Color Label Solutions

Color Label Solutions

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Thermal Transfer VS Color Inkjet

Color labels cost too much” or something similar is probably the most common objections I hear from people.  Most people “know” that monochrome thermal transfer labels are much less expensive than print on-demand color labels. 

After comparing printing labels with color lasers to the Epson inkjet color label printers (,  I wanted to look at the cost differences between thermal transfer printers and the print on-demand color label printers from Epson.

As background, I decided to gain a better understanding in the differences between the types of thermal transfer ribbons; wax, wax/resin and resin.  This Wikepedia entry covers the basics;

Wax ribbons are for printing onto paper labels.  These labels must be kept dry and must not be abraded or subjected to certain chemicals or oil, which would dissolve the wax image.
* Wax/resin ribbons produce a finer image on very smooth paper or coated paper labels. The printed image is much more durable than wax, but can still only stand slight contact with water.
Pure resin ribbons are formulated to print onto plastic labels such as polyester, polypropylene and vinyl. The "ink" is designed to slightly dissolve into or adhere to the plastic surface of the label and becomes extremely durable, depending on the plastic material and ribbon used.

To complete this analysis, I first looked into the cost of thermal transfer ribbons.  The first thing I found is that the cost of thermal ribbons has increased significantly.  In this article from VDC (, they discussed the impact of raw material constraints on prices for thermal ribbons.  It seems the same films used in thermal transfer ribbons are being used in more profitable applications such as flat screen displays.  VDC predicts users may switch to a different technology away from thermal transfer.

And here is a 5% to 10% price increase from a specific manufacturer of thermal transfer ribbons (  This same manufacturer suggests price increases will continue.

To look at the cost of ribbons, I found on the Zebra website at a list of recommended ribbons for the ZM400.  From this page, you can click "Buy Ribbon Supplies" to get the price of these products.  From this page, I found the other consumable cost for thermal transfer printers; print heads.

After getting the prices for the different ribbons and printhead, I converted the costs to MSI (thousand square inches).  By making this conversion, I can compare the printing cost between thermal transfer, laser and inkjet printers.  One key point to remember:  laser and inkjet printers are rated on ISO standard images that cover a small percentage of the page (see images at the previous post;  Thermal Transfer printers cost the same amount for 1% or 100% coverage.

For the thermal transfer ribbons and printhead, the cost per MSI ranged from $0.31 for the standard wax ribbon to $2.71 for the premium resin ribbon.


When adding in the costs per MSI for the laser and inkjet printers, you’ll find the costs of many of the monochrome thermal transfer printers are actually higher.


Based on this analysis, if you or your customers are using resin or wax/resin ribbons, you may save money by switching to the Epson TM-C3400 or the new GP-C831.  Assuming the type of coverage depicted in the ISO charts, the new GP-C831 may be the least expensive means to print labels on-demand, either monochrome or color.

After reviewing this analysis, you may want to rethink the actual cost of thermal transfer printing; and adding color may not be that much more expensive.  If interested in learning more about the cost of printing or adding color to labels, give me a call to discuss.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Laser Versus Inkjet

“How much would this label cost to produce” is one of the most common questions I get.  From my experience, the reason prospects and resellers ask this question frequently is that most people believe color costs significantly more than monochrome.

But now, color and images are required in more and more labels.  For example, the UN initiative, Global Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) requires labels to include pictograms and icons of different colors. 

GHS Brief:

In addition, many manufacturers find producing color labels on demand reduces costs when compared to purchasing preprinted color labels.

Mercury Medical:

Given the need to produce color labels on demand, I decided (with the assistance of Andy Scherz, Product Manager, Epson) to review the costs of producing labels on color laser printers versus the Epson ColorWorks label printers, TM-C3400 and the GP-C831.

To start, I found a list of the top selling workgroup color laser printers.  Workgroup printers are designed to produce large quantities, with relatively large consumable supplies.   

For the top three printers, I gathered the ISO 19798 Standard Page Yield for these printers.  This standard established the process to determine standard page yields to enable product comparisons.  To learn about ISO standard page yields, check out these summaries:

From Dell:

To determine yields, companies like HP and Dell print the same 5 defined standard test pages in replicated trials until the cartridges are depleted.  Check out these images:

To determine costs, I divided the price per cartridge by the yield.  I got both the costs and yield information from the respective company’s website.  From this number, I calculated the cost per MSI (thousand square inch).  I wanted to get to a cost per MSI to compare the laser printers to both the TM-C3400 and GP-C831.

