Building a Better Thermal Printer
Thermal printing technology really hasn’t evolved much over the past decade. I can see where designers have had a difficult time trying to come up with “a better mousetrap.” In March 2014, Sato officially released their CL4NX thermal transfer printer model to much fanfare and promotion. It boasts several new features such as simple operation including a full color interactive multi-lingual LCD and tool-less maintenance, flexible media support for a wide variety of different media, and on board multiple interfaces with Zebra printer language emulations. This is truly a universal, one-size-fits-all printer, meant to help rein in costs and resources, by cutting out redundancies.
Printer Model Specifications
Other specs are as follows: Direct/Thermal Transfer Print Resolution: 203 or 305 or 609 Print Width: 4.1" Memory: 6 GB ROM, 320 MB RAM Print Speed: (max.) up to 10 ips (203 dpi) Print Speed: (max.) up to 10 ips (203 dpi)up to 8 ips (305 dpi)up to 6 ips (609 dpi)
Label Handling Options
Options include a label cutter, label dispenser with internal liner, roll rewinder, and UHF RFID capability,(ISO18000-6 Type C)
Sato Discontinues Legacy Thermal Printer Models
Apparently this new printer is such a game changer, that Sato decided to replace their product line of five legacy models. The following Sato models have been discontinued: M5900RVe, GT4e Series, LM4e SeriesCL4e Series, GL4e Series. According to Sato and their Master Distributors, the CL4NX series is selling like hotcakes, so they are playing nice by offering a free printhead with the purchase of a CL4NX printer.
Strategic Decision by Sato
This is a major strategic decision by Sato for the US market. Sato was the first to market a barcode printer in the 1970’s. They probably still have the largest market presence in the world, particularly with their print and apply printer engines, except for the US, where Zebra is the main brand. Since I started offering thermal printers in the early 1990’s, I feel that Sato printers have been the most reliable printers in the field. Whenever Sato would release a product to market, it was always top-notch. Even so, I began to question some of the redundancy with their newer models. For me, my go to printer series during the past 15+ years was the Sato CL4X units. Because of the long field history I have with the CL series, it was fairly easy to spec these in for mission critical and medical device applications. Several of these printers are still running strong well after a decade of consistent use in the field.
From a manufacturing perspective, it certainly makes sense for Sato to cut out the redundancies, and whittle down their product line. This just makes sense for more effective and efficient support, parts, and service. I think the lesson of Fukushima in Japan also has a role in their decision. Parts shortages, and all of that took its toll. In December 2011, Sato purchased Argox who manufacturers economical bar code printers, scanners, and keyboards. They continue with acquisitions, mainly label outfits in Europe. Going forward, my hunch is that Sato is also gearing up to invest in ink jet technology or purchase an outfit who manufacturers the new generation of ink jet color label printers. With the evolution of more durable inks, and as ink jet media becomes more commoditized, thermal transfer applications, with their non-environmentally friendly carbon ribbons, will become more limited.
History Required to Validate New Printer
The main issue I have with the new Sato CL4NX, is that there is no history with it. It was recently released, nearly ninety days ago, and it is already the new flagship model? I thought flagship models had to prove themselves first then become a flagship? In this case the new printer was determined to be the new flagship printer, without much history.
So for me, a loyal reseller of Sato for over 15 years, my burning questions are these: Will the new model live up to its expectations over the long-haul? Will end-users receive a 10-15 year life with this model? Only time will tell, and when it comes to specifying a new printer model, some have to wait a couple of years until I have some performance data from the field.
Field Update May 2017
As an update, now May 2017, the CLNX models have been successful in the field the past three years, which have now surpassed RighterTrack's eighteen month field validation period. Customers really like them, and there have been no issues. Hopefully, this remains the case for a decade or more.
For help with label your printing project or to find out more about the Sato CLNX series, contact RighterTrack today. 215-493-7191 or e-mail