What Is A Barcode Or Thermal Printer?

We all recognize a barcode when we see one, but knowledge of the barcode or thermal printer behind that prints these barcodes is less common.  Think of the last time you purchased cold cuts from a local delicatessen or supermarket and saw the barcode label sealing the package, this label was printed on a barcode / thermal printer.

Package meat label

Ever order something through the Internet and receive it in labeled box?  These shipping labels were printed by a barcode or thermal printer as well.

Package with label

In a nutshell, thermal barcode printers take blank or partially preprinted labels and print variable information on them which often includes a scannable barcode.

So what is a Thermal Transfer or Barcode Printer?

A Thermal Transfer printer is sometimes referred to as a barcode printer; which is a non-impact printer that uses heat to register an impression on paper or a thin film material.  A thermal transfer printer has a print head containing many small resistive heating pins or cells that on contact, depending on the type of thermal transfer printer, melt wax-based ink onto ordinary paper or burn dots onto special coated paper.

sato printer
A microprocessor determines which individual heating pins are heated to produce the printed image. The print head spans the entire width of the paper or medium to be printed on. Thermal transfer printers are popular for printing bar codes, labels, price tags, and other specialty print jobs. There are two types of thermal transfer printers: direct thermal and thermal transfer.

  • Direct Thermal Printer: A direct thermal printer prints the image by burning dots onto coated paper as it passes over the heated print head.  Direct thermal printers do not use ribbons. Early fax machines used direct thermal printing. The paper has a special coating that turns black when heated.
  • Thermal Transfer: This type of printer uses a thermal transfer ribbon that contains wax-based ink. Heat is applied to the ribbon using a thermal printhead (same as in a direct thermal printer) that melts the ink transferring it to the paper or film substrate (labelstock where it becomes permanent). A typical thermal transfer ribbon consists of three layers: the base material, the heat melting ink, and the coating on the print side of the base material. The ribbon type will vary depending on what you need printed.

There are countless applications for thermal printing from healthcare to ticketing.  We here at Apogee Industries service more of the B2B applications such as manufacturing, warehousing and shipping / distribution applications.

sato logo

Apogee is an authorized distributor for SATO thermal printers.  SATO is a Japanese brand printer that is recognized as one of the best in the world.  They are considered as the “Toyota” of thermal printers, with a worldwide brand and outstanding value with unsurpassed dependability.

Apogee goes beyond providing thermal printers:

• Installation help:  Apogee will install, set up and train you on your thermal printing needs working with you directly or with third party integrator.

• Service & Repair: Apogee not only sells parts, we are one of the few label companies to repair and refurbish your printer.

• Spares: If you are stuck and can’t afford downtime we will swap you a spare while we fix your old printer.

• Label Recommendation and Printing: Since Apogee is primarily a label printer we will help you make the best decision on your label or tag needs – we KNOW what works!!

Everything Barcodes: Barcodes, Barcode Labels, and Barcode Label Printers

Barcodes have come a long way from a simple UPC (Universal Product Code), invented in the 1960s. The adoption of the Universal Product Code, on April 3, 1973, transformed bar codes from a technological curiosity into a business juggernaut. At that time, everything was run through the register by hand. Fast forward in time and now retailers use scanners to capture the coded information from the label. Additionally, packaging and labeling printers have overcome improper bar scanning issues that were commonplace in the past. Now there are visual and automated checks performed on-press to ensure that the barcodes are readable and accurate. At Apogee we inspect on press and off press with scanners and barcode checkers to verify accuracy and quality. The problems from the past have been eliminated.

bardcode 1d
Single Dimension or Linear Barcode

Barcodes are used in many applications with the most common being linear barcodes that are scanned with infrared scanner, and are part of the UPC’s on most packages, from shampoo to soda. Other barcodes are used for product tracking, such as work-in-process (WIP) inventory in production facilities or factories.
Label printers print everything from common UPC labels for food & beverage products, to 2d & 3d barcodes, as well as QR (quick read) codes that are sometimes sequentially numbered for asset management and logistics shipping.

2D & 3D Barcodes
2D & 3D Barcodes











If you are looking to label retail products with a barcode, you have to get your own UPC code. The UCC (Uniform Code Council) must be contacted and they will assign you the info that you need for the UPC. Once you have this information, Apogee can import this into software to generate UPC and other types of barcodes to drop into the label. If you are looking to create barcodes yourself, Apogee is an authorized reseller of thermal printing and barcoding systems. We can consult with you on the best barcode printing system for your application.

