Selecting a Printer for Visitor Management
We’ve really been struggling with visitor management printers over the past couple of years here at Savance, particularly with our visitor sign in kiosks to print name tags. You would think that would be a pretty easy task – to print a label using a thermal-style printer, and have it be easy-to-use and easy-to-maintain. Thanks to its simplicity, affordability, and reliability, Dymo has been the de facto standard for most visitor management printing applications. It’s not the Cadillac, but it gets the job done. For 5+ years, it was a really good solution for us at Savance, and we wholeheartedly recommended the Dymo lineup. We specifically used the Dymo 450 Turbos with all of our kiosks and attended desktop visitor management stations. We supplied the Dymo-compatible 30256 labels in batches of 10 that we’d supply from Dymo, Threshold, or Amazon. We’d sometimes use self-expiring labels for applications that require it. The Dymo 450 Turbo was a little faster than the Dymo 450 standard and the price difference was negligible. Technically, we could use either one since we are typically only printing one visitor name tag at a time, so the speed of printing multiple labels isn’t a big factor for our application. Over time though, Dymo has forced us to change, as well as cost us significant dollars in support and engineering resources, making us rethink our commitment to their printers.
Background & History with Dymo
Our first issue with the Dymo 450 Turbo printer began when customers started reporting an issue with how long it was taking to print a label. It was a real mystery because for some customers it was working perfectly fine and others were having the issue, and were extremely frustrated. Can you imagine every visitor of yours having to wait several seconds for a name tag? It’s a bad image for both the customer and for us. What made it more difficult to figure out is that nothing changed with our software – we didn’t apply an upgrade or update the Dymo drivers or anything. So why all of a sudden? Well, as it turned out, a Windows update was the culprit. After a lot of effort to try to get support out of Dymo, we ended up finding a blog posting where someone had figured it out. The fix was to remove a particular Windows Update and voila, back in business. Later we found out that there were two other solutions – one involved a registry change and one involved applying a driver update that Dymo had released a few weeks after the problem became prolific. Obviously, the long term fix was critical for us to include, so we had to adjust our installer and our software to support the newer driver. For this situation, we had some sympathy for the situation. An unexpected Windows update caused an unexpected issue with printing and they rushed to update their driver while finding an immediate workaround for end users to apply. We felt their support could have been better at discovering the problem with us early on, and figuring out a solution without us having to finally find our own answer through another end user. We cut them some slack and continued with Dymo, still pretty happy with the Dymo printers all things considered. Fast forward another few months and we run into a new annoying problem. This time, we start getting reports from people with brand new printers, often on brand new deployments, that they were making an awful noise during printing and printing the entire label smashed into 10 or 20% of the full label. Again, nothing changed on our end with our software, so we were really scratching our heads. We issued several RMAs and sometimes the replacement fixed the issue and sometimes it did not. We were forced to test the RMA’d printers, and side-by-side with an identical Dymo 450 Turbo, one would do it and one would not. What made it more difficult is that it wasn’t even every label. It was maybe 1 in 10 labels. Dymo support was again no real help. They denied any full-scale issue with a set of printers in a certain serial number range. What was even more strange is that if you used the Dymo software to print, you weren’t able to reproduce the issue. So it was specifically an issue with printing through their API, which our application did as part of the visitor sign-in process. We thought maybe it was a driver issue or maybe it was something with how our software developers were printing through the API. Our engineers worked diligently to try to figure out what they could do to fix the issue but to no success. Remember, we hadn’t changed anything, so we really had no idea what we could alter to address a problem that only happened on some newer printers.
At this point, one client reported that they had fixed the issue by replacing it with a Dymo 450 standard. Since the printers were about the same price and the difference in printing speed really didn’t change our use case, we decided to give that a shot. It resolved the issue for every client experiencing the problem. From that point on, we standardized on the Dymo 450 standard over the Turbo. To this day, we still have a pile of Dymo 450 Turbos in a graveyard at Savance that experience the phenomenon. Dymo has still never admitted to having an issue. This incident caused us all kinds of support and development wasted time, and wasted time and frustration at some of our brand new customers, obviously starting the project off on a really bad note. Two strikes for Dymo, and exposed another weakness in their support.
