People love to use self-service kiosks in almost every setting—parking garages, airports, restaurants, stores and entertainment venues. This reliable, consistent technology is empowering consumers to enter orders themselves in a restaurant, check into a hotel without waiting in line, or check out their own groceries in a supermarket.
The kiosk industry is thriving, and research shows that shoppers, diners and travelers love the control of doing things themselves. Despite the shift, the basic premise of every kiosk transaction is the same: enter the data, pay (if necessary), and obtain take away collateral, whether it’s a receipt, voucher, ticket or other use.
Kiosk manufacturers have a lot of components to fit inside an enclosure, and it can get pretty crowded in there. Among all of the internal components, the printer that produces the take away collateral is critical to the kiosk’s success. A printer that jams, drops receipts on the ground, or frequently runs out of paper renders the kiosk undesirable for end users. Or worse, it could be offline so often it’s more of a problem than a solution.
Star Micronics has one of the world’s largest portfolios of encased, open frame modular, thermal kiosk printer solutions. Every one of Star’s kiosk printers accommodate multiple roll sizes for less frequent changes, while delivering receipts, tickets or labels.
The kiosk printer is a critical part of a successful kiosk’s design and operation. Here are eight features every kiosk manufacturer should look for when choosing a kiosk printer, straight from the experts.
1. Multiple Kiosk Software Support
Kiosk development is expensive, and incorporating hardware and software development for different components is no small task. These efforts need to be scaled for projects that range in size from a few kiosks to several hundred units.
Before choosing a kiosk printer, research prospective hardware partners and select one with several kiosk printer choices. It’s important that the partner also provides support for web-based or cloud-based software applications. Ask if the company supports tablet-based (iOS and Android) SDK or sample software and find out if they have an experienced and knowledgeable integration team to support the software development. The absence of an SDK means each developer would have to build the basics themselves, which can be especially complicated when working with multiple printers or a large network of kiosks.
2. Sensors to Ensure Proper Function, Even While Unattended
Choose a kiosk printer equipped with sensors that assist with customer information security, safety and that reduces waste. Sensors will also provide accurate status reports that verify whether a ticket or receipt has been printed and wasn’t retrieved or taken in a timely manner by the customer.
For example, if the printer generates a receipt or ticket and it isn’t retrieved, a sensor may trigger the system to recapture the collateral instead of letting it hang in limbo, or worse, drop on the ground as garbage. Sensors that prompt the printer to recapture the medium helps safeguard customer information and ensures the ground won’t be littered with receipts for people to slip and fall on or clean up regularly. Knowing with certainty that a ticket or receipt has been generated also eliminates the possibility of theft if a customer retrieves their items and then fraudulently claims the kiosk didn’t produce what they paid for.
Since kiosks are designed to be left unattended for long periods of time, they should be equipped with sensors and paper status alerts that will notify an employee when a kiosk is low on paper, requires a new roll, or has a jam.
It’s a bonus if the kiosk printer supports digital receipts, because it helps reduce the use of paper and allows customers to store proofs of purchase, tickets and other information on their mobile devices.
3. Lights/Visual Cues
Kiosks aren’t particularly chatty, so lights or other visual cues are necessary for them to communicate different messages. For example, Star Micronics’ TUP500, a printer that supports smaller paper widths, has an optional bezel that flashes green or red to get the user’s attention. These lights may flash when the receipt or tickets are printed, signifying they are ready for pickup, or alerting the customer to a problem with their order.
Since employees aren’t usually monitoring the kiosk, a light may illuminate to get a staff member’s attention if a problem needs to be resolved. It’s essential for the printer to notify you immediately if it requires more paper, so choose a kiosk printer that displays a light or text alert when it is low or out of paper entirely.
4. Multiple Profiles
Most kiosks are compact with small footprints, so choose the printer that suits your needs but will also help save a little space. Look for a printer with a flexible enclosure design, so it fits into several different styles of kiosks. A printer could be as small as 4” inches deep, including the paper. But be careful, as a small printer may be too limiting, making frequent paper changes an inconvenient reality.
Consider the printer’s orientation. “Standard format” is a printer with a horizontal orientation and takes up more space. A vertical kiosk printer doesn’t have any “sprawl,” so it’s more convenient for a narrow width enclosure. A vertical printer’s lower profile takes up less space inside the kiosk enclosure, leaving you more room for additional components. Ideally, kiosk printers should feature drop-in paper loading because it’s the easiest, fastest way to load paper and get the kiosk back online.
5. Looping Presenter
The looping presenter is an innovative kiosk printer technology that prints receipts in full before presenting them to the customer to be taken. Most importantly, the looping presenter prevents paper jams from occurring if users pull on the paper before printing is complete. A paper jam takes the kiosk offline, which causes customer service delays and has a negative impact on customer throughput and experience.
A presenter increases security and supports customer privacy by ensuring that receipts are delivered only to the right person; if forgotten, they remain inside the kiosk so other people can’t grab them and access a customer’s information. A looping presenter also eliminates the chance that receipts or other collateral to fall to the floor if it is not delivered to the intended recipient. Kiosk printers equipped with this technology mean a reduction in litter generated by the kiosk, resulting in a cleaner looking store, restaurant, or other business environment.
6. Paper Holder
It may seem like a small feature, but a kiosk printer’s paper holder will dictate how often someone is running to the kiosk to change the paper roll. Most kiosk printers have a standard size paper holder—2”, 3”, 5”, 6” diameter supported—and a large capacity option. Although the standard size takes up less space inside the kiosk, workers may find themselves replacing the paper more often, which disrupts customers and the business’ workflow. A kiosk in a high traffic environment, like an airport, usually requires the maximum size paper holder available to accommodate heavy use. However, a kiosk doesn’t need to be in a high-traffic environment to warrant companies wanting a larger capacity. Although a larger paper holder does require a little more real estate inside the enclosure, it will save a business’ employees time spent changing the paper rolls, so they can focus on other tasks during the work day.
Also, if the paper needs to be changed too seldom, people forget about the maintenance all together. Aim for a paper holder that allows for paper roll changes once a week.
Don’t limit a kiosk’s printing capability before it’s even installed. Look for a kiosk printer that gives you flexibility by supporting more than one communication interface, including serial and USB. Star Micronics also offers Ethernet and Bluetooth