Moving towards inkjet technology for receipt printing–why couldn’t this be done

When most of us do business with banks or shops or simply run a business, we have to deal with paper receipts and journals. Typically this involves the use of a printer that prints on to a paper tape of some form, whether integrated in a cash-register, EFTPOS terminal or an automatic teller machine; or as a standalone device connected to a computer-based point-of-service system of some sort.

Similarly, this class of “tape printer” is also being put to use as a label printer in most business applications like travel or healthcare. But this label-printer application is becoming relevant in the general office space for addressing envelopes on an as-needed basis.

In the home, It may also be relevant as a coupon or receipt printer for interactive TV applications such as “claiming” special offers that are promoted alongside TV commercials or buying goods from TV shopping. It can also be relevant for “as-needed” label printing in the home office.

The main problem is that there are two main printing methods used with this class of printer. One is an impact printer that works like the old dot-matrix printers and uses a ribbon to print on to cheaper plain paper. The other is a direct-thermal printer which uses heat to print on to special paper, like the first-generation fax machines.

Usage problems

Both these technologies yield a fair share of problems with the useability of these dockets. The impact printer is based around a ribbon which can cause the print quality to deteriorate as the machine is being used. At worst, the docket or journal can end up being hard to read when the ribbon is nearly at the end of its life.

The thermal printer which relies on the special paper can cause problems of its own when it comes to handling the receipts or journals. For example, the paper is known to fade over time and this becomes worse with receipts that are kept in a wallet that rests in someone’s hip pocket because of the contact with one’s body heat. This can be an issue if you have to keep the receipts over a significant amount of time, which would be required of a business or individual in order to satisfy the taxman.

Another issue is that the paper can be very slippery and this can cause problems when writing on the receipt or journal with most ballpoint pens. This may be of importance if you have to sign a receipt at the point of sale when paying by credit card. As well, customers may have to sign or annotate the receipt after the sale for tax or reimbursement purposes.

It also makes it hard to use an automatic document feeder on a scanner, fax machine or copier with these documents if you have to copy, scan or fax them. In these situations, you are not likely to have consistent and reliable feed-through behaviour and at worst, you could have frequent paper jams.

Inkjet technology for this printer class

One improvement that I would like to see is for manufacturers to use inkjet technology for this class of printer. Here, the printer could use an integrated printhead cartridge like what most cheaper inkjet printers use or use technologies like the pipe-based ink-distribution technology used in Brother inkjet printers like the MFC-6490.

Previous designs

Canon has tried this idea previously with a few of its printing calculators by using a “BubbleJet” mechanism as the printhead but not many other manufacturers caught on to this idea.

What could it offer

A printer based on this technology would use cheaper plain-paper rolls for regular receipt and journal printing. If it were to print labels, it could use regular and cheaper plain-paper labels, rather than special thermal-paper labels.

The inkjet technology can also support colour printing in a cost-effective manner, whether as a basic two-colour setup or as a full-colour setup. This can open up application paths like colour emphasis or full brand preservation on customer-facing documents. In the home, it could appeal to personal “as-needed” labelling applications like “ownership” labels used for things like books and recorded music, or labels used on jars of homemade preserves where these labels convey full personal flair.

If the mechanism uses the pipe-based ink-distribution technology, it could use higher-capacity cartridges which would be useful for high-throughput applications like kiosks, gaming machines, high-turnover point-of-sale or ATMs.

Limitations

One limitation that may surface for this class of printer is the size of the inkjet print mechanism. The printhead for this technology may be larger than the common thermal printhead and this will impact on the design of the device that it is to be implemented in. This will put a limitation on designs that are intended to be low-profile like handheld payment-card terminals, printing calculators or peripheral printers, unless these machines use a pipe-based ink distribution mechanism.

It could be easy to “cheapen the design” by doing what has been commonly done with consumer and small-business inkjet printers. Here, a manufacturer could sell a low-end inkjet-based tape-printing device like a label printer, printing calculator or entry-level cash register for a loss-leading price but have the device work only with expensive ink cartridges. This can be exacerbated through the use of very small ink cartridges that need to be replaced frequently.

This may also require a cash register or POS printer to have two separate paper rolls placed side by side and the printhead moving across both rolls every time a sale is made. Some machines may be designed with dual printheads so they work as if they have two separate printers – one for the journal and one for the receipts.

Conclusion

The use of inkjet printing for “tape-based” printers could make life easier for most businesses and customers as well as allow for increased innovation in this class of device.

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