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Appeared on: Monday, February 18, 2002
Primera Inscripta Thermal CD Printer

1. Features

Primera Inscripta Thermal Printer - Page 1

- Introduction:

at the REPLItech North America 2000 show announced the "Inscripta" thermal printer:

"...Inscripta is ideal for businesses of all types who duplicate their own optical media such as CD-Rs and DVD-Rs and need an efficient and highly professional method of labeling the discs. It prints high-resolution text, graphics, logos and photos in any combination using monochrome black or two-color ink ribbons. There’s no doubt that specialized ink-jet based CD printers like our popular Signature III CD Color Printer handle a large percentage of applications. But for users who need totally waterproof discs, lowest possible cost-per-copy and very high print speeds, Inscripta does a wonderful job.." Mark Strobel from Primera Technologies had commented.

Since we had tested Primera's Singature III CD printer it was very interesting to see how thermal printing technology also works. But first lets see the Inscripta features...

- General features:

The Inscripta Thermal CD Printer supports only 12cm optical media such as CDR/W, DVD-R, and DVD-RAM (no support for 8cm CDs). You can print text and graphics onto most standard and inexpensive lacquer surface media types, eliminating the need for special printable-surface discs. The printer is very solid structure, has a rugged all-metal case, so it is equally at home in office or production environments. Manufacturer's suggested list price is $2995.00 (MSRP).

It can also be mounted inside a full-height drive bay in OEM autoloaders and duplicators. You can print in one or two colors at both at 305x305 and 605x305 resolutions. Its print speed is faster than inject based CD printers. Each panel takes around 10 and the two-color disc is printed in 20 seconds...

Inscripta prints in a variety of monochrome colors or two colors. The monochrome ribbons come in the following colors: Orange, Red, Wine, Shamrock Green, Forest Green, Royal Blue, Brown, and Black. The two color ribbons are red/black, blue/black and green/black. There is possibility for custom colors on a special-order basis. One-color ribbons, which have a minimum of 700 prints but can last as long as 1200 to 1500 prints depending upon coverage, cost $39.00 (MSRP) each. Two-color ribbons, which have 350 prints, cost $59.00 (MSRP) each.

Primera also offer its branded Tuff-Coat Thermal CD-R media, based upon Maxell, and work with both one/two-color ribbons. The available capacity is 650MB (74min) and come in both silver and gold surface. The price is for 100 pieces is $70.00. Inscripta can be used for OEM integration into autoloaders and duplication systems. The printer's outer case can be removed and the printer fits inside a standard full- height drive bay. Printing takes place entirely within the printer, so the CD tray is not in the way of picking mechanisms during printing. A TTL-level interface port controls tray in/out and other printer functions.

Primera provides some useful accessories such as the Extra Print Head/Ribbon Assembly (used for "hot-swapping" with another loaded ribbon) priced at $995.00 and the Thermal Print Head Cleaning Pens at $18.95 (package of 5).

The Inscripta is only available for Window platforms (Win9x, WinNT/2k). The Primera doesn't offer support for both MAC and UNIX since the audience is pretty much limited. However, Primera offers the Inscripta's SDK programming specifications readily available to anyone who wishes to support it in both MAC and UNIX platforms.


Why Primera doesn't offer a full-color ribbon for Inscripta?

Primera answers: "…There are many reasons, but here are three that are most significant:

a. Full-color at 300 dpi or even 600 x 300 dpi looks very grainy. Most users today won't accept 300 dpi printing of photos, PMS color matches, and graphics. If you need to print these types of images, consider using the Signature III CD Color Printer instead. It uses ink-jet technology and prints at an incredible 1200 x 1200 dpi - the best available today for CD printing. On the other hand, 300 dpi prints text and solid colors wonderfully. Look at your collection of music CDs. You'll see that most use only black and one other color, using the silver or gold disc as a third "color."

b. Full-color thermal transfer is very expensive: about 30 cents per disc. Ink-jet is again a better choice if full-color printing is desired. One-color thermal transfer is very inexpensive: only about 5 cents per disc. But if highly durable and waterproof monochrome or two-color printing is what you need, thermal is a better choice than ink-jet.

c. Print head life. In order to print all three colors on top of each other (required for thermal transfer printing), an incredible amount of head pressure is required. This dramatically shortens print head life..."

