Receipt printers are an important part of a point of sale (POS) system. They are used in retail environments to print credit card slips and customer receipts. Restaurants also use receipt printers to print off orders back in the kitchen or at the bar.
The main options for choosing receipt printers include thermal printers (most common), dot matrix printers, and ink jet printers.
Dot Matrix Printers
Dot matrix printers, also known as impact printers, are the least expensive option, are very reliable, and involve minimal operating costs (replacing paper and ribbons). Dot matrix printers have tiny pins that are mounted on the print head, which work with an ink ribbon to produce a series of dots that form the letters on the paper. They can often print in two colors, black and red, and are capable of printing graphics.
Dot matrix printers usually range from $175 to $350. They are popular for kitchen environments, since kitchen temperatures are not optimal for thermal printers to work effectively.
(Image, top: Star SP700 Impact Printer, used with permission from Star Micronics.)
(Image, right: Star SP700 Ink Ribbon, used with permsission from POS Supplies Online.)
Thermal printers cost more than dot matrix printers (ranging from $300 to $500), but are more popular due to their improved print quality, faster speed, and quieter functioning. Thermal printers print by direct contact between the thermal head (which generates heat) and thermal paper (which is thermally coated to be sensitive to heat). Therefore thermal printers do not require ink or toner, and over time this helps to make up for the higher initial cost. More recent developments in thermal printing include multi-colored thermal printing, and double-sided printing for receipts.
(Image, left: Star TSP100ECO Thermal Printers, used with permission from Star Micronics.)
(Image, right: Thermal Paper Rolls, used with permission from POS Supplies Online.)
Ink jet printers
Ink jet printers have print heads that shoot tiny droplets of liquid ink onto the paper. They may worth considering if you want high quality, color logos, or coupons printed on your receipts, but the cost of replacing ink cartridges is substantial.
- How will your receipt printer connect, or interface, with your computer? The 3 types of interfaces are RS-232 Serial, Parallel, and USB. Make sure to think through what types and how many ports are available on your computer, as well as any other peripherals that will also need to be connected through the existing ports.
- Is the receipt printer compatible with your POS software? Most are, but it's best to check with the software vendor before purchasing.
- Do you have or plan to implement a printer connected cash drawer? If so, you will need to make sure the receipt printer is compatible to the cash drawer.
- Printer resolutions (DPI)
- Printer speed
- Does it use a tear bar or auto cutter to cut the paper? An auto paper cutter may be worth a little extra for the added convenience.
- Changing paper rolls should be fast and easy, so you don’t ever have to keep customers waiting. (Image, right: "Drop in and print paper load," used with permission from Star Micronics).
- Budget. Receipt printers can cost as little as $175 and as much as $800. While budget is always a factor, make sure you invest wisely to accommodate your needs.
- How green is the receipt printer? Some companies make more of an effort to implement energy saving technology in their receipt printers, and also to reduce the amount of paper that is used in printing receipts. Both of these factors are not only more environmentally friendly, but can result in significant savings over time.
Finally, issues of name brand, reliability, and warranty options are important considerations for making sure you get the most from your investment in a receipt printer.
Christophe Naasz, Marketing Director of Star Micronics, offers this advice: “One of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a POS printer is the support team behind the printer. Support needs to be geographically based. For example, for North American customers, the support center needs to be located in North America.”
Christophe also emphasizes the need to keep up with rapid changes in technology and software development, especially with the current trend of mobile platforms being used in retail, restaurants, and other businesses. “The support team must have a software development background and knowledge in the latest developing tools, such as iOS and Android. This knowledge needs to be openly shared and available to VARs and developers. Star provides SDKs to help developers integrate our products quickly into these new OS.”
Carefully considering these factors should help you make the right decision for your business. Here are some manufacturer websites for receipt printers:
How to Computerize Your Small Business. New Yord: John Wiley & Sons Publishers, Inc. Aberle. (1995).
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