How the Peninsula Group Thermal Printer driver turns OS X into the best system for printing labels

When Peninsula Group’s representative asked me if I was interested in reviewing their completely rewritten Thermal Printer driver, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Peninsula Group’s printer driver is the only one that works with OS X without driving you crazy. The new printer driver includes a special installer to set up extraction of labels for use with UPS, FedEx, etc. once and then never look back. The rendering engine also makes it possible to print from web browsers without dithering — which is essential for barcodes to remain readable.

Installing the Peninsula Group’s Thermal Printer driver took a couple of minutes after which my system ended up with a proper way to drive and manage my Zebra GX430t thermal label printer. If you own a Zebra, Datamax, TEC, TSC, Brady, Intermec, Argox, Godex, Dymo, Monarch or Citizen thermal printer, you are in luck as Peninsula Group supports all of them on the OS X platform. Not only do they support these printers with often a better driver than the native one, their driver also allows for greater flexibility and accuracy when printing barcodes. Whereas you probably can’t print a UPS label directly from the web browser with your thermal printer’s native driver software, with the Peninsula Group’s you can.

Obviously, I tested the driver with my Zebra. As anyone who has ever tried to use the OS X driver for Zebra printers knows, that CUSP driver is near-useless and allows for very little control over the printer’s settings and capabilities. I knew from its previous version the Peninsula Group’s printer driver would be exactly the opposite in that respect. It turns out the new printer driver now also offers you more in terms of printer setup, efficiency and rendering options.

Setting up a thermal printer with the Thermal Utility

The Peninsula Group has really done a brilliant job on making the printer setup a nice and efficient experience. First off, you are guided throughout the whole process — this driver is 100% idiot proof. The nicest aspect of the driver is that you can set up the same printer multiple times, once for each different usage scenario you want to optimise the printer for.

For example, I started by setting up the Zebra for printing from Apple’s Pages and called that printer instance “GX430t Pages”. This gives you a print dialogue where you can set the page margins to take into account and the label size to accommodate yourself with each print job. A second printer instance was reserved for printing from web pages such as UPS, eBay, etc. When you choose this option, you have to go through a few extra steps that are all clearly documented.

You’ll first need to print a web page with the label to a PDF (for FedEx Peninsula Group even has an example page available for download), then load the PDF into the Peninsula Group’s Thermal Utility where you’ll define the area containing the actual label you want to print. When that’s been done properly, the driver will automatically set the right area to be printed each time you try to print a shipping label from one of these sites.

Instructions to set up your printer are available for UPS, eBay, FedEx, DPD and “other couriers”. Except for Pages and web browser printing, there are also setups for Amazon Workspaces and Apple’s Preview app. I tried the latter and it worked more or less the same as for web browser printing — defining the label area once, etc.

The printing experience

This method of setting up your printer for different uses makes printing labels from all sorts of applications truly effortless. The only thing you need to make sure to do is call your printer instances names you will recognise later on. At first, I didn’t and of course after creating three virtual Zebras I couldn’t tell which driver belonged to which job anymore…

With the Pages setting, I could print from applications like Pages (obviously), Numbers, QuarkXPress, InDesign CS6, Belight Software’s Labels & Addresses. When you choose this setup type, you’ll need to manually enter the margins and label size because the driver can’t guess where the content that you want to print is located.

However, with the Preview and web browser types, the extra steps during the setup phase serve to fill in these details once, when you set up the driver, and then never again. They are pre-filled whenever you use that driver. And that saves a huge amount of time and takes the guesswork out of this process entirely. I tried this with half a dozen documents and pages and it worked 100% correctly.

Using this with a web page directly from a courier’s site could still be nightmarish because most web pages render images at reduced resolution for faster loading. Browsers are intelligent enough to apply dithering and anti-aliasing to those images so they look nice. However, dithering and anti-aliasing are detrimental to barcode scanners’ ability to read the barcodes printed off those pages.

Apparently, the Peninsula Group has found a way to get rid of the dithering and print barcodes as sharp as the original. I could read all of them with the barcode scanners I have here (an Opticon OPN-2001 and a very old PDF417-capable Hand Held Products IT3800).

Finally, the Thermal Utility has a maintenance tab with which you can change the printer’s parameters and configuration you set up.

Conclusion

I wanted to start this review with the words: “How to make a thermal printer driver sexy and still efficient” because that sort of describes perfectly what the Peninsula Group has done with their rewritten Thermal printer driver. Theirs makes my Zebra GX430t usable, but not just usable — more like a pleasure to print with. You don’t need to load Parallels Desktop with Windows, only to be able to print with your label printer and you can use your OS X layout design apps to create well-designed labels.

This new driver boosts efficiency, speed and manageability. In environments where OS X rules, the Peninsula Group’s Thermal Printer driver is money well spent. A 1-computer license costs €194.00, but for a limited time you can have it for €97.00.

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