How many prints per ribbon are there?

Primera answers "…It depends upon which ribbon you use. The monochrome ribbon will do at least 700 prints. However, most users will get more than this due to the built-in ribbon saver mechanism. It lifts the head in non-printable areas. This stops the ribbon from advancing and thus can save a significant amount of ribbon. The most ribbon saved is when the user prints only at the top or only at the bottom of the disc.

The two-color ribbons print a fixed number of prints: 350 each. Ribbon saving does not work on two-color ribbons because each disc printed will use a full panel of each color regardless of coverage. This is the other reason why color printing of any type with thermal transfer is expensive. The best application for thermal printing, in terms of cost and image quality, is one-color black in 600 x 300 dpi print resolution..."

How long does the print head last?

Primera answers: "…Inscripta has been tested for 5,000 passes and found to have no measurable head wear. So, we expect that the typical print head will last even longer. Although the printer is warranted for one full year, the print head is warranted for 90 days since it is subject to wear and tear. None of us can control how many discs are printed by a particular end-user in a year's time! A disc counter is built into the printer for warranty purposes. Keeping media clean and dust-free is highly recommended..."

Why do some CD-R and DVD-R discs print better than others?

Primera answers: "...There are two main characteristics that affect print quality on a disc: (1) surface flatness across the entire disc, including the edge, and (2) type of finish.

The flatness issue is pretty straight-forward: the flatter the disc, the better the printing. If a disc is not flat, you may notice print voids across the surface. Since a thermal print head IS completely flat, it simply can not print into "valleys" on a disc surface. Another problem from some disc manufacturers is that the edge of the disc is raised where the mold used to make the disc separates. An edge that is raised by only a couple of thousandths of a millimeter will affect print quality. The other factor is surface coatings. Some lacquer and/or varnish finishes, applied as a final step during the disc manufacturing process, are simply not compatible with Inscripta's resin-based inks..."

2. Package/First Impressions

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Package/First Impressions

- Unpacking:

Among with the main unit, our special package included:
- Power Adapter and Power Cord
- Printer driver and software
- Black monochrome and blue/black ink ribbons
- Warranty statement and registration card
- Quick start guide

Let's take a look at the main printer

On the front you can see the CD tray button which opens or closes the CD tray for loading and ejecting CDs. The button also is pressed and held while power is applied in order to perform a self-test. Also, the printer can be reset while unit's power is on by pressing and holding this button.

The Ribbon Catridge eject button is pressed to remove the ribbon catridge for ribbon replacement.

The LED status light indicates that power is ON. It is solid when the printer is busy processing data, blinks slowly when it is requesting a new CD, and blinks fast to indicate an error, such as the ribbon is out, wrong ribbon installed, tray movement error, tray lift error or memory error.

On the back there is the parallel interface port for Windows-based PC connection. The printer's auxiliary control is for OEM connection to an autoloader or robotic duplication system to control tray in / out and other printer functions.

Above the auxiliary control there is the Image Placement values label. These values must be entered into the vertical and horizontal boxes during the Tab calibration option. These values have been optimized specifically for each printer during final assembly and allow images to be centered on a CD when printed.

The printer provided worked best with the adjusting values shown on the left. The vertical value was "0" and the horizontal "-7"


3. Installing Ribbons

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Installing Ribbons

- Preparing for use

To enjoy your CD printings you should firstly install an ink ribbon to the printer. With the power on, you eject the tray and then you pull it forward to totally remove it from the main unit. Then you press the Ribbon Catridge eject Button and pull the Ribbon Catridge carefully out. The brochure says that you can "hot swap" the print head. What does this mean?

