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Technology Breakthrough Advances Line Matrix Printing – Allows for Direct Competition with Laser Printers in Most Industrial Settings

New OpenPrint™ Technology Offers World’s Only Line Matrix PostScript® Solution, Improves Compatibility with Modern IT Environments

White paper
By Printronix Engineering Staff 

 

Overview

The migration from line matrix printers to laser in industrial environments may soon vanish. The introduction of a significant new technology resolves perceived challenges of operating line matrix printers in modern IT settings and catapults the relevance of industry "work-horse" printers to the forefront for both users and decision-makers alike.

Over time, line matrix printers have proven themselves to be economical and dependable, with a better total cost of ownership than alternatives like laser and serial printers. They have always maintained the highest standards of efficiency in the mass production of invoices, bank statements, product shipment documentation and product compliance labels.

Today, many legacy host systems continue to drive demand and the IT world is slowly moving away from the fragmented printing protocols of the past. Now the combination of a small number of print languages that assume significant network bandwidth and high density technologies is necessary. The print languages PCL-5, PDF® and PostScript® are now prevalent in Windows® and Linux® applications as well as ERP systems such as SAP® and Oracle®. In addition, applications are sending more graphics to printers, which is especially true in the case of bar codes.

The printing platforms in today’s IT environments support protocols that are native within the chosen operating systems (e.g., Microsoft Windows and Linux), and other modern applications. These high- density print platforms often contain raw graphics to represent text and bar codes. To meet the prevailing requirements, laser products have typically been chosen because of their ability to understand and communicate with native languages. However, line matrix printers can be just as viable if they meet the challenges of inherent protocol connectivity and high quality bar codes from graphics.

Printronix now offers a significant technological breakthrough with the world’s only line matrix PostScript solution known as the OpenPrint P7000 HD. This innovation ensures fail-proof, high-speed printing solutions for supply chain, manufacturing and financial service processes while effectively integrating with a host of modern digital applications.

This whitepaper will outline the current challenges of line matrix printing in modern IT environments, and then present Printronix’s solution – the world’s only PostScript line matrix printer.

The Challenge of Connecting to Modern IT Environments

PCL-5, PostScript (PS), and PDF are the typical page-oriented protocols that many modern applications and operating systems support natively. A printer that does not support these protocols must have accompanying drivers to convert the print job into its desired protocol. While relying on custom drivers is viable, it has some drawbacks: 1) It might force the IT person into a complicated driver installation process; 2) conversion within the driver can affect print job fidelity; and 3) some newer applications expect these protocols to be processed directly by the printer.

Table 1 Connectivity Comparison

Application Native Protocols Laser or MFP Solution Custom Solutions
Typical Windows App PS PS or PCL-5 PPD1 Win Driver
Typical Linux App PS, PCL-3, ASCII, PDF2 PS PPD CUPS Driver
SAP script PS, PCL-5 PS or PCL-5 resident drv SAP script Driver
SAP Smart Forms PS, PCL-5, ZGL PS or PCL-5 resident drv SmartForms Driver
SAP Interactive Forms PS, PCL-5, ZGL PS or PCL-5 direct Win Driver, but no Linux
Oracle Windows App PS PS or PCL-5 PPD Win Driver
Oracle Report (Linux) PS, PCL-3, Epson FX PS PPD CUPS Driver
Oracle BI Publisher PS PS PPD Win Driver

 

1 = A PPD driver is a simple pass-through driver that does not require converting the protocol
2 = PDF has been deemed the next generation default protocol for Linux

The natively supported protocols in several modern applications and operating systems are summarized in Table 1. The solution for the typical laser or MFP (Multi-Function Printer) is listed along with custom solutions that can be created by the printer manufacturer. Note that PS (PostScript) is supported in every application listed. This gives Laser and MFP products with PostScript a big advantage over products that rely on custom connectivity solutions.

There are cases in which custom driver installation is not an option. When SAP Interactive Forms was originally released, the native protocols PS, PCL-5, or ZGL were the only way to support this application. Eventually, SAP decided to include some support for Interactive Forms via Windows Drivers as well. Clearly, modern IT systems and applications favor products with native protocol support and plug ’n play installations.

