have few consumables because they do not use ink, toner, or ribbons. However, they do have many drawbacks, mostly concerning label quality. 

Labels made with direct thermal printers are not made to last. They are highly susceptible to fading, blurriness, and damage due to heat, light, moisture, and abrasion, which, in certain cases, can cause labels to become unreadable in a matter of months. Moreover, direct thermal print quality is relatively low. Although they can create machine-scannable barcodes, direct thermal printers cannot match the DPI qualities and contrast levels of thermal transfer overprinters, thermal inkjet printers, or high-resolution case coders. 

Due to these factors, direct thermal printers should only be used for short-term label applications, and users should be well aware of the risks associated with using fragile labels. 

Direct Thermal Label Printer Advantages

Direct Thermal Label Printer Disadvantages

  • Fast printing speeds
  • Affordable upfront cost
  • Minimal consumables
  • Case labels are highly susceptible to damage
  • Labels can fade within months
  • Low overall print quality

2. Thermal Transfer Overprinter

Thermal transfer overprinters (TTO) are known for printing durable case labels with high print quality. To create markings, TTO models apply heat to ribbons covered in wax, resin, or a wax/resin hybrid. The heat causes the ribbon material to transfer onto the label, producing the intended markings. 

Compared to direct thermal printing, thermal transfer overprinting provides users with longer-lasting, higher-quality labels that can resist conditions such as heat, light, moisture, and slight abrasion. However, these qualities come with drawbacks, including:

  • Higher printer model costs
  • Frequent ribbon purchases
  • Requires greater technical expertise from the operator

While these conditions make TTO a more expensive option than direct thermal printers, purchasing a TTO is necessary if your case labels are regularly exposed to any potentially disruptive elements or need to remain legible for an extended period. 

Thermal Transfer Overprinter Advantages

Thermal Transfer Overprinter Disadvantages

  • Great code quality
  • Durable markings
  • Long-lasting labels
  • More expensive than direct thermal
  • Less intuitive than direct thermal
  • Requires periodic ribbon changes

3. Print and Apply Label Machine

Print and apply label machines are an effective way to fully automate the label application process. Print and apply labelers like the Evolabel are versatile machines that can be built with various printer models and applicators to fit the needs of different businesses and line setups. 

For example, the Evolabel is compatible with three different printer models:

These options allow users to select the printing technology and label size that will best suit their needs. The Evolabel is similarly compatible with several applications, including:

Depending on the printer and applicator combination, the Evolabel can produce up to 180 labels per minute with a maximum character resolution of 300 DPI. By integrating a print and apply labeler into your workflow, you can enhance labeling speeds and reduce errors for higher overall efficiency. 

As with TTO models, print and apply labelers have significant upfront costs and require a high level of operator expertise, frequent label changes, and ongoing general maintenance. However, if you are labeling a substantial number of cases daily, a print and apply label machine is worth these investments. 

Print and Apply Label Machine Advantages

Print and Apply Label Machine Disadvantages

  • Compatible with different applicators and printers
  • Fast labeling speeds
  • Consistent code quality and label placement
  • Greatly reduces the risk of error 
  • High upfront investment
  • Specialized training required
  • Regular maintenance required
  • Consumables required
  • Frequent ribbon changes

4. Thermal Inkjet Printer

Thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers are affordable, compact machines that can easily fit into most production line setups. Although they do not create physical case labels, their relatively large print heights, high code quality, and compatibility with porous substrates make them a great case coding solution. 

TIJ models use small disposable cartridges of liquid ink as their consumables. By applying heat to these cartridges, TIJ printers pressurize the ink, causing it to stratify into distinct droplets and propelling them toward the substrate. Although not all TIJ printers are suitable for case coding, certain models, like the Anser X1, excel at marking cartons with sharp text, stark images, and machine-scannable codes. 

Relevant Anser X1 specifications include:

  • A 1” print height with a single printhead and a 2” print height with dual printheads
  • 600 x 600 max DPI
  • Printing speed of 300m/min at 60 DPI and 30m/min at 600 DPI

In addition, all TIJ models offer intuitive operation and require little or no maintenance. Drawbacks include regular cartridge replacements and a relatively limited ink capacity. Additionally, if you require a physical case label, you will still need a direct thermal or TTO model to print it out. 

Thermal Inkjet Printer Advantages

Thermal Inkjet Printer Disadvantages

  • Excellent code quality
  • Large print size capabilities
  • Little or no maintenance
  • Versatile coding abilities
  • Intuitive operation
  • Limited ink space in cartridge
  • Periodic cartridge replacements required
  • Does not print out physical labels

5. High-Resolution Case Coder

High-resolution (hi-res) case coders are designed to place DPI-rich graphics, images, codes, and markings onto cardboard materials. To deliver excellent results, hi-res units are built with large printheads and use cartridges filled with thick, oil-based ink. These features enable hi-res printers like the Precision Series 72 Case Coder to create markings that are larger, more durable, and of a higher quality than markings made with other printers. 

With these abilities, companies can place essential information and identifiable graphics directly onto cardboard cases without the need for physical labels, allowing for:

  • Faster coding times
  • Lower material costs
  • A lower risk of coding errors
  • Higher code durability
  • Improved print quality

However, compared to TIJ printers, hi-res models generally cost more upfront, use more expensive ink, and offer slower speeds. They also have greater maintenance needs and require more frequent cleanings. As with TIJ printers, they also do not print physical labels. 

Nevertheless, if you need a printer that excels at creating high-quality text, images, and codes, you cannot beat a high-resolution case coder.

High-Resolution Case Coder Advantages

High-Resolution Case Coder Disadvantages

  • Excellent code quality
  • Large print size capabilities
  • Versatile coding abilities
  • Relatively high upfront cost
  • Expensive consumables
  • Greater maintenance than TIJ
  • Does not print out physical labels

InkJet, Inc. Is Your Source for Thermal Transfer Supplies and Case Label Printer Systems

For more than 30 years, InkJet, Inc. has been manufacturing high-quality ink formulas and selling diverse printing solutions to companies across the manufacturing and packaging spectrum. Offering TTO supplies, print and apply machines, TIJ printer models, and high-resolution case coders, InkJet, Inc. has everything you need to create an efficient case labeling workflow. Contact us today to discuss which solution will work best for you. 

For more information about case label printers, contact InkJet, Inc. online or call 1(800) 280-3245.