using barcodes 2: printing barcodes

An introduction into printing barcodes and tagging assets for use within siso systems

Published: April 25th, 2019

Introduction

In the last article we looked at the conventions for the layout of barcodes and how to use them. In this article we'll look at the easiest ways of printing and some of the most useful products so that you can attach barcodes to your assets.

Printing barcodes

As long as you can print or display your barcodes they will be able to be read by a scanner. However, depending on the resolution/quality of the print or display, you may find that some forms of barcode and some lower end scanners have difficulty reading the information. This can be extremely frustrating in a store environment where there are many transactions and items to be scanned in a short space of time.

Therefore, the first rule of printing barcodes is to both use the right barcode convention (see our previous Using Barcodes article) and make sure the printer and print quality is set to a high standard. As you will probably have specific needs for how your assets are coded, it’s a good idea to think about products that can handle printing at the correct size and volume, but also think about the durability of how the barcode is attached to your assets.

Label printers

In Institutions or enterprises where equipment is going to be used regularly and where there could be an issue of the barcode being ripped off or scrubbed out, label printers offer convenience and low cost. The down side to these labels is that you may need some kind of protection to cut down the chance of the barcode being destroyed (see below in Asset tags).

There are a number of different types of label on the market, the most popular being Inkjet or laser labels, Thermal transfer and Direct thermal (thermal transfer uses a ribbon of print material which is heated to adhere to the base medium, direct thermal uses a medium that changes its visual state as its heated).

Inkjet and laser printer labels - The standard Avery style inkjet or laser printer labels are very cheap and can work well. The downsides to these are that the labels don't tend to be very sticky, the print quality can be questionable and because generally the receiving medium (the label material) is paper based, they aren't very robust.

A very cheap way to print and protect barcodes is to use a standard lamination machine. A number can be printed onto an A4 sheet of paper (it’s possible to do this from within smarthub itself, please get in touch for more info – info@siso.co.uk), and then using the laminator, simply encapsulate the printout in plastic. These aren’t self-adhesive but with a hole punch they can be attached to bags etc with cable ties or key rings. The only other downside is they are not entirely waterproof after they have been cut to size.

Thermal transfer - Thermal transfer machines tend to be the technology of choice for barcode printing and are used by most packaging and semi-permanent warehousing. This is what we recommend you use if you are using one of our products; they are cheap, easy to use and versatile.

One of the printers we would recommend is the Brother P-touch system. These printers have their own input so can be used stand alone, however they also can be used with desktop software so you can copy and paste barcodes straight from your siso product and format the barcode as you would like. They print onto a tough plastic, laminated medium (supplied in cartridges between 3.5 - 24mm widths). These are supplied in a variety of colours and medium types; permanent, flexible (for pipes and cables), heat shrinking (for cabling) and Security laminated (meaning they have a lamination that leaves a mark if someone tries to remove or tamper with them).

Direct Thermal - These are mainly used in high turnover environments where the barcode produced may be for semi or non-permanent use, such as packaging, receipts or temporary identification tags. With direct thermal printer labels, the receiving media can be easily scratched or can be affected by heat or direct sunlight.

PVC card printers – There are a number of PVC plastic card printers on the market, such as the Zebra ZC300 Card Printer. These are mostly thermal transfer printers (some use other technology) that can print in colour and (as in the case of the ZC300) can print both sides.

The card that is the receiving medium is a standard credit card size, 85.60 mm × 53.98 mm (3 3⁄8 × 2 1⁄8 inches). These printers can be more expensive than standard label printing thermal transfer but the resulting card is very robust, is in most cases waterproof and has the benefit of being able to take any design or graphics (such as logos, photos etc). They also can be hole punched so they can be attached to assets or placed in card holders.

Pre-printed or externally printed cards

There are many commercial printers that can produce a series of barcodes to your own specification, or sell you a pre-printed series of barcodes onto specialist materials.

If you have a rigid set of assets that won’t be added to, or replaced often and maybe more importantly you have very many assets, then out sourcing can be a cost-effective way of getting professional quality barcodes.

Some of the specialist materials are:
- Metal
- Pre-formed plastic
- Acrylic (tough)
- Fabric
- High Security
- Non removable
- Heat or chemical resistant
- Transparent
- RFID (Radio frequency identification, see our previous Using Barcodes article)

Here are a few companies which we recommend in the UK (or just search for Pre Printed barcode labels):
- http://expertlabels.co.uk/
-
https://label.co.uk/
-
https://www.cils-international.com

There are also cheap sheets of pre-printed barcode labels that can be bought through eBay etc. We would suggest caution with these as there isn’t much quality control and could be a waste of money.

Asset tags

Depending on the asset you may need a secure method of attaching the barcode that is robust and maybe waterproof. As we have read above there are a number of products (whether using your own machinery or out sourced) that can achieve this, however some (including the Brother P-touch systems) may become damaged during rigorous use.

We therefore suggest the simplest and cheapest way to attach these barcode labels to assets is via key or luggage tags. Obviously, these will need to be transparent on one side at least so the barcode scanner can work:

These are Tufftaag luggage tags, found here at Amazon UK.

Key tag found at www.luckyline.com in the US.

These Kevron key tags are just about clear enough for a barcode scanner to read, but they are tough, found at keytagshop.co.uk in the UK and rossgalt.co.nz in New Zealand.

In the last article we’ll look at the types of scanning hardware available and what we recommend.

If you have any questions or would like further information about how siso systems work with barcoding, please get in touch - info@siso.co.uk