Hot-swapping is another innovative and exclusive feature of Inscripta. As you probably know by now, the ribbon is housed in a removable cartridge which also contains the print head. Without removing power, you can swap the cartridge (this is "hot" swapping) and put another spare cartridge in its place. There are three major advantages to this:

1. In high-production environments, you have no down-time when a ribbon change is necessary.
2. When and if a print head needs to be replaced, you can swap in a new cartridge and keep printing while you replace the worn-out print head.
3. Users who use both one-color and two-color ribbons can keep one cartridge each loaded with the different types of ribbons and quickly swap back and forth,

Then you turn the Ribbon Catridge upside down and lift up the front and the rear hold-down bracket by pulling the bracket up and pressing backwards. Notice that the shaft of the Ribbon hold-down bracket is allotted on the gear side.

Insert the ribbon in the slots towards you. Place the take-up reel in the slots located in the end of the printer as shown in the picture.

What's left is to close the Ribbon Hold-Down brackets and to insert the Ribbon Catridge back into the printer till it docks securely.

The next step is to apply to the power to the printer and to connect it to the computer. Applying the power is rather easy .What you have to do is to place one end of the adapter cord (adapter supplied with the printer) into the power jack on the rear panel of the printer.

Then plug the power cord of the adapter into an available wall outlet. Once the power cord is connected, the printer will automatically turn ON as indicated by the LED status light illuminating and blinking every two seconds. This is the printer's normal "waiting" for data mode.

The printer is equipped with a standard 8-bit Centronics-type parallel port. This port is the means through which receives data from the PC. To connect the device to the PC simply obtain a parallel cable (preferably IEEE 1284-compilant) and connect it to the printer (don't forget to snap the fastening clips into place). The other side of the cable connects to the computer at LPT1, LPT2, or parallel connector:

4. Intergration with Composer system

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Intergration with Composer system

Inscripta optical printer can also be used as printing device attached to Primera's Disc Duplication system. User has the chance to write and print his favorite CDs in a few steps, using the recording software (Prassi PrimcoCD Pro) provided with the Composer CD Duplicator by Primera. The next picture shows the duplicator and indicates the input ports on its rear panel.

The SCSI Port is for connection to your PC's internal SCSI card. It receives data that is to be recorded on a CD. The Control Port is connected to COM1 (or COM2 or COM3) of your PC with a serial cable. The Printer Control Port is connected to the mini-DIN plug on the rear panel of the Thermal CD printer. Lastly, the Power Input Port is for +24V power connection.

The next step is to attach the optional printer stand (required for the printer installation) to the Duplicator by locating the connecting tabs and inserting them into the slots on the rear panel of the Duplicator. The thermal CD printer is mounted on the left side, as shown below. Make sure that the Printer Control Cable is routed neatly out the back of the printer Stand so that it can be connected to the rear panel of the printer

Note that you should place the Output CD Bin in the spot shown in the pic so that the printer's tray will be free to open.

What's left is to place the Tray Support bracket on the upper side of the duplicator. The bracket provides extra support to the printer's CD Tray when the robotic arm picks a disc.

Position the Tray Support bracket over the locating guide and tighten the supplied screw into the hole near the locating guide. Then place the Thermal CD printer on the stand and calibrate the printer position by sliding the printer forward on the Mounting Plate so that the printer's tray can be fully seated without binding or being stopped short of being fully extended (open). That's it, the printer is ready to use after installing the recording software.

5. Driver installation and setting up

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Driver installation and setting up

We installed the optical disc printer using the package included driver CD-ROM. The installation was successful and the printer was normally identified as Optical Disc Printer

Let's take a look at the printer's properties. Among the general properties, what are interesting are the advanced printing preferences:

The paper size box (image size) has two choices. According to the manufacturer, the default is Optical Disc for printing onto lacquer-finish CD-Rs, DVD-Rs or other 120mm round optical discs. This option allows a 113mm x 113mm (4.449'') radius circle image to be printed. The printer software clips the image to fit the disc. Also it takes out an inside radius circle of 45mm (1.77''). The inside radius diameter can be changed within the Calibrate tab which we will see later.

