FAQ – Common Issues & Questions When Printing Labels: Part 1 Printers

We’re doing a two part special on the most common problems that arise when printing labels, starting with printer issues.

Can I print on ANY of your labels with my desktop laser / inkjet printer?
NO. Some of our ranges are designed to be used with laser or inkjet printers ONLY.
You CANNOT print onto inkjet labels with a laser printer or onto laser labels with an inkjet printer. The materials are designed to work with one of the two printing processes and you will find that they will not work well (or at all) with the other.

What’s the difference between laser and inkjet printers / printing processes?
Laser printers use heat and pressure to bond toner (a dry powder) onto the surface of the medium being printed, while inkjet printers disperse ink (a liquid) onto the medium being printed where it dries to form the final print with some or all of the ink being absorbed into the top layer of the labels.

I have a laser printer but I’m having problems with the print coming off my labels. What’s happening?
There are a couple of things that could be causing this. The most common reason for print scratching off is that not enough heat and/or pressure has been applied during the printing process. To correct this, you should check your printer’s settings and ensure that the media type or weight is set to either a “Labels” setting (if your printer has one) or a “Heavy Paper” setting. This causes the printer to slow down and increase the heat applied during printing. Alternatively, the problem may be with the material you are printing. As the laser printing process requires heat, many papers designed specifically for use in laser printers will contain moisture to help the toner bond in place; if your labels have been stored incorrectly they may have dried out, which causes the toner to rub off after printing. This can also occur if you try to feed the same sheet of labels through a laser printer twice; paper labels lose some of their moisture as they are printed, which means that there may not be enough moisture to print them properly if you attempt to put them through the printer for a second time.

I have an inkjet printer but I’m having problems with the print smearing. What’s happening?
As with laser printers, there are a few potential causes for this problem. Firstly, you should check if your sheet of labels has come into contact with water or other liquids. Inkjet inks are water based, which means that if they come into contact with liquids they will run or smudge. Secondly, your printer may be dispersing too much ink or the top coating of your labels may be oversaturated with ink; in either case, the ink isn’t dry properly, which leads to smearing. This can occur in designs that include a lot of different colours or large blocks of colour (you can work around this by reducing the amount of colour in your design or purchasing coloured labels). The best way to solve this issue is to alter two of your printer’s settings, “Print Quality” and “Paper Type”. The print quality settings allow you to prioritise either the print quality or the print speed. A “Best” or “Photo” print quality setting makes the printer operate more slowly but with the dispersal of more ink to create a higher quality of print, so you may wish to try the “Normal” or “Draft” settings. The paper type setting will also adjust how the printer runs in order to create the best possible print results for the type of paper being printed onto (such as coated, uncoated, photo paper, or gloss paper). You may also want to consider removing the labels from your printer as soon as they are printed so you can place them on a flat surface while the ink dries properly. A final possibility is that there is an incompatibility between the label material and the printer/inks you are using; inks have slightly different compositions, which can produce a large variety in the print quality. Try using a different printer/inks to see if you get better results.

I’m trying to print a coloured background but I’m getting a white border down one or more of the edges.
Unless you buy a printer with edge to edge printing, you’re probably running into an issue with printable and unprintable areas. Most printers cannot print to the very edge of an A4 sheet, which means there is an area that they can print (the printable area) and an area around the edge of the sheet that they cannot print (the unprintable area). Unfortunately, there is little you can do if your labels fall outside the printable area of the sheet. You may need to take your labels to a printer or get hold of a printer that is capable of edge to edge printing, choose a different size or layout of label (so that all of the labels fall within the printable area), remove your coloured background, or use coloured labels.

