The printer technology for most of us (home/office users), generally boils down to two technologies: laser and ink-jet printing. However, in the Point of Sale industry, the printer technology has two different dominant choices, which are a great unknown to most novices. The choices in the POS printer technology are : thermal and dot-matrix. Yes, you heard right, dot-matrix, one of the oldest (if not the oldest) printing technologies in home and office printers, which was long abandoned in the office/home computer industry.

So why are these two choices different in the home/office industry and in the point of sale industry ?

First let’s concentrate on the benefits / drawbacks and differences between thermal and dot-matrix and the special needs of the point of sale industry and that will actually answer the question of why these technologies are different in the POS industry comparing to the home/office computer industry …

Thermal Printers are probably almost always the obvious choice for all retail and fast paced establishments that operate under normal circumstances.
Thermal POS printers, print by burning on the paper with a hot printing head. Special thermal paper is used so that the burning has sharp edges and high resolution impressions can be made.

The thermal technology offers these advantages:

– Fast, really fast printing, faster than laser
– Quiet, really quiet printing, quieter than laser
– High resolution, really high resolution
– No need to change the toner or ribbon, no ink to run out of, nothing to replace but paper

Drawbacks:

– Thermal paper is really sensitive to heat (because of its properties to be very responsive to the hot printing head). So if you work outside, on warmer days or in a kitchen or other high heat environments, the hot temperature will turn your paper black and your receipts will be illegible
– Only available in black color of printing (the color of the burned paper dictates this limitation)
– The special thermal paper is priced higher than regular paper

Dot-Matrix Printers are the POS printer of choice, in cases and situations where the point of sale system is in a high heat environment or multiple copies are needed with every printout (simply because thermal Receipt printers fail in those cases).
Dot-Matrix POS printers, print by a needle striking a ink-ribbon on the paper.

The Dot-Matrix technology offers these advantages:

– Hot/cold temperatures are not a problem for this printing technology
– Ink-Ribbons are very affordable
– The paper is plain and is very affordable
– Easily prints on two ply paper, so the printouts come out in two copies – for establishments that need two copies of every printout
– Two-color option is available on these POS printers (as well as high range of colors to choose from for the one-color versions).

Drawbacks:

– Slower printing.
– Louder printing.
– Lower resolution.
– The need to change the ink-ribbon when it runs out or the printing color fades.

Here is one common application in the POS business, where both technologies are used : In a restaurant, the front POS System has a thermal POS printer for fast, quiet and high resolution receipt printing and in the kitchen there is a dot-matrix kitchen printer, to combat the heat and humidity and print legible receipts in this harsh environment.

So now that you know these relatively unknown technologies of printing, which dominate the Point of Sale System industry, we can finally answer the question : Why is the POS Printer technology different than than the one of home/office printers ?

We cannot use laser or ink-jet printers in the Point of Sale industry because :

#1 It will be hard to fit that complex technology in a small 4x4x5 inches box which is the usual size of the typical Point of Sale printer or receipt printer [the retail space on a checkout counter is very valuable and always short of supply].

#2 A fairly busy retail shop or gas station, goes through around 380 invoices per day, so 380 receipts per day, that translates to roughly 63 pages of letter-size printouts per day. So a ink-jet cartridge will last 3.5 days in the Point of Sale industry ! And a laser toner would last about 31 Days. So purchasing a toner each month or a ink jet cartridge every 3.5 days, is a little cost prohibitive.

#3 An ink-jet printer would smudge the fresh ink printout, when you hand the receipt to the customer, at the Point of Sale

#4 A Laser printer will need 10-20 seconds of warm-up time, before it starts printing each receipt.