The other choice is Custom. By selecting this option, you can specify the print area for a custom-sized media such as business card shape CD-Rs or 80mm mini-discs. To change the custom page size, press the custom image size button and a size adjustment dialog will appear. You can enter your print dimensions in increments of 0.01'' or 0.1mm. Select inches or millimeters with the appropriate button. The copy count box allows you to select the number of copies to be printed.

The printing resolution can be set to 305x305 dpi (default) or to 610x305 dpi. The 610x305 dpi choice is preferable for fine-small text printings or photo printings onto discs. However default resolution prints and rasterizes faster.

The Ribbon type box selects the type of ribbon that you will be using for printing. You can choose among Monochrome and 2-color ribbons, according to the type of ribbon which is currently loaded in the printer. The Monochrome Ribbon gives a single color output. The 2-Color Ribbon prints all the black objects and their shades using the black panel. The objects colored differently will be printed with the color panel (red, blue or green) of the 2-color ribbon.

The Intensity box controls how much heat is used to transfer the ink from the ribbon to the disc. The applied heat is adjustable from 0 to 95. The default setting is in the middle (46-47).

What you can also select is whether the loading -eject functions will be controlled manually. Primera suggests the Manual Load option when you are printing multiple copies of a single design or if using the auto - loader. If you select the manual load option, you must press the Tray Eject Button after each new disc is loaded. Have in mind that you should select the Manual Load option when you have chosen to print multiple copies, so the printer will not print all the selected numbers of copies in the same disc! The Manual Eject option will not allow the printer to automatically eject the disc after printing. The user should then press the Tray Eject Button.

Next you can see the Image Placement Options. These options calibrate the position of the printing image and adjust the non-printing center size of the disc. You can set the Horizontal Print Offset, the Vertical Print Offset and the Center Size values. Note that the Image Placement values labeled on the printer's rear panel must be entered into the Vertical and Horizontal boxes prior to printing. These values have been optimized specifically for each printer during final assembly and allow images to be centered on a CD when printed.

In case you don't want the printing image to be centered, you can change these values. Adjusting the image 12 pixels will move it 1 millimeter. Increasing the vertical calibration will move the image on the disc toward the back of the Optical Disc Printer. Increasing the horizontal calibration will move the image on the disc toward the left side of the printer as you face the printer.

Center size will adjust the inner cutout size of the disc. The adjustment range is +70 to -70 pixels where a 12 pixel adjustment is exactly 1 millimeter. Negative numbers will make the center size smaller and positive numbers make it larger. With the Center Size set to 0 the inner circle will be 1.77 inches or 45 mm.

Let's say a few words about the Force Color Under Black and the Force Saturation boxes. Force Color Under Black option should be selected only on 2-Color Ribbons. The option will force the color panel to be printed under all black text as well. It is used only in certain situations where the design places a color object on a black background. The Force Saturation option forces all colors to become completely saturated. Otherwise, the shades of color will be printed with a dither pattern. For example, assume that the design includes three boxes that are light gray, medium gray and black. If Force Saturation is checked, all three will print solid black. If not checked, the boxes will print with a dither pattern as light gray, medium gray and black.

6. Printing software

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Printing software

Click To The printing software provided is the "Sure Thing CD Labeler v2.10.16". We installed the program and fired it up. As you can see above, in the main window there is a circle CD layout which gives user the chance to easily add text on the layout and also to have a first look at the printing result output.

On the left you see the design bar where you select the type of the background, the text or the logos you can add to the CD layout. On the top there are two more toolbars, the design editor Speed Tools and the design editor Control Strip toolbars.

