Do I need a kiosk thermal printer and what kind?
Last updated March 16th, 2021
We get questions from all over. Recently we received several questions regarding kiosk thermal printers. Printers generally are 80mm thermal though there are a ton of 58mm used in automated gas station pumps. Wide thermals are often used in situations like hospitals for patient check-in where a complete form, letter size, needs to be printed.
Printers for kiosks are generally open-frame and are internally mounted along with roll of paper, which can vary in size. If you are printing badges or tickets, then the thickness comes into play along with the cutter. Thermal printers come in desktop versions as well. The most common one you see might be the super-inexpensive TM88 from Epson. Its biggest draw is it is very easy to replace the paper roll. The problem is you may want a bigger roll.
Thermal kiosk printers are a bit like Cash in that there are those that will predict declining usage. The fact is that customers decide what devices are used (and to an extent deployers), and when they want it, they get it. We see printers on every one of the self-order kiosks from McDonald’s. In controlled environments (e.g., South Korea), it can be different.
And printers change. One of the newer receipt printers noted below supports display and component input/output and lets you load kiosk software onto the printer. It is a twist on aggregated computing devices for sure.
And for reference, we do have a dedicated page for printer manufacturers (we’ll add this article as a link on it).
Thermal Printer Paper
A quick note on printer paper. There are complete dissertations on printer paper, but some of the more relevant characteristics for purposes of this article are:
- thermal printer paper is coated and reacts to heat. Generally, it is one-sided. Employees putting paper rolls in the reverse is a problem there.
- It only retains the image for a certain period of time, depending on the paper.
- The cheapest rolls of thermal printer paper are from retail stores like OfficeMax.
- They are also the lowest quality and result in more problems.
- A very large paper roll can weigh quite a bit and might be difficult for some employees to manage.
- Label stock is different printer – different paper. McDonalds used to use the low-end Epson but for its drive-thru a heftier version was used to print adhesive labels to put on the bags. Eventually, they just standardized on the heftier Epson version across the board.
Receipt Printer Regulations
There are regulations that come into play for thermal kiosk printers.
- In the UK and Europe — the EMV regulations require a printed receipt. It has since been amended to “offering a printed option.” Text msgs and emails now use a “virtual printer” to manage that.
- In the US there are no legal requirements as far as point-of-sale goes.
- In the US — if there is cardholder data printed, then PCI SSC says you must mask numbers.
- In the US — the HIPAA regulations come into play when patient information is printed. Those printers universally come with an auto-retract should the patient/etc. fail to take their print.
Wide Format Thermal Printer Providers
There are several manufacturers of wide-format thermal printers. Kiosk oldtimers remember the days of Swecoin, the looping presenter, and the ttp8200. Swecoin US and Swecoin SE (Tommy Wincent of note). They are no longer available. Here are two recommended:
More Kiosk Thermal Receipt Printers (and Ticket Printers)
- Microcom Corporation – thermal, ticketing, and custom printers
- Practical Automation – thermal, ticketing, and custom printers
- Axiohm – for all your printing needs, whatever they are
- EVOLIS – Card printers
- BOCA Printers – the standard in ticket printers and now thermal receipt printers.
- StarMicronics – thermal printers of all types
- Nanoptix – Your global provider of printing solutions and technologies for the Gaming, Lottery, Kiosk, and Amusement markets
We checked with several companies on perspective on kiosk printers. It’s always useful to get some industry viewpoint.
I think there are three reasons.
The customer wants proof of purchase.
The customer wants a printout of their order number.
The restaurant wants to verify that the right person is picking up the order.
I think retailers are moving to offering the receipt being shown on a customer’s cell over needing a paper order acknowledgment, so I think that will go away sooner over later.
Certainly from a kiosk operation perspective, printers are a pain on many levels, and whenever defining a new kiosk application, the question almost always comes up from the client how to eliminate needing a printer. Now that texting solutions are very mature, it is a no-brainer to use texting with email as a plan B. Only issue is those without cell or email, or those not wanting to share their cell or email address.
Gas pumps are interesting – not sure when printing receipts will go away, though I guess since some locations require you to enter your zip code to validate your credit card, it isn’t too much of a stretch to enter your cell # too. The key is for it to arrive quickly on your cell
From Across the Pond —
Here is my two-penneth… hope it helps!