Apogee printer
SATO Brand Thermal Label Printer

Barcodes have become so ubiquitous we don’t even notice them and they are not too hard to understand. Apogee can help guide you by understanding with the type of barcode application and environment that the product will be used in, as a starting point towards making the best solution choice.

Blank Label Options and Solutions

Apogee Industries provides blank labels to customers as a result of the large growth of thermal printers, laser printers (both monochrome and color), and now ink jet printing for both cut sheet and roll labels. With these printers, customers are able to print labels for their applications on their own; however the label selection is critical to the success of the project. Apogee consults with customers to make sure they are getting the correct label solution.
Here are common questions Apogee uses to help determine the best recommendations:

  • What are the labels being applied to? (Rough surface or what type of material)
  • What environment will the label be subject to? (i.e. freezer, sun , heat)
  • How will the label be printed? (ink jet , thermal, laser)
  • Will the labels be auto or hand applied?
  • Do you have to comply with GHS (Global Harmonized System) standards or the BS 5609 standard within GHS.

Apogee Blank Labels

Custom Labels vs. Stock Labels:
Apogee Industries manufactures custom blank labels in house on presses designed to produce blank labels. Our facility includes three other large, 8 color presses to print the labels for customers who need color label printing. For more common sized or standard blank labels Apogee will carry stock on many of these labels which can be ordered directly with quick delivery times.
The main differences between custom labels and blank labels:

  • Specific quantities per roll
  • Special material
  • Core size
  • Adhesive need
  • Finished packaging

Many small to medium sized companies from the chemical, food, and household goods industries have been making labels in-house on their own thermal printers, ink-jet printers, or laser printers and Apogee has been there to consult them with their equipment (printer) decisions. Apogee will help you make the right decision regarding decisions for label printers and blank labels. We will also advise you what not to print yourself and let Apogee print it for you. Equipping you with knowledge, information and confidence to make the right decision is what we do!

Common Automatic Labeling Problems and Solutions

Automatic labeling systems may run into occasional problems. The labeler is typically the equipment that either fully automatically applies a label or semi-auto applies a label. A customer may have an issue where the label is not applying properly, which is typically either a problem with the label printer or the piece of application equipment. Either way, Apogee Industries are experts at solving these issues.

Here are some typical problems with automatic label application. For these types of issues we look at the following adjustments and solutions:

Problem – Liner tears during application:

The peel tip on the applicator might need to be replaced or repaired; or it might need UHMW tape (Ultra High Molecular Weight). This is like Teflon Tape only more slippery. It could also be very minute tears on the side of the paper liner which is caused at the label plant. A good sales rep should spot the differences.

Problem – Label follows Peel Tip during application :

If this occurs then possible solutions are: The tension on the applicator might be too low or the applicator is improperly webbed. Additionally, the die strikes from the label plant may be bad; have your sales rep check this and ask if the label plant is using measuring gauges on press to monitor this issue. Adhesive coat weights or adhesive voids could be another cause. Again an experienced label representative should be able to spot this.

Problem – Clear Label won’t apply during application.

Many applicators use a dark/light sensor to sense the gap between the labels. The first solution is to have your label printer print a black timing (or eye) mark on the backside if the liner. You can also switch to an ultrasonic sensor which sends out sound waves to measure the label gap.

Problem – Die Strikes

  • Die strikes are usually the most common problem with auto application and are the responsibility of your label plant.
  • The tooling used to die cut labels is very precise, however the tooling will wear out over time
  • Tooling can be repaired and re-sharpened and replaced
  • Use die gauges on press to determine if they are wearing out
  • Ask the label vendor about tooling to ensure a quality label and application

Apogee Industries Inc. is an exclusive source and supplier for pressure sensitive labels and a distributor for labeling equipment and label printers. The company also sells product handling equipment that is often needed for most applications. Typical machine types:

  • Semi-Automatic Machines – The product handler is a person
  • Fully automatic machines – The product handling is either a combination of person and machine or exclusively a machine.

Most common product handling machinery is conveyor systems that carry the product along to the label applicator then often orient the package to the correct position just before the applicator.

The company has extensive experience with automatic labeling equipment and is a primary distributor for CTM Labelers and. Apogee provides:

  • Equipment Sales & Service
  • Installation & repairs
  • Parts & consulting
  • Rental machines
  • Equipment troubleshooting
  • Parts & consulting

Logo 2

Logo 1

Apogee Industries serves multiple industries and applications:

  • Beverage
  • Dairy
  • Food
  • Chemical
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Health & Beauty (Cosmetic)
  • Contract Packagers
  • Machine Integrators