The speed tools allow user to manage the items of the template, change the text formatting, calibrate printer,print. The design editor Control Strip helps user to change the text formatting by choosing various of fonts, Bold, Italic, Underline attributes, text color e.t.c

You can select one of the 30 Smart design backgrounds for your printings or use your own background from your hard disk. Also you have the chance to set the background color (shade and pattern) in the set background color window

User can add some logos and cliparts in his design using the Logos/Clipart tab. The software provides some ready to use CD & Media symbols to insert or you can use the Picture Tool, where you select the inserting image from your disk and then easily you can place it anywhere on the CD printing area with additional capability for size adjustment.

The Text Effect tab gives user two choices: Using the text effect wizard to insert a text in the layout or to use the text effect tool. The wizard is an easy way to insert a text in your layout. In a four step session you select the shape of your text from eight sample patterns, the variation of the text, the text color, the text shadow, border color, and font and text size.
Using the text effect tool give the same effect choices in a more detailed way. You firstly select the text inserting area or the text already inserted and then the options window comes up to make your effect selections, such as text shades, text color, background color, text borders and more.

Some samples text types are also provided for quick and easy selection. The inserted text can be printed in a circular, angled or straight perspective satisfying the user's possible layout preferences. What will be more useful to the novice user is a complete sample collection provided. Here the samples given are categorized according to the selected format options. By this the user can select among samples with or without text shadows or border color, text outline, text color, background shades e.t.c

What about adding text? The software gives four choices, three for adding text and one for symbol insertion. The first choice is to add text using the New Text Fame option. A box will appear into the CD printing area and user can write the text there. You can move or change the text size using your mouse with a simple right-click and turning to the object mode. The second choice is the use of the Text Frame tool where you manually select the text inserting area and then move the text potentially. The program also provides some ready to use text forms about User Info, Name, country, address and many more. Also you can choose from a variety of symbols classified in five different fonts.

7. Printing Performance - Conclusion

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Printing Performance - Conclusion

We made several printing tests using the Maxell silver lacquer media (for thermal transfer) provided by Primera. Inscripta Optical Disc Printer seems to be able to give some quiet good results while printing various text and small cliparts or logos. We tested the printer with the Monochrome and the 2-colour (black-blue) ribbons.

The monochrome ribbon results are quite good although sometimes the unchecked "Force Saturation" option did not give the exact color dithering result. This means that there were a few fade spots on the printing text area. This option worked really well in no-shade solid printings where the dithering disabling option is more suitable. Furthermore, the printer managed to print the various text and logo layout inputs giving the desired result.

The given output was good when we used the 305 x 305 dpi resolution and even better in the 610 x 305 dpi choice (the 610 x 305 dpi gave better results in logos & cliparts). Also, as we increased the Intensity value, the text printed quality was better and the color seamed more "alive". This does not mean that pushing the Intensity value to the limits (99) will give the best results. Something like that would increase the ink temperature and might destroy the ribbon. Our tests showed that a safe printing Intensity area is below 60, especially when print at 610 x 305 dpi. The printing time depends on the complication of the printing label but it will not be more than 20 seconds.

The 2-color ribbon tests gave us the chance to print some colored logos and texts and also some blue CD backgrounds. As with the monochrome ribbon, all the blue and black text areas were properly printed. The different fonts, shape variations and color combinations of the text were printed in good density.

Thermal printing is always a bit more "picky" than ink-jet since the printer has actual contact with the surface of the disc. Any dust specs or other particles on the surface will show up as the pinholes or streaks. Users should keep their discs in a tightly sealed package before printing so that dust does become a problem. There is very little that a manufacturer can do to prevent dust from showing up on the output, especially in solid areas. Ink-jet does not have this physical limitation in the printing process since it literally "sprays" ink onto the surface, dust particles and all.


Inscripta is a good choice for everyday corporate and small business use. A user who need low cost printing on CDs and doesn't need the colourful printing capabilities of inkjet printers has now a good choice. The printing speed is good and the general performance satisfactory. The price might be a drawback for single users but keep in mind that the printer is aimed for massive volume production of small CD-R factories...

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