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RFID Primer from Zebra Technologies

Tips for RFID Smart Label Printing/Encoding

Selected excerpts from the Zebra Technologies White Paper.

Fundamentals: How Printers Create Smart Labels

Smart label printer/encoders use media that contains an RFID inlay (chip and aluminum, copper or silver antenna bonded to a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) layer) embedded within the label material. The inlay ships to the label manufacturer without adhesive (“dry”), or attached to a pressuresensitive liner (“wet”).

“Converted label” processes embed the RFID inlay into a self-adhesive paper label. An RFID encoder inside the printer writes pre-determined data to the RFID tag using radio frequency (RF) transmission. Next, the printer prints bar codes, text, and graphics using the standard thermal printing process.

Maximize Encoding Success

Printer/encoders should perform two tag quality checks. The first check, prior to encoding, verifies that the inlay is functional and can receive data. The second check verifies that data encoded and stored on the chip correctly. Encoding the inlay and printing the smart label should require only a single pass through the printer/encoder. A key consideration in facilitating smooth printing/encoding operations is to ensure that the label edge properly aligns so that the tag is in proper programmable position for encoding. Avoid the practice of manually aligning labels, which is common in bar coding. Precise positioning is required to enable the tag for encoding. The best practice is to adjust label location through printer/encoder commands or through label-design software.

For example, Zebra Programming Language (ZPL® ) includes the “Label Home” script usable for adjusting the label’s top position. Label design software packages also have features to adjust label layout. Some printer/ encoders have programmable encoding positions that allow setting the encoding location from the control panel or through the printer command language. Printer/encoders with a self-calibration feature—again an optimal choice—can automatically determine the best encoding position. The latest printer/encoder technology supports an RFID calibration feature with automatic program position selection for optimal transponder placement.

In Short…

Businesses across the world print and encode millions of smart labels every year. Most problems that do arise occur because of a few common conditions that are easily resolved. Many problems can be avoided entirely by training associates on the leading causes of smart label failure, such as due diligence in selecting proper media, media handling, and replacing manual printer calibration with auto-calibration models.

Action taken before deploying the system can also save errors and downtime. Care taken early on to optimize media with the specific printer/encoder will save valuable time and costs while improving long-term yields and throughput. Selecting an intelligent, programmable printer/encoder helps optimize operations because the organization can set the unit to support desired processes for error resolution and alert notification. Printer/encoders that offer programmable encoding positions and imaging adjustments make it easier to maintain calibration and uptime.

Many other usage, environmental, and product factors can affect smart label printing/encoding performance. Contact Zebra Technologies to learn more about setting up an efficient smart labeling system for your organization. As a member of EPCglobal, and a technology sponsor of the former Auto-ID Center at MIT, Zebra plays a leading role in the development of smart label technology, standards, and applications for supply chain and business improvement programs. Zebra has provided solutions to many RFID early adopters, including suppliers in the Walmart and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) compliance programs.

Zebra Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ: ZBRA) provides the broadest range of innovative technology solutions to identify, track, manage, and optimize the deployment of critical assets for improved business efficiency. Zebra’s core technologies include reliable on-demand printer and state-of-the-art software and hardware solutions. By enabling improvements in sourcing, visibility, security and accuracy, Zebra helps its customers to put the right asset in the right place at the right time. Zebra operates in over 100 countries and serves more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies worldwide.

Read the full white paper at

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