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What Language Does Your Label Printer Speak?

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Label printers are fine and all, but to make them more efficient, we need to be able to supply them with the proper data so we can get our labels printed correctly.

There are several ways to achieve this, one of the more common is to use label design software, such as BarTender, LabelView or NiceLabel to send the labels to the printer. This involves using the software’s printer driver to convert the data into a format that the printer will read effectively.

Another effective and popular approach is to design a label file that is formatted in the printer’s own programming language and then sent directly to the label printer without the use of any label software. This is often used in large companies, where the company’s ERP or other software is setup to send a form added file to the label printer when an event needing certain label occurs.

Label Printer manufacturers have different languages

Each of the label printer manufacturers have developed their own programming language. Since they have the largest market share in barcode printers, Zebra’s ZPL programming language has become the industry standard for developing label files. Along with Zebra, there is DPL’s language compatible with Datamax and IPL for the Intermec printers which are just two more examples.

For the end users of the printers, this has meant that dealing with one printer company can make it difficult and costly to switch brands of printer. Creating a major problem with the reformatting of all the labels they already use.

In an attempt to remedy this problem, most printer companies have developed emulation firmware that allows their product to work with label files designed for other brands of printer.

This action allows the user to send a Datamax D PL file to a Zebra printer and the printer firmware will convert to the Zebra program language which will in turn create the correct label. We have found that this process works fine about 90% of the time. However the other 10% of the time can be difficult.

We usually recommend that the user stay with the brand of printer that the original label file was designed for, unless there is an unavoidable reason to switch.

Most of our customers are using label software to handle their label data. In this case the actual printer language isn’t an issue because the print driver turns the label into a native printer format to create seamless operation. However, the PCL could pose a problem in some cases. Our BarTender software, for example, doesn’t have a driver for the Source Technologies printers which it needs to use the software.

Advantages of PCL

PCL could prove to be a big advantage in environments that have an assorted type of printers . Hospitals would be a good example of these situations. Currently, several printing jobs are being completed on laser printers, using PCL formatted files for the jobs. Having PCL enabled thermal printers allows a hospital to take advantage of the many advantages of the benefits of thermal printing technology without the amount of disruption in operations. A majority of hospital IT software, such as Meditech uses PCL label files which allows the printers to be easily integrated.

It will be interesting to see if more printer manufacturers decide to adopt PCL, either as the machine’s native OS or as an emulation. Currently, thermal label printers usually have to be treated differently to other printers.


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