The affordable ZXP Series 3 direct-to-card printer is the best-in-class choice. Utilizing ZRaster host-based image processing technology and True Colours ix Series high-performance ribbons, the ZXP Series 3 achieves fast print speeds and high image quality. The ZXP3 is compact, enabling it to fit into even the smallest of work spaces and is user-friendly too. Attributes such as an LCD display, operating prompts and easy Load-N-Go ribbon cartridges optimize uptime and offer ease of use with little training.
• Produces sharp, high quality colour cards
• Up to 180 colour single side cards per hour
• Near edge to edge printing
• 21-character, 6-line LCD operator display
• 100 card hopper
• 300 dpi (11.8 dots/mm) print resolution
• Easy to load drop-in ribbon cartridge
• $0.55 cents per YMCKO colour card (excluding card)
• Contact and Contactless Smart card encoding options including MIFARE
• Two-year warranty on printer
• ZXP3M includes magnetic encoder
6 years ago I had the chance to trial one of the first retail-level ID card printers available from Zebra, the Zebra P110i - as the entry-level model it was pretty good, but this new unit is a step up from entry level and as such it is expected to offer a higher standard of operation and print quality.
Unpacking and setting up was a breeze. Easier than the previous model, Windows 7 had almost all the required drivers already in it's database, and the few missing bits were soon pulled down from the 'net. Once they were installed, it was as simple as designing what I needed in Photoshop, InDesign, even is a programme as unsuited to the task as MS Word, then just hitting "print". Moments later, the printer was warming up and spitting out printed cards like a factory.
Now, unfortunately we were not supplied any MagStripe blanks, so we couldn't test this functionality, but we were supplied with some snap-apart luggage tags. Alas, these proved to be less than ideal to print on, as the ridges in the cards caused by the snap-cuts caused the printer ribbon to 'skip' and leave irregular layers of ink, thus throwing the colours off-true. A great disappointment, since the older model actually did a far better job of these type of print jobs. This was pretty much the only let-down however, as the rest of the assessments proved to be far more favourable.
Comparing the print quality of the cards printed last time against the current prints showed a marked improvement - more accurate colours, finer detail, smoother tonal gradients, and faster overall print speed. In fact, when you factor in the price difference - $520 cheaper - and significant function/feature enhancements, this is more than a match, it's a definite and significant step up. Well worth considering for any small business needing in-house ID/Loyalty Club/Membership card printing services in small batches.
Taking into account that due to the use of the same printer-ribbon technology as the last model we tested, it suffers the same security flaw and requires the same precautions as stated at the end of my previous review, and it also has an annoying habit of winding the printer tape forward an entire set every time you power it up, this can be less economic to run than the promotional brochures state. I estimated that if you power the unit off after each print run, you will lose, on average, 10% of your printing ability. This unit will prove it's best, most cost-effective service, when powered on with a fresh ribbon, and not turned off until you've plowed through it all. Factoring in a few dud prints per batch - as we found due to faults and contaminations with the blank cards - each ribbon should give you around 170-185 usable cards.
Based solely on the advertised consumables prices, that makes each card worth around $0.83 for just the finished, usable card. For small runs, that's still a fair price really. If you are after 1,000 cards, then you're better to look at high-spec models such as something from the ZXP7 series. These will provide a higher print rate and true edge-to-edge printing, and be more consistent over longer print runs.
Overall, this is a wise investment for any small business who may need, or even be considering, having custom-printed cards. With a wide range of consumables and extras available - including plastic business cards, self-adhesive cards, assorted tags, coloured cards, mono-printing films in a range of colours, dedicated software packages and a full range of cleaning and maintenance kits - there's everything you need to get you up and running. Sure, this only has USB connectivity - or an optional 10/100 ethernet module can be installed - but that's all you really need at this level. Heck, you could probably use this to turn a tidy bit of extra coin doing cards for a cluster of business, none of whom want or could afford the investment.
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