When Should You Purchase a Print and Apply Labeler?

Pre-printed labels are great for standard products, but they can’t do everything. There are many reasons why businesses need individualized labels (examples include internal logistics, shipping, date coding and legal compliance), and a print and apply label applicator can add these labels to containers quickly and with minimal errors. 

So, how do these machines fit in your workflow, and how can they benefit your business?

How Does a Print and Apply Label Applicator Work?

Print and apply labelers are very similar to standard applicators in regard to options for label positioning and application methods.

But, instead of drawing from a reel of pre-printed labels, a print and apply machine pulls blank or partially-printed labels through a device called a “print engine.” 

These machines are capable of printing at a high speed (constantly) to keep up with production lines. At CTM Labeling, our labelers come with engines from the three leading industrial printer manufacturers—Sato, Zebra and Datamax—giving customers a wide range of choices in label size, printing speed and reel size.

For example, our popular 360a integrated loose loop labeler can be fitted with Sato’s S84 print engine. Other models, like the 3600 Series servo tamp applicator can be fitted with engines from all three companies. As shown, it’s using a Zebra ZE500.

Along with label size and speed options, you can also choose between printers that handle direct thermal or thermal transfer printing.

The print engine on CTM Labeling Systems’ machines is controlled by a programmable logic controller (PLC). We load this industrial computer system with software that has everything needed to create a label design, including fonts, bar code generation, and even ways to load in graphics like product logos. 

Internal storage lets you put several label designs on one machine, switching to the correct design when you switch products. The PLC can interface with other parts of your production line, sharing information that needs to be on the label. During operation, label information can be checked using the built-in LCD screen, and the print engine has its own display and controls, helping you isolate and correct printing problems.

Where are Print and Apply Labelers Used?

Businesses choose print and apply labelers for their accuracy, speed and reliability. 

With these systems, the printer and labeler work together, which helps to ensure that critical information is placed in the same spot every time. Since print engines are designed for assembly lines, they’re faster, more reliable and easier to repair than stand-alone printers. 

Here are some common use cases for a print and apply machine:

Shipping and Manifest Systems

Each container needs an individual label for tracking through logistical systems. A print and apply labeler adds the correct information to each box passing through the system, whether it’s used for internal logistics or shipping.

Coding

While you may be able to use pre-printed labels for most information, there are plenty of things that are specific to each package. Adding a printer to production lets you incorporate date codes, serial numbers and other information on individual containers.

Compliance Labeling

Some customers may require custom labeling for compliance. (This can include shipping information, internal barcodes and business-specific information, as well as the placement of the container on a pallet.)

Pharmacy Labels

Each container needs an individual label. While a manual label applicator may be fine for local pharmacies, mail order businesses need to move large volumes of product out the door. Accuracy is critical to the safety of customers, making an integrated machine an enticing option.

Cross-Docking

The sooner you can get packages moved from inbound to outbound, the better. A print and apply labeler increases speed and accuracy when relabeling packages for the next stage in their journey.

Integrating Print and Apply with Your Production Line

Using the I/O ports, the PLC can communicate with other parts of your production line. (This lets you send information for each label.) Depending on the print engine, the system can connect wirelessly or via serial (RS-232), parallel (RS-422), wired Ethernet or USB connections. 

Here are some situations where this integration can be used:

  • A container enters your warehouse. The labeler adds a unique label to the container with a barcode and human-readable information. This lets you keep track of the container as it moves through your inventory system.
  • A container is shipping out. As it heads to your dock, scales, bar code scanners and other equipment gather information from the container. This data is sent to the PLC to create a label with all the necessary information for the shipping provider, including the weight, package contents and address.
  • Each container needs specific information, including expiration dates, production dates and serial numbers. The labeler is the last step in your logistics system, adding specific information to the container before it leaves your factory.

How Fast is a Print and Apply Applicator?

If you’ve dealt with labeling systems before, you know that the true measurement of speed comes from the length of labels. By reducing the label size, you increase the number of labels that can be applied in a given period. 

With print engines, you also have a second factor at play: dots per inch or “dpi.” This is the number of dots used to print an image. Using a lower dpi increases speed at the cost of label clarity and sharpness.

For example, a Sato S84-ex Series engine has a top speed of 6 ips (inches/sec) at 609 dpi. Dropping print quality down to 203 dpi increases speed to 16 ips. That’s using one third the resolution to get approximately a 260% increase in speed!

Bar codes, QR codes and other machine-readable labels are usually clear at all resolutions. However, there may be problems if graphic generation is handled outside of the labeler. That’s because the graphic is being slightly scaled, causing incorrect spacing and fuzzy borders. Fortunately, the PLC and print engine can handle code generation directly, ensuring clear, functional prints.

Reduce Errors and Improve Labeling Rates

If you’re looking for a better solution for your custom labeling problems, contact CTM Labeling Systems. We will discuss your needs and put you in contact with a local distributor that can set you up with a label applicator that meets your equipment and production requirements.