Maintaining High Quality Bar Codes

Line matrix printers have historically provided high quality bar codes by using generating bar codes within the printer. But many new computer applications create and modify bar codes within the application and send to the printer as graphics. The strength of line matrix is in producing high quality output from protocols that create text and bar codes within the printer, as opposed to creating these elements within the host application. Line matrix products are highly reliable but print at a lower resolution than most other printing technologies. When the host applications create high-density graphics, the operating system scales them down to the target resolution. With this action, there can be some loss of quality during the scale-down process. Furthermore, the scale-down process does not account for the larger line matrix dot sizes. These oversights might be acceptable for cosmetic elements (e.g., logos), but could be an issue for critical elements such as bar codes which must be scannable by a bar code reader.

While some applications offer methods for bar codes to be created within the printer, newer applications send bar codes down to printers as graphics. Any graphic element must be scaled to the target DPI of the printer, whether up or down. Since laser and MFP products are operating at high densities, such as

600x600 or 1200x1200, they are able to produce high quality graphics and bar code output. Printers that operate at lower resolutions have challenges producing good bar codes from graphics. Two such examples are illustrated below.

The bar code in Figure 1 was a graphical barcode printed on a line matrix printer at 180x180 DPI. While the overall dimensions of the bar code were scaled correctly, the bars no longer have distinct spacing. This is because the dots on line matrix printers are larger than the application expects. The result is a bar code that does not scan. Applications that issue bar code commands from legacy host systems do not have this problem because the printer constructs the bar code and considers dot size when choosing the bar and space widths.

Bar Code 2

Figure 1 Bar Code with Large Dots

The bar code in Figure  has a different problem. This bar code graphic is scaled down by the host system in such a way that the dot patterns for the bars are not straight, causing the bar code not to scan. This may be caused by some rounding errors during the scale-down process or an imperfect graphic created by the application. Whatever the problem, it is emphasized when printed at lower resolutions.

 

Bar Code 3

Figure 2 Bar code with Scaling Imperfections

How Line Matrix Maintains High Quality Bar Codes

At first glance, the best way to solve these challenges might appear to be a high-density line matrix printer that supports the native protocols shown on Table 1. However, the high-density suggestion is not practical for two reasons: 1) printing at a higher resolution like 300 dpi would be very slow; and 2) smaller dot sizes are not practical for this technology. Both of these drawbacks would jeopardize the mission critical legacy of line matrix printing.

The more practical solution to these challenges is to create a line matrix printer that supports the right native protocols and replaces bar codes sent down as graphics with bar codes optimized for the line matrix technology. This solution balances the mission critical goals of line matrix printing while providing seamless connectivity to modern IT infrastructures.

The New Printronix OpenPrint™ Solution

The OpenPrint P7000 HD line matrix printer is the latest addition to the Printronix line of durable industry printers. OpenPrint eclipses the existing P7000 HD capabilities with PostScript and PDF connectivity along with the new sure scan3 bar code technology. The sure scan technology will find graphic bar codes within print jobs and replace them with PSA bar codes optimized for line matrix densities. This combination of features will allow line matrix printers to easily integrate anywhere in the modern IT infrastructure and continue to generate reliable bar codes. This pushes mission critical printing into a whole new set of application possibilities. The new OpenPrint P7000 HD printer will launch worldwide in late January 2012.

With the inclusion of PostScript Level 3, the OpenPrint P7000 HD can easily attach to any operating system, ERP and network platform. Adding PDF Level 1.7, the P7000 OpenPrint stays on the leading edge of IT trends as PDF is now supported in increasing numbers of applications. These PS and PDF interpreters designed by ArtifexTM are industrial tough like Printronix printers4. The sure scan technology is able to repair the most popular bar codes including C39, Code 128, Code 93, UCC/EAN 128, UPC, EAN, Codabar, Interleaved 2/5, Industrial 2/5, and Matrix 2/5. These powerful solutions make the PSATM5 technology stronger than ever before.

Table 2 compares the P7000 HD today against the OpenPrint P7000 HD to demonstrate the improvements to connectivity and bar code reliability. Note that the OpenPrint connectivity is on par with the standard laser and MFP solutions shown in Table 1.

