Jan. 31, 2012
Although kiosk printers are starting to play a smaller role in the kiosk world, in part, thanks to the increased use of smartphones, they're still valuable to a variety of kiosk deployments.
For part 1 of KioskMarketplace's three-part technical series, we sat down with some of the industry's most knowledgeable kiosk experts to find out what features make a kiosk printer state-of-the art.
High-speed interface and printing: Modern kiosk printers usually print via a graphic driver of some type; even characters are sent to the printer as graphics, said Charles Levinski, global marketing engineer for HECON/Hengstler.
"This is how the output becomes so flexible; anything that can be produced on the screen can be printed on the printer because it is sent to the printer as a graphic. The downside of this approach is that more data must be sent, so state-of-the-art kiosk printer use high-speed interfaces, such as USB, to facilitate the transfer of more data without causing longer user wait times.
A fast print speed is also indicative of an up-to-date printer.
"Retailers want to be able to provide more information on receipts, including incentive offers to drive more revenue, warranty specifics and loyalty program information. In some cases, this means two documents," said Adam Ortlieb of Seiko Instruments. "State-of-the-art printers are able to generate this longer output at much faster speeds, at 10 inches per second or faster."
Software feature selection: Software features within the printer that can be customized to the application are important to ensure compatibility and that the printer functions as needed for the kiosk, Levinski said. A well-designed, printer software implementation is crucial.
"For example, if you have a normal 8.5-inch thermal printer, then the printer will print the content out to a specific 8.5- by 11-inch piece of paper. If you have narrower or wider printers, then the software has to be able to scale the content properly to fit on the specified paper size," Michael Ionescu of Ionescu Technologies said. "This is where most problems crop up. The margins often aren't correct, or the text doesn't scale to the right size, often leaving the printed content unreadable or very unprofessional looking. It's really the software drivers that manage all of this."
Reliability: A down printer causes delays, annoys customers, can trigger an expensive service call and can potentially hurt revenue. To avoid these hiccups, look for a device that is designed, tested and proven in the field, Ortlieb said.
"A service life rating of 1 million or more printouts is the standard to look for," he said. "This level of reliability far exceeds real-world usage requirements, ensuring the printer will hold up over time. The ability to operate in more extreme environments is also a focus, particularly in colder temperatures. Advanced printers are now being rated at -20 degrees C."
Remote Monitoring: A state-of-the-art printer comes with remote monitoring software to allow deployers to conduct predictive maintenance, said Sheridan Orr, vice president of global sales and marketing at Meridian Zero Degrees. It's imperative for deployers and retailers to know how many images have been printed and when the unit will need paper, ink, etc.
"The biggest thing is paper - it has to be easy to replace and must be changed before the paper is out," said Francie Mendelsohn,the president of Summit Research Associates, who has been conducting research on the use of kiosk printers. "You cannot be so foolish as to let a paper roll dwindle down to the very end."
Having remote managing capabilities allows the deployer to stay ahead of thoes types of maintenance issues.
Green options: Going green has touched all industries, and the kiosk printer is no exception, according to Orr. "Does (your printer) have the ability to go into low-power consumption modes when not in use so that we can lower the operating costs," she said. "This is becoming increasingly important as we try to comply with Green IT initiatives."
Ortlieb pointed out that kiosk designs are smaller than ever, so the newest printers are also designed with a smaller footprint to accommodate these tighter form factor requirements.
Flexibility: The wide variety of kiosk applications available today require printers with different options and features.
"Being able to order only the features you need decreases cost; this is a case where one size definitely does not fit all," Levinski said.
Above all else, Ortlieb said state-of-the-art kiosk printers provide the flexibility necessary for tackling the evolving requirements of self-service deployments.
Part 2 of this series will focus on monitors, and Part 3 will cover keyboards.
Cover photo: Seiko Instruments