When it comes to label printing for businesses, especially those looking to speed up their processes via an investment in an automated print and apply labelling solution, the choices can be bewildering. One of the key differences between different manufacturers, is whether to opt for a dedicated print engine or a non-standard, customised, “all-in-one” solution. Here’s how you can distinguish between the two and help you to weigh up the pros and cons of each.

What is the difference between a dedicated print engine and all-in-one solution?

Similar to how mobile phone manufacturers typically don’t make their own chips, print and apply manufacturers often rely on specialist technology partners to supply the printing function in their machines. These are called print engines.

Unlike a custom-built solution, a dedicated print engine comes pre-built inside standard-size casing, shared across manufacturers, making it possible to easily swap between different engines – even those from other manufacturers – without changing the rest of your hardware. A dedicated print engine has also been designed and purpose-built to deal with the rigours that come with a large-scale production and packaging line. The components used to manufacture these units are typically part of a well-established supply chain and are of a consistent quality.

In a custom solution, individual parts are often brought together to create a single unique machine for a specific purpose and setting. That can mean less standardisation and consistencies in the component supply chain.

When it comes to print engines, we believe it’s worth trusting the experts. We use Zebra engines for most of our print and apply solutions because we know that their print engines provide the best solutions for our clients.

Custom-built print engines might seem attractive, sometimes offering a lower price point or taking up less space than a dedicated option, however the use of a less standardised approach to components creates a kind of “Frankenstein’s monster” solution that can lead to more problems down the line.

Why should you use a dedicated Zebra print engine?

Increased label volume

With a Zebra print engine, you know that your solution has been designed to do exactly what you need it to. The years of research and innovation that have gone into Zebra print engines mean that their engines can keep up with the fastest production and packaging lines, and can do so for longer than a non-standard, custom-built solution.

More intuitive setup

Another reason that we use Zebra print engines is the ease of use that they offer end users. From setup through to day-to-day use, a Zebra engine provides an intuitive path for users to follow and makes using the print and apply solution as easy as possible. Zebra have also developed their own programming language (ZPL) with hundreds of commands – as well as the ability to add custom commands at client request. The use of ZPL allows for easy integration with a range of industry-standard systems. With multiple print engines and ERP systems, the ability to integrate and “make the printer talk” to other aspects of the production line is invaluable.

The Zebra Ecosystem

Zebra consumables are also designed and manufactured specifically for Zebra print engines, from the print heads through to the media used in labelling. For a completely homogenous experience, Zebra labels are also produced to exacting standards.

Typically, the process of manufacturing labels (or “converting” to give the process it’s proper name) can create a lot of tiny dust particles which end up on the labels. Once the converted roll is in use and it unravels to release new labels, it can dispense dust particles into the print mechanism. Although these are tiny, they accumulate over time and clog up internal machine components – such as sensors – at the point of use meaning extra maintenance and downtime risk. Zebra employs multipart dust extraction at the point of conversion to minimise this.

When all these small elements are combined into a complete thought out eco system, the longevity of machines, maximised uptime, and overall print quality increase to provide you with a solution that does the job properly, and one that lasts. Zebra equipment is built to fit together, so unlike a custom solution, you know that every piece augments the next.


With the highest percentage of metal components, Zebra print engines last. We’re confident that when we provide print and apply labelling solutions to clients that the Zebra print engine can endure even the toughest printing. Unlike other print engines, especially those that are made of several different individual components, Zebra print engines have been purpose-built to fit together and work as a unit, delivering both exceptional results and durability.

Hot swaps and in-the-field servicing

When breakdowns do occur, quick and affordable servicing from Cobalt engineers means that you don’t have to worry. In-the-field servicing for your print engines can help to reduce the stress of a printer going down, and for an extra layer of comfort, Zebra engines can be hot swapped, meaning that you can change out a printer for another one straight away (in less than 5 minutes with 4-6 retaining bolts) –minimising downtime and costs to the business.

Whereas a custom-built, non-standard print mechanism built into the overall print and apply system will most likely need a dedicated engineer from the manufacturer, a dedicated print engine replacement is quick and simple, and that can’t be guaranteed with a baked-in system.

Environmental impact

When it comes to the environmental impact of replacing a printer at its end of life, having a replaceable print engine can be much greener than having a custom-built machine. Our print and apply solutions are built around the print engines, which all come in standard sizes, meaning that when you need to repair, replace, or upgrade to a new model, you can slot it into a Cobalt print and apply system, and don’t necessarily have to build a completely new solution each time.

We build our print and apply solutions to solve your specific problems, delivering efficiency and durability with Zebra print engines at the heart of everything we do.

Our builds come with experience and expertise, from our proficiency with print and apply to Zebra’s excellence regarding print engines. Everything that we do is designed to give our clients the best possible solution to a problem, and that means using Zebra print engines.