 

Table 2 OpenPrint Benefits over P7000 HD

Application P7000 HD before OpenPrint P7000 HD with OpenPrint
Connectivity Bar Codes Connectivity Bar Codes
Typical Windows App Custom Win Driver Fail PTX PS PPD (Win)6 Pass
Typical Linux App - - PTX PS PPD (Linux) Pass
SAP Script - - POST2 resident drv Pass
SAP Smart Forms - - POST2 resident drv Pass
SAP Interactive Forms Custom Win Driver Fail PS direct Pass
Oracle Windows App Custom Win Driver Fail PTX PS PPD (Win) Pass
Oracle Report (Linux) - - PTX PS PPD (Linux) Pass
Oracle BI Publisher Custom Win Driver Fail PTX PS PPD (Win) Pass

 

3 = sure scan is a proprietary Printronix technology
4 = Artifex™ refers to the highly regarded Artifex Ghostscript® PostScript, XPS, PDF and PCL interpreter technologies
5 = PSA stands for Printronix System Architecture
6 = Windows Drivers are Microsoft Certified for WinXP, Win 2003, Win 2008, and Windows 7
7 = The success in such a scenario depends on the printer being replaced and its capabilities relative to OpenPrint 

 

Loyal users of laser printers will welcome this new family of OpenPrint printers with its open platform compatibility, dependable sure scan bar code solution, overall product reliability and high quality that Printronix customers expect from line matrix platforms.

The Printronix OpenPrint P7000 HD solution will provide seamless, plug and play workflow between an ERP solution and business printing. OpenPrint is the best and most reliable choice for moving information from business operations to printed output in environments such as manufacturing or distribution centers. Now it is easy, fast and involves the same simple tasks as installing any other printer.

But with OpenPrint, there is additional flexibility. When using a proprietary protocol, the IT personnel must install a custom driver. While OpenPrint driver installation is recommended for best results, it is not necessary in all instances. Because OpenPrint supports both PostScript and PDF, it has the potential to go anywhere these protocols are used. For example, a PostScript print job configured for a laser 300 DPI printer could print on the OpenPrint printer without any middleware or changes to the host system. OpenPrint adjusts the print job for appropriate target resolutions. This opens up a range of possibilities and makes the IT engineer’s job easier7.

 


How does sure scan Work?

The sure scan technology operates with highly sophisticated algorithms to make sure your bar codes are optimized for the P7000 OpenPrint line matrix technology platform. When a PostScript or PDF job is sent to the printer, the printer builds a page image in pixels (or dots). The sure scan technology analyzes the page image and performs these three basic steps before printing the image:

Step 1: Identify - In this step, the box illustrates how the sure scan algorithm finds the bar code on the page  image  and  identifies  the  symbology and data.  In  this  example,  a  UPCA bar  code  with  data 12345789012 was found.

Bar Code Step 1

Step 2: Erase - In this step, the shaded area illustrates how sure scan erases the bar code, taking into account the bars, the PDF (printable data field), and any Vertical Erase Zone8 supplied by the user.

Bar Code Step 2

Step 3: Optimize – During optimization, the shaded area is replaced with an optimized PSATM bar code. Note that the new bar code might be wider, narrower, or use a different PDF font9. But the critical factor is that customers are producing reliable bar codes. Users have different options to customize their needs including having the bar code left, right or center justified relative to the original bar code.

Bar Code Step 3

8 = Vertical erase zones are configured on the front panel and allow areas above or below the bar code to be erased if desired
9 = UPC/EAN bar codes have their PDF automatically detected and replaced. Other symbologies can use the original PDF

 

Conclusion

The introduction of the world’s first PostScript line matrix printer offers a technological breakthrough that allows for direct competition with laser printers within most industrial settings. The cost savings, reliability and forms flexibility offered by the debut of the Printronix OpenPrint P7000 HD eclipses the previous Windows-only P7000HD capabilities with PostScript, PDF and the new sure scan bar code optimization technology. PostScript and PDF enable OpenPrint to integrate directly with the modern IT infrastructure, even allowing PDF files to be sent directly to the printer without any driver installed. Using sure scan guarantees bar codes scan by dynamically replacing graphical bar codes with PSA bar codes optimized for the P7000 HD print mechanism. For maximum systems connectivity, the OpenPrint P7000 HD works seamlessly with Windows, Linux, UNIX, SAP, Oracle, and many other modern ERP systems. This pushes mission critical printing into a whole new set of application possibilities without the need of hard-coding applications or complex driver installations processes.

 


Additional Resources
OpenPrint Cartridge Line Matrix Products
Printronix P7000 Users Manual, 2011
Printronix Application Notes
SAP Brains Online
SAP Notes Online (SAP customer login required)
SAP Smart Forms – SAP Press release – Werner Hertleif and Christoph Wachter, 2003

 

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