My printer isn’t accepting my labels / my labels are jamming in the printer.
The most common cause for this is unclean printers. Over time excess ink or toner builds up in your printer, along with dust and grime, which can cause printers to stop functioning properly. You should use an alcohol based cleaner on a regular basis to help avoid this problem; you may want to set a regular schedule for cleaning your printer or simply give it a quick clean each time you replace the ink or toner cartridges. The build-up can affect all parts of your printer, including the print head (in inkjet printers), the fuser unit and image drum (in laser printers), and the rollers. This can cause a multitude of problems including poor quality print, sheets jamming in the printer, or sheets not being accepted into the printer to begin with.
Other causes of sheets jamming include using the standard paper tray instead of the media bypass tray (which is designed specifically for thicker materials), using materials that are incompatible with your particular printer (some printers can only accept materials up to a certain thickness, while others may only be able to process paper), or feeding the labels into the printer in the wrong orientation (the fibres in paper lie in one common direction; this is the “grain” and if you feed labels into your printer against the grain they will jam or even start peeling off the backing sheet while they are in the printer). If you have a laser printer, you may also want to check for issues with your fuser unit; when fuser units start to fail they are more likely to overheat, which causes the adhesive in the labels to spread and the sheets will jam. If you find that the labels or your printer are unusually hot, or if standard paper feels hot to the touch after printing, then you may need to replace your fuser unit.

I want to produce waterproof labels, can I use my inkjet printer?
NO. Inkjet printers use water based inks, which means that if the print comes into contact with water or other liquids it will run or smudge. Laser printers, however, use heat and pressure to bond toner (a dry powder) into place, which means the print is fully waterproof.

My design is printing out skewed. What’s happening?
When your labels are printed, they are pulled through your printer by a set or sets of rollers. As each sheet passes through these rollers there is a slight chance that the sheet might rotate very slightly. To prevent the risk of this happening, you should use the media bypass tray; this tray is usually located just above or below the standard paper tray, which creates a straighter path through the printer (with fewer sets of rollers).

I’ve printed my template on two different printers; why is the alignment different for each one?
Simply put, all printers are slightly different, which means the accuracy of the alignment can vary by a few millimetres. If you are intending to use different printers, you will need to do a test print for BOTH printers, and you may need to make adjustments for each one.

I’m looking to buy a new printer, can you help?
While we don’t supply printers ourselves, we do have a few hints and tips to get you started:

Laser or Inkjet: inkjet printers used to be more popular because they were capable of cheaper, high quality print in vivid colour, but nowadays laser printers are available that can produce excellent quality colour print at similar prices. You should consider the types of documents and items you need to print and remember – if you want to create waterproof labels you will need a laser printer.

Costs: when working out your budget, you need to factor in both the cost of the printer AND the long term costs of replacing the consumables that go with it. While toner cartridges for laser printers are more expensive than inkjet cartridges, you need to remember that toner cartridges are bigger than inkjet cartridges, so you’ll need to replace your inkjet cartridges much more often. For either type of printer, you should also check if the printer will accept compatible (and often cheaper) cartridges from third party manufacturers/suppliers. If you are purchasing an inkjet printer, you also need to check if you will need to buy two cartridges (one black and one colour) or four cartridges (one black, one magenta, one cyan, and one yellow).

All in One versus Standard Printers: all in one printers (which do multiple functions such as faxing, copying, and scanning documents) often seem like a good, cheap alternative to a standard printer but it’s worth considering this choice carefully. While they may save you money and space, they are often designed to do a multitude of functions to a reasonable standard, rather than performing a specific function to a high standard – so if print quality is an important factor, you may wish to avoid the all in one models.

Printer Specifications: it is always worth checking through and comparing the specifications of the models you are looking at. You should ensure that the duty cycle of the printer (the number of pages a printer should be able to print in a certain time frame while maintaining a consistent quality of print and standard of operation) exceeds the amount of printing you will need to do, and – if labels are a definite requirement – you should ensure that the printer has a media bypass tray and check the manual to see what materials/thicknesses the printer is able to handle.

Printer Models: from our own experience, we’ve found that OKI printers have a high duty cycle, produce a high quality print on a range of label materials, and have short paths through the printer to improve accuracy of alignment. HP printers are also capable of printing labels to a high standard.

Part two of this special post will be available on our blog tomorrow.

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