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Getting Started with Thermal Printing

For a while I'd been interested in trying out retro thermal printing (see GameBoy Printer). You can print low quality printouts on cheap receipt paper. You can buy printers that work with Raspberry PIs and so on and program them yourself. Then I realised this is both ridiculous, expensive both in money (to get a very low quality thermal printer for hardware hacking you could easily spend £40), after including all the parts and time.

What are the current professional/consumer printers in this area? I looked at a few before discovering that the best option would be a thermal label printer (not a receipt printer). And actually some of these are reasonably priced (especially as I managed to get nearly 50% off RRP).

Printer

I got a Brother QL-800. It does dual colour prints on the right paper (black and red). This should be fun.

Setup

This was confusing, especially on a Mac (I gave up and used Windows!) It seems one key thing is that it toggles between an easy mode (with no install/software on a volume accessible via USB) and proper mode. You want that (as you can't use the 2 colour printing without it). To actually run it you need to download both the driver and software (search from Brother site).

Printer

The software is pretty fully featured, though has some confusing aspects. You need to select both the size of print and kind of colours supported. If you get it wrong it will tell you, but now how to fix it 🤦‍♂️, which is really annoying.

You can drop in images like (taken from some stuff I did for pen plotting): Printer software

Okay but how well does it work?

Printer

Actually really well. It is fast. Very fast. It spits out stickers (and neatly cuts them for you). Maybe because I've been doing some Axidraw stuff, but this seems delightfully straightforward.

Examples

I think it does a nice job on photo images. Looks retro (but of course with vastly higher quality than that would be):

Printer

For images with lots of straight lines it works well. One idea I'd like to try is printing arbitrarily large (long) mazes with the 62mm sticker paper, as that can be cut to your choice of size.

Printer

There are lots of things I want to try out, such as gradients, layers with opacity variation, patterns, hatching and more. Expect more posts.

Conclusions

Should you consider getting one of these? Yes. It is quick, easy and relatively cheap (unlike a lot of retro/unconventional printing approaches). You can quickly produce fun stickers to share. And failing everything else you can use it to organise your stuff as it was intended for.

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