Fast forward a year, right in the middle of COVID. Part shortages start causing challenges when it comes to finding and supplying Dymo 450s. Demand is at an all time high for us, so obviously this impacts our ability to deliver our solution to customers. Our normal supplier runs out of stock and tells us he’s unsure when they’ll have replenishment stock for us. We turn to Amazon and Ebay and are forced to start buying and housing our own stock to fulfill orders. This creates a new quality problem where some product is open, RMAs are difficult to pinpoint to the original supplier, and we’re forced to pay two to four times as much for the same printer. Dymo finally addresses the situation and informs us that they’re replacing the 450 with a 550, and overnight will no longer plan to source any more 450s. They add one more MAJOR caveat to this announcement by forcing everyone to use ONLY authentic Dymo label media. So everyone who has stock piles of pre-bought media from third party suppliers can’t simply replace a 450 with a Dymo 550. What’s worse is that we’re forced to source only Dymo authentic media, and if it’s advertised as authentic, but it ends up not being authentic, the customer has a new problem that is now our problem. Plus, what we could previously source from Amazon for about $3 a roll and ship out 2-day shipping or quicker is now about $12 a roll, and not as easy to source. We were furious with this decision. It’s bad enough Dymo is forcing 450 users to switch to the 550, but to force it to detect an RFID chip in the roll of the label media to effectively work, that’s just a terrible leadership decision from a customer commitment perspective. At least give a transitional period and some really good reasoning to go with it:
“Starting with the Dymo 551, which will replace the 550s at the end of year, only Dymo compatible media will be supported. We are doing this to prevent support issues caused by using third party sub-par label media in our printers that jeopardize the perceived quality of our printers. For that reason, only Dymo-authentic and Dymo-authorized media will be supported.”
Something like the above would give people a transitional period and some preparation, along with a story that they can tell their end users. So again, begrudgingly, we bought a Dymo 550, updated our software to fully support it, fully tested it and certified it with our software, and only found one hardware change that had a negative impact. Unfortunately, they switched where the USB port was located, and moved it to the back of the unit. Since our unit was designed to be held in a printer tray, having the USB cable off the back meant the standard USB cable wouldn’t work, and was going to require us to find and source a 90 degree USB cable to supply with every printer we sell that will go in one of our existing printer trays. We also redesigned the printer tray, adding cost to the printer tray since we were forced to make it larger. One benefit to the redesign, however, is that it would allow us to fit many more models of printers than the Dymos. So a few major hurdles, but we finally had full support for the 550s and a solution to fit it on our printer trays. Now Dymo throws yet another curve ball. You can no longer source 550s! Lead time is estimated at 3-4 months but with no guarantees. So now we can’t get 450s. We can’t get 550s. We’re stuck, and our customers need solutions and they need them now. Once again, Dymo forces us to alter our engineering roadmap.
Life Beyond Dymo
Savance had already planned on adding support for any label printer in our kiosk, something we already do with our attended visitor management stations. However, we had several things in line ahead of that functionality. Customers weren’t really demanding additional printer options prior to the Dymo shortages, so it was more of a nice-to-have for us. It wouldn’t impact our bottom line or make us that much more competitive in the visitor management space. However, at this point, we really didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t be held hostage by Dymo any longer and needed options for customers for cases like this where Dymo was being Dymo. So when marketing announced that we were speeding up our roadmap to support any printer under the sun, we now had a new problem to solve. Which printers would we recommend or standardize on besides the Dymo? We purchased and evaluated several. We looked at the speed it printed the label, we looked at the size of the unit, we looked at how much media it used, we evaluated the quality of the print, we graded it on overall quality and effectiveness, we checked out how well it could perform in a kiosk environment where auto-power on, auto label cutting, exposed buttons, etc. needed to be taken into consideration. Sadly, it left us very few viable options.