For the Dell 5130 cdn color laser printer (, the cost per MSI was $0.75.


To fill this printer with toner, it costs $872!!

For the Lexmark C748 de (, the cost per MIS was $0.99.


For the Lexmark C792 de (, the cost per MSI was $1.01.


To determine the yield for both the TM-C3400 and the GP-C831 printers, Andy Scherz ran all 5 images through the estimation tool Epson has available for each printer.  I understand that Epson did not actually print the images until the cartridges were depleted; but the analysis is a good representation of the final results.

For the TM-C3400, the cost per MSI was $0.68.


The TM-C3400 was up to 1/3 less cost per MIS than standard color lasers printers.  Plus, the TM-C3400 uses roll or flat fan feed, which is significantly more reliable than sheet fed media handling used by the laser printers.  Finally, the TM-C3400 includes the capability to print one label at a time, instead of an entire sheet, reducing wasted labels.

The GP-C831 was even less expensive, with a cost per MSI of $0.24.


The GP-C831 uses pin-fed media, one of the most reliable media feed technologies available.  The GP-C831 is perfect for producing 8” x 11” drum labels for the chemical industry to meet the GHS requirements.

Overall, this analysis show the significant cost advantage of using color inkjet printers to produce on-demand color labels when compared to laser printers.

If you or your customers are using laser printers currently to produce labels, consider moving to one of the Epson inkjet printers.  You’ll save lots of money while getting outstanding and durable print quality as well as outstanding media handling.

Guy Mikel

Monday, February 4, 2013

Minimum Order Quantities Cost Money

General Data (www.general-data.coman industry-leading provider of innovative labeling, bar coding, RFID, automated data collection and mobility solutions, enables organizations to streamline workflow, minimize errors, better manage critical data, and improve business process accuracy, productivity and performance. General Data’s products and technical application expertise are put to use by companies in diverse industries across the globe to solve the most challenging identification and data management problems.

Production Labels with the names/logos covered from my sample book

One of General Data’s customers, a world-leading Ohio manufacturer with sales in more than 90 countries, was looking to cut costs and streamline labeling operations. The manufacturer produces 3,500 unique SKUs sold under its own name, as well its OEM brand names. The company faced a challenge with its previous labeling solution. To support its OEM customers’ labeling requirements, which included various label sizes and shapes for each product, the manufacturer resorted to purchasing pre-printed color labels. Ordering the pre-printed labels proved costly, due to large minimum order requirements, resulting in unneeded surplus and the need to stock large inventories. In addition, since the labels arrived in large pre-printed batches, the company faced large amounts of waste when their OEM customers required the slightest change to a label.

Initially, General Data designed and delivered seven different label formats to meet the needs of 50 SKUs, and the manufacturer saw immediate enhancements to its labeling process. Epson’s TM-C3400 label printer, combined with specialized media from General Data, offered the manufacturer a print-on-demand labeling solution.

“There was some initial concern that inkjet printing would not provide sufficiently colorful and durable labels to meet our customer’s requirements,” stated Grant Grooms, Vice President of Sales with General Data. “However, Epson is the leader in inkjet technology, and I knew that the pigmented inks would be colorful and durable if matched with the right media. We listened to what our customer needed and delivered the glossy labels that were required. Our customer is very pleased with the outcome.”

“An alternative to the Epson solution would be color thermal transfer printers, which are priced around $13,000,” commented Grant. “Epson’s TM-C3400 is around $1,500. When you factor in the print heads and ribbons required with color thermal transfer versus one cartridge for the inkjet, not to mention the ongoing maintenance costs and form factor of thermal transfer printers – which are double the size of the Epson – there really is no comparison.”

In the first month the General Data / Epson solution was installed, the manufacturer printed approximately 450,000 labels, saving over $20,000. In addition to the initial costs savings, the manufacturer is utilizing the Epson inkjet cartridge recycling program to reduce waste. This program enables a manufacturer to return the cartridges free of charge to reduce the waste. The Epson inkjet cartridge recycling program complements company commitments to environmental stewardship. With facilities that are ISO 14001 certified for environmental management systems as well as ISO 9001 certified for quality management systems, the manufacturer has demonstrated a strong commitment to sustainable manufacturing practices.

“Our customer is so impressed with the General Data / Epson solution that the customer is considering relocating label production to the factory floor so labels for more SKUs can be produced on demand at the end of our production lines,” commented Grant.

If you or your customers are required to purchase large minimum orders of preprinted labels, consider moving to print on-demand color labels.  You’ll save money and reduce your costs.

Guy Mikel