The lowdown on portable printers

What is it? A portable printer is battery-powered, usually weighs less than 4 pounds, and is compact enough to stow in a briefcase or overnight bag.

What portable technologies are out there? Portable page printers are built around four technologies: ink-jet, thermal transfer, direct thermal and dye sublimation.

Which technology is best? That depends on your requirements. Ink-jets are generally the fastest and most versatile, featuring photo-quality color and good text quality. Thermal transfer and direct thermal units are small and lightweight, but require specialized, heat-sensitive paper. Dye sublimation units provide excellent photo-quality prints, but are limited to this use.

What are other types of portable printers? There is a huge range of mobile printers for industrial and commercial purposes. One leading company, Zebra Technologies Corp. of Vernon Hills, Ill.,www.zebra.com, manufactures specialized units for creating compliance shipping labels, receipts, tickets and invoices; conducting price audits; processing credit card payments; encoding magnetic-stripe cards; connecting to wireless networks; and receiving print jobs by e-mail. Retailers use specialized mobile printers for such things as shelf-price auditing, returns labeling, vendor management and mobile points of sale.

Must-know info? With some caveats, the future looks good for portable printers as niche products, especially those supporting wireless connectivity. On the down side, International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass., reported that competition from alternative wireless technologies, overall cost and low consumer awareness of the technology could hold back portable printing.

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