- Microcom Corporation – thermal, ticketing and custom printers
- BOCA Ticket Printers – the standard in ticket printers and now thermal receipt printers.
- KFI Custom Printers – thermal and custom thermal printers.
Kiosk printers present challenges and opportunities. As a point of maintenance and of failure paper prints are the most demanding. Jammed printers mean someone has to unjam (or there is a secondary backup printer to failover to).
Out of paper is the most and it is almost deliberate in nature. Printers support remote monitoring status of Out of Paper, Low Paper, Jam, etc but most times that monitoring is not implemented. Ticket agents and lobby personnel end up doing much of the maintenance.
Printers are like cash in one sense. At some point in the future they will go away, maybe. At some point humans might travel to other galaxies too…
Printers are a great ROI metric. The print is the completion or close of transaction and while deployers like Amtrak will be interested in uptime and downtime, ultimately what they have to see is “how many tickets did we print/issue today?”
Modern printers support ethernet connectivity so they are no longer bound to a local PC as they have been. Mobiles have pushed printers into supporting bluetooth and wireless protocols.
Cost Comparison for Thermal versus Laser
- Thermal cost is close to 2 cents a 8.5 x 11
- Laser is 1.8 cents [Office Depot)
- Laser cartridges cost money
Standard Kiosk printer suppliers include:
- Brother (laser)
- Hecon Hengstler
- HP (laser)
- Star Printers
- Practical Automation
Ticket Printers (thicker stock, heavier cutter)
- Boca Lemur
- Practical Automation
- Star Micronics
The most common is direct thermal printing, which uses numerous small heating elements to print an image on temperature-sensitive paper.
Thermal printing advantages
- It uses very few moving parts, making thermal printing very reliable.
- There are no expendables other than the paper, so there are no added costs for ink or toner cartridges, and no related service-call costs for changing these cartridges
- Thermal printers are always ready to go; there is no delay for the first printout or warm-up time.
- Since heating the dots makes no sound, thermal printing is very quiet.
- Thermal printing can be very fast; 250 mm/second (about 10 inches/second) is common for small, receipt-type printers.
Thermal printing disadvantages
- Since the paper is designed to be heat-sensitive, it can be affected by extreme temperatures, and also by some chemical exposures, including PVC plastic sleeves and some hand lotions. (For information on thermal paper, follow Stephen Enfield’s blog.)
- Thermal paper has a finite life. The image can fade over time, and the lifespan depends upon exposure to light and some of the factors mentioned above. Typical life, however, is five years or more.
- Thermal paper is a little more expensive than plain paper, though this is easily offset by eliminating the cost of ink or toner cartridges.
- While narrow thermal printers are very price-competitive, wider A4- and letter-width models are more expensive than their ink jet or laser counterparts. Again, this is quickly offset by the lack of expendable costs.
- For practical purposes, thermal printing is a black and white process. While there are specialized papers that allow the printing of a two colors rather than one, these are very expensive and require ordering huge minimum paper lot sizes.
You’ve certainly been exposed to thermal printouts; the vast majority of receipts at supermarket and department store checkouts, gas stations, ATMs and the such are thermal.
You’re also probably familiar with laser printers. They are great for your office, providing excellent resolution and quality. A laser is used to scan a rotating drum of a special material, making the areas scanned “sticky” to toner. The drum rotates through a reservoir of toner and transfers it to the paper. Heaters “set” the toner so that it’s permanent. Individual sheets of paper are drawn from a stack and fed through the printer.
Laser printer advantages
- Higher resolution printout means very clear printing and very precise graphics, useful for maps, etc.
- Color printing possible.
Laser printer disadvantages
- Toner cartridge cost and associated service call.
- Paper width is generally limited to A4 or letter size, so laser is not a good choice where narrow paper would suffice, such as for receipting.
- Time to first page: Due to the heating that is a necessary part of the printing process, the time to print the first page is long. For example, one black and white laser printer boasts a time to first page of only 8.5 seconds. That’s a long time for someone waiting in front of a kiosk.
- Heat buildup: if you have ever sat next to a laser printer, did you notice that its fan turns on spontaneously now and then, even if not printing? This is because the heating elements have to be maintained at a certain level to minimize the time to first page. This heat accumulates in the kiosk, and must be exhausted by a cooling fan, carefully designed venting, or some other means.
- Power consumption: The constant heating increases the total power consumption of the kiosk.
- Sheet paper: There are several issues with sheet paper. First, you must print the entire sheet. So if an application needs only a small amount of information, the entire sheet is dispensed anyway. Second, sheet paper is more difficult for the printer to handle than roll paper, though laser printer manufacturers have become quite proficient in doing so. The key problem here is that reliability depends upon how carefully the paper is aligned, fanned to prevent sticking, and loaded into the tray by the maintainer. Finally, the paper supply is typically limited to 250 sheets, unless extended paper trays are used. Since a whole sheet is dispensed with each transaction, that is 250 transactions.
Ink jet printers work by spraying colored ink onto the paper as the printhead moves right and left across the paper. The paper is advanced after each pass of the printhead, and smart programming increases their speed by making rapid advances when no printing is needed.
Ink jet printer advantages:
- Full-color printing creates very attractive output.
- High resolution (usually better than thermal but not as good as laser)
Ink jet printer disadvantages
- Ink cartridge cost and associated service call.
- Paper width is generally limited to A4 or letter size, so ink jet is not a good choice where narrow paper would suffice, such as for receipting. There are a few specialty ink jet printers that are designed to print narrower paper.
- Ink jet printers have the same shortcomings as laser printers regarding sheet paper.
- Ink jet printers have a tendency to develop clogged nozzles from dried ink if not used for a protracted period. This can also manifest as a dot alignment problem. If printing takes place regularly, this is not usually an issue.
I’ll mention impact dot matrix printers here briefly; they are used infrequently in kiosks. A moving printhead has individual wires that are driven by solenoids and strike the paper through an ink ribbon. They are generally slow, noisy, and have low resolution (but adequate resolution if printing only receipt text, for example). They have the advantages of creating a permanent, ink-based printout and of being able to print through multi-part forms. In some geographic market segments, (ATMs in parts of Eastern Europe, for example), thermal printing is not allowed because it is not considered permanent. In those areas, dot matrix is used for most narrow printing applications.
Nice article by Charles Levinski from Kiosk Marketplace 2011