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Thermal printers

When you just want to print off little notes or things, I always hate to print to the (fantastic) Dell Colour Laser 1320CN printer because you’re ‘wasting’ a sheet of paper for something so small in the corner, and it’s having to heat-up and cool down. I’m not bothered about the energy consumption (which goes over 1.2kW at its peak) but just the wear-and-tear on the parts the get hot and cold. So, my theory was to buy a thermal receipt printer (just like you get in shops and supermarkets when they print out the receipt) which doesn’t need to heat-up in the traditional sense, or indeed use a full sheet of paper just to print a couple of lines of text. So I uhmmed and ahhed for a while, then ordered an Epson TM-T20 thermal receipt printer from ERS (£142 ish). There were some on eBay for £50, used but with a serial cable connector and my PC doesn’t have one of those anymore.

I received it yesterday. It was easy to install and I was surprised at the number of customisable features it has. I’m not using it in a particularly traditional sense for what it was designed for. I’m not doing hundreds of receipts every day using a till. I’m printing bits and bobs off a few times a day. Is it ‘green’? Well, I suppose it is because you’re saving paper and energy and toner cartridges. Thermal printers simply heat the paper to make it go black, so you don’t need toner – just the thermal paper. I’m not an eco warrior at all, and the initial investment cost won’t really be recouped until you’ve printed out TONS on it. I bought a box of 20 x 80mm wide thermal paper rolls which I think will last me into retirement. But they are only £1 each and are many tens of metres long. The printer cuts the paper after printing, and you can store a number of logos or graphics in the printer itself which are automatically printed at the beginning or end of the job.

You don’t realise how good these printers are until you have one. They open up a world of possibilities. Small businesses could use them to print receipts quickly (they do print out the job very quickly by the way). They could also be used to send jobs or packing lists downstairs to their factory or packing area. You can set the printer to make a loud beeping noise once it has finished printing, alerting them to a task that needs fulfilling. This would be great for restaurants or hotels too for food orders. A wi-fi and ethernet version is also available, so it could be placed further away from the ‘sending’ computer. But, perhaps if the paper was 2 or 3 times the width, they would be great for domestic use – shopping lists, emails, order confirmations from amazon, etc. Maybe not letters or CVs or photos or school projects, but virtually everything else.

I’ve often wondered why normal A4 paper isn’t 40gsm as a standard with instead of 80gsm – it fulfills the exact same purpose, but uses half the amount of trees to make (and presumably would therefore be cheaper to buy?). Then I’ve wondered why A5 isn’t a commonly used alternative paper size — let’s be honest, the majority of non-work print-outs you do could be fitted onto a piece of A5 paper instead of A4, right? Just a slightly smaller font size and moving things closer together.

A4 thermal printers are available, and people like Screwfix use them, but I’m not sure of the cost of the paper. The printers are about £300 – £400.

So, in conclusion, this Epson TM-T20 thermal receipt printer is great.

Update Feb 2017:
This printer suddenly stopped working. No idea why — Power is on, installing it on different computers makes no difference. No error message, connection problem or anything — just simply won’t print. Gone back to printing with my standard A4 laser printer now.

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