In the UK and Europe (not sure about USA, but as Chip and PIN is coming, I assume it may roll in with it), there is a requirement by the Chip and PIN providers (unattended and otherwise) that for EMV certification, a receipt is provided which must include certain items of information (date, value, unique reference, etc – enabling payments to be queried, etc). This does not need to include the items purchased (unless the print out IS the thing they purchased – such as a railway ticket, venue ticket, event ticket, etc which needs manual validation at some point).
However, due to the costs and potential lost revenue of printer paper running out/jamming, the requirement has recently been reduced so that the OFFER of a receipt is provided, and that in itself does not need to be on paper- if the customer provides a digital means (SMS, email), then the receipt can be provided by that service instead (note: this opens another can of worms with the customer not necessarily realising the personal information then is stored and why).
This is especially useful, as the paper used by these printers is NOT recyclable – unlike days of old, printers over the last 20 + years typically are thermal based, so there is a ceramic coating which, when heated turns black – but this coating makes the paper un-recyclable.
Also – depending on how high-trafficked the service is, the size of the roll may need to be large, just to prevent the unit from running out (and of course, unable to ‘vend’ if the printer cannot print the receipt). The issue here is that the printer paper roll can then be very heavy and due to ADA requirements (and, often women being the ones to change the roll, and sometimes less able to carry what can be very heavy rolls), there is a trade-off between size of roll and how often to change them.
Paper roll sizes are arbitrary as you can amend the printout layout to be an appropriate size. Simple card payment receipts are often smaller and a ‘slip’ of paper as there are only a few items of information to show, whereas retail receipts tend to contain long lists of long description items – these need more space and usually have wider rolls. Ticket printers and similar tend to also use the larger 80mm size (although the feeders are always adjustable), and thicker / security paper.
In some cases, for long printouts, some retails have changed to ‘double sided’ paper (I think Epson supports this in-printer), so that only half of the paper length is actually used, with the receipt for your good spanning both sides.
Even a few years ago (at least 5), Epson, Star Micronics, etc realised that less printers were being required for services, so were already addressing ‘digital’ forms of providing receipts – essentially providing a website version of the receipts as a service, with simple ‘virtual printer’ functions so the kiosk software manufacturers had little to no requirement to change their software.
Most people of course nowadays (with ‘contactless’ and ‘mobile’ payments, etc) find receipt s ‘hassle’ and often just cram the receipt into their pocket, handbag, etc with no further review, as the information about the transaction is usually kept on their device or instantly reviewable online now anyway.
However, when, last year using an ATM the cash counter failed on me, I at least had a receipt to prove the transaction had occurred (and they were able to review CCTV footage), so sometimes the presence of a piece of paper can reinforce the feeling of security.
Printers have come a long way since I first used them in the 1980s for printing coupons and recipes, and although the printers themselves have some smart internal technology for handling printouts (usually for legacy or simple systems), many Windows and other ‘large’ OS kiosks have a printer driver capable of creating the images to make the printout looks however you want it to look. The only 2 key items then are: paper LOW sensors (which we can then interpret and send a warning to an engineer to visit instead of when the paper OUT or JAM sensors are triggered, giving them some time to change the rolls prior to the unit stopping), and the print/eject mechanism, or Presenter (which if I recall is patented by a manufacturer called Swecoin and licensed to Star, custom, etc – I was involved in the Star and Swecoin original work) and prevents the paper from being given too early and people like me jamming the printer by taking the printout too early before the cut, as well as retaining the printout if not taken (in case of personal information being present, etc).
A printer or terminal would need to pass some general certifications (such as RoHS, UL, EMC, CE) before it can be sold.
There are a number of benefits to using 80mm wide paper vs 58mm.
1. The wider print area allows more information per line printed reducing the length of paper needed which actually reduces the frequency of paper roll changes.
2. Most thermal printers, like our HSVL Advanced or Orizon NextGen printers, are built to support up to 80 to 82.5mm wide paper with support for smaller sizes. Very few printers are made specifically for 58mm.
3. With regards to your comment regarding paper jams, at least without printers, they don’t occur based on the paper width.
At the end of the day it often just falls on what the customer needs to print and 58mm is often a bit too narrow.
With our latest kiosk printer, the Orizon, not only are we providing operators and kiosk manufacturers with the most durable and innovative printer of its kind, but we are also providing an opportunity to reduce the overall bill of materials. The printer comes loaded with a Linux operating system providing the opportunity to load kiosk software onto the printer instead of having separate hardware. The printer also includes HDMI out and additional USB connection to connect to a monitor and to additional peripherals. See full brochure and spec sheet attached.