COLOP, a company based in Austria, develops imprint products that you’ll find in offices all over the world. About a year ago, the company developed the first “digital stamp”, the e-mark, a hand-held 600dpi inkjet printer that integrates with a Windows computer, iOS or Android device and outputs multicolour stamps. After having asked for and received a test unit that I put through its paces using an iPad with iPadOS 13, it became clear the e-mark far outreaches its functionality as a stamp. It’s more of a marketing tool for any kind of business, including photographers, architects, designers and filmmakers.
COLOP’s e-mark lets you stamp almost everything you come across with any “stamp” design you wish, due to its use of your tablet, smartphone or Windows PC for creating and storing as many different imprint designs as you want. It supports various barcodes, auto-numbering and date/time stamping, image and text printing.
The e-mark operates off a tricolour ink cartridge that will go on for about 5,000 imprints. The ink is dye-based and COLOP developed it in cooperation with HP. The e-mark will print on paper, cloth and everything else that absorbs ink. The device runs on an 11.1V rechargeable Li-ion battery that powers it for about five hours of continuous use and is charged within three hours. Recharging is done when the device is seated in its docking station that protects the printhead, keeps it from drying out and has a manual cleaning accessory on board.
When used with a mobile device, the e-mark functions as a Wi-Fi network server that you join from within the free COLOP e-mark app. This worked flawlessly on my iPad which has the automatic joining feature turned on for use with my office Wi-Fi router. The device furthermore has memory storage for up to four different stamp designs, including the last one you’ve used.
I had no trouble installing the ink cartridge in less than four minutes. As the unit is small, you’ll have to unlock and swing out a few components to make room for it. The instruction sheet explains it both clearly with text and pictures and if that’s not enough for you, there are a few Youtube instruction videos available as well.
There’s little else to set up about the e-mark. Charge the battery, stamp your e-mark’s built-in stamp/print test that contains its Wi-Fi ID and password, launch the app, join the device and start uploading stamps — that’s all there is to it.
The COLOP e-mark user experience
For some of its features and to access more than the four imprints you can store in its memory, the COLOP e-mark depends on its companion app. Upon installation, the app will download a bunch of templates from the COLOP server that you can customize. It supports importing JPEG and PNG images, which I tested with a photo and high-res 2D barcodes I created in Barcode Studio. The photo showed quite some detail after adding contrast to accommodate for the small size. The Data Matrix, MaxiCode and DotCode barcodes could be scanned perfectly.
To spruce up your designs, you have access to the iPad’s fonts, fonts added by installing the app and fonts you can upload (OTF and TTF) to the Custom Fonts folder inside the e-mark directory on your device. Those will automatically be available to the e-mark app.
After creating an imprint in the app, you upload it to the e-mark. Sound and rotating LED alerts around the unit inform you of its status. After a few seconds, you’ve got the OK from the unit and you can lift it from the dock and start “stamping”.
If you crave for the typical stamp action, you’ll be disappointed because the e-mark needs a gentle move from left to right or the other way round. Swipe speed doesn’t matter much, because the e-mark intelligently adjusts its printing speed — up to a point, of course. The action is supported by sliding wheels, while two or three-line imprints require you to move the unit down until it beeps. There’s quite a lot of space between the lines, but I found that you can move the e-mark slightly up a bit after its beep to decrease the gap. It takes exercise to get that right, though.
Markings on the sides of the e-mark and a transparent window on the front side make positioning easy. A notch in the middle of the marking shows the centre line of the imprint, so you can position your stamp perfectly.
With two and three-line imprinting, keeping the unit perfectly parallel with the previous line took me a dozen attempts before getting the hang of it.
Once you’ve nailed it, it’s a joy to work with the e-mark. And that’s a good thing as you can do a lot more with this device than stamping office papers with “Urgent”, “Paid” and “Confidential”.
The many use case scenarios of the COLOP e-mark
Used as an office stamp, the e-mark can replace all other rubber stamps as it can auto-number, automatically change date and time, queue, and more. However, it’s important to remember the e-mark depends on the app to perform its automatic advancement functionality.
For numbers, this means you need to keep the app open and then number as fast as the unit receives its updates. For date and time stamps, you do need to tap the “Send to e-mark” button each time you want to update the time stamp. However, if you stop using the e-mark, a saved date/time imprint will automatically have updated when you reconnect the unit to the iPad.
There’s more of this kind of automation available. For example, you can queue multiple imprints in the app, with the iPad automatically sending one “stamp” after the other has finished.
Many of the automation features can be very effective marketing gimmicks. For example, wedding photographers can “stamp” a printable Blu-Ray disc with their logo, a list of footage or images it contains and the date, as a great way to advertise their work.
For surfaces that can’t absorb ink, COLOP makes labels for the e-mark with special marks to guide it along the label, but if you’ve had a bit of practice, you can imprint on any label suitable for inkjet printing, including Avery’s weatherproof range. Thanks to its image quality and with a bit of practice, you could even design a 3-line stamp holding shippers’ data and barcodes.
As I also received the ribbon stamping set, I tried that as well and found that you can use the plastic guides (15 and 25 mm) with any type of “ribbon”, including self-adhesive continuous labels, allowing you to turn the e-mark in a super Dymo-style labelling machine.
The COLOP e-mark’s advanced functionality
You could categorize all of the above as basic functionality that is also offered by common mechanical/electric stamps, for example. However, COLOP has definitely taken a serious leap beyond with advanced functionality in several places in the app, with the imprint Settings panel playing the most important role.
Here you will find buttons and checkboxes for changing the number of lines for when you change your mind about your imprint design, but also options like the one to create serial imprints, continuous stamping and mirroring your stamp.
Especially the serial marking option stunned me because it’s a feature that you’ll rarely find anywhere else but on printing presses and industrial inkjets. In COLOP’s app you first create a CSV list — in Excel, Apple Numbers or a simple text editor, for example — then upload it to the serial marking folder inside the e-mark folder on your iOS device.
Within the app you now create a new imprint as usual but change the Settings option Serial Marking from “No” to one of the next options in the list, which will be your uploaded CSV files. My test file had a comma delimiter instead of the semicolon and the app politely asked me to enter my delimiter of choice.
Now, when you set up the e-mark, you were given the choice to enter your personal data and that data is always available in the Edit Text toolbar as the “My Data” button. And you probably guessed it: the My Data button now lists the contents of your CSV file as well.
Once you’ve created your data fields and saved the imprint, you can start printing. You’ll be taken to the same screen as when you want to print a numeric sequence or a date/time stamp. This time around, however, you’ll see a counter and the big green start button below. You can now either print the whole file, one entry after the other, or select an entry from the counter and opt to print only that.
This alone is worth the e-mark’s money as it firmly puts this device into the realm of printing applications that are must-haves for marketing and other truly endless use cases:
- printing attendees’ ID-cards at a conference, complete with a logo and a picture of the invited speaker(s)
- photo archiving, printing the metadata and possibly a barcode on the back of each photograph
- old-fashioned direct mailing
- stamp mobile digital storage media on a film set…
The saying “The possibilities are only limited by your imagination” definitely applies here. The e-mark retails at €299 ex VAT.