Friday, January 2, 2009

A Smarter Label Printer

Some time ago I won a Seiko Smart Label Printer Plus, on an auction, for a good price. This is an ancient thermal-paper label printer from the still running Smart Label Printer line. It comes with DOS, WIN9x label editor software, which does not run on XP, and Seiko dropped support ages ago (According to the description of a later Seiko software download they dropped support because. "The old serial protocol cannot be supported under windows NT" or something along those lines, which is nonsense), so basically there was no software to conveniently use the printer with. At the beginning I used the Win9x software through VmWare but that's too tedious and annoying. After a bit of research I came across this site, that had full protocol descriptions for both newer and older SLP models. So I ended up coding up a tool that, through a virtual serial port receives data from the new SLP software, in the new protocol(or it can just load BMPs), translates to the old protocol, and sends the translated job to the SLP Plus)

During testing I discovered something. The SLP Plus can print to much wider paper than the SLP Labels. And after I realized that I can't buy SLP Labels locally, and that they would be too expensive anyway for printing shipping labels on, I decided to make use of that. I got lucky because standard width thermal paper used in cash-registers fits perfectly into the SLP :) and they cost $0.50 a roll! as opposed to $7+s/h for two rolls of SLP labels, plus I also get to print more labels this way as I don't always need the full length of an SLP label, and with the paper I can just cut it at any length.

karosium logo in glorious 1 bit per pixel.

I also made a simple support for the new roll of paper that goes in the place of the original label holder from a medicine bottle cap and a plastic rod.

Only disadvantages being that I have to use a glue stick as the paper isn't self adhesive, but I don't really mind that, and that I had to cut the front panel as the opening was only long enough for SLP labels to go through(and the cut didn't really turn out so well), as you see in the picture the serrated plastic bit used to cut the paper doesn't go all the way, only to the width of the SLP Label (that's one on top of the paper) I will have to replace it sometime, with one from a broken printer-calculator or something, but for now I just use an xacto knife to cut the paper.

Now, the newer SLPs of course have a higher dot density (almost twice of the slp plus), so printing from the new software will be oversized, as it can't print dots as close together and as small as the newer ones, but as luck would have it that mismatch is perfect when using the cash-register paper, as it gives about the right size for the print. Also, by using another paper setting the correct size for the SLP labels can be achieved. I basically just have to use smaller label settings than what I actually want to use.

While I don't know why Seiko dropped support for this thing, I think it's similar to the Creative driver shenanigans a couple of months or so back (to boost sales of newer models, and from what I've seen they kept on dropping support for older models in their software ever since the SLP Plus). This product would still be useful, despite being 10 years old, as it's only shortcoming is it's lower dot density when compared to newer models, and IMHO that isn't really a problem, as labels are still clearly readable, and any barcodes made are scannable... Does anything else really matter for a monochrome thermo-label?

So basically, I got a hobby project to work on and a label printer for around $25 shipped, not bad especially considering the prices of the newer SLP printers, or label printers in general.