Most of the printers we evaluated were either too cheap or were designed more as a desktop label printer. We focused 100% on thermal printers, which are printers that print directly to the label media using a thermal (heat) transfer method – similar to a receipt printer.
- Brother: We really liked the Brother label printers, but those defaulted out-of-the-box to require you to hit the power button to turn them on after a power failure, and that very deficiency made it hard for us to whole-heartedly recommend that as a kiosk-based visitor management printer.
- Sieko: The Sieko printer was a pretty close replacement to the Dymo in size and cost, but it was just too cheap. It didn’t look as nice nor did it print as nicely. Plus it was much slower.
The other challenge we had was that Windows printing had a new layer of complexity for our clients. Instead of printing directly to the printer, we now had a layer between that we knew would lead to additional support cases where it was supposed to be printing, we printed it and sent it to Windows, but nothing printed at the printer. We’ve all dealt with this issue at some point in our life if you’ve printed something from your office or home computer to a network or local printer. So moving off a Dymo, while possible, does offer its challenges. It also requires the use of a more flexible, yet more complex label template design engine rather than the simplified Dymo label template designer software.
The Result of Our Label Printer Research
So after all of that, what’s our current recommendation? Kind of regrettably, it’s still the Dymo. Considering you can’t buy a Dymo 450 anymore, the Dymo 550 is the best option we have at this point. We’ve tested the 550 and 550 Turbo, and both work well with our software. Dymo has become like an abusive spouse that you keep going back to because you don’t really have a better option and you’ve just been beaten down to liking them. We’ve taken our licks and our wounds aren’t healed, but there really isn’t a better device on the market for our visitor management kiosk application. It’s simple to use. It’s simple to support. Labels are easy to load. It works out of the box. Their designer software is super easy to use. It prints quickly. The print quality is actually really good. It prints quickly. Their support isn’t great. They’ve had supply issues. They now require authentic label media. If you accept those facts, it’s still the best printer for printing from a kiosk.
Next in line is the Brother printer. They also have good print quality. It’s easy to load their label media. They’re actually more expensive, but it’s a better quality printer overall. Out of the box, it doesn’t power on when plugged in, but this is adjustable according to their documentation even though we couldn’t get it to work. A few of them have a button on the front that switch the print mode so it no longer shows up as a Windows printer, so this could be a very bad thing on a free-standing, public-facing kiosk where pressing that button could make it no longer print. I could see that being a potential support issue. However, I’d recommend the Brother QL line up. Probably the QL-820NWB or the QL-800. The QL-810W is a good option too.
IDPRT makes an SP310 and an SP320 that are both solid options too. The IDPRTs are good replacements for those that used a Dymo 450 and want something similar that can use third party media. You can buy those right off Amazon and get them in a day or two.
I’d steer people away from the Seiko SLP 620. It just seemed too cheap and basic, and the print quality and speed were less than desired. I’d spend a little more and get the Dymo, the IDPRT, or the Brother at that point.
For more information, see our full Label Printer Comparison.
Printing a visitor management label seems like it should be a simple thing, but it is not as simple as it would seem. There isn’t an obvious winner so you really have to consider pros and cons when you make your selection. If you’re printing from a Savance Visitor Management Kiosk, our recommendation is still Dymo, and specifically the Dymo 550 Turbo. That’s what we still quote and ship, unless that’s not available, and then we’ll ship the 550 Standard, but we charge the same. The other printers are definitely worth considering if the printer is not going to be located on or by a kiosk. For this, Brother or IDPRT make very good options. Zebra also makes some options, but because of the higher price point and availability issues, Zebras were not considered when we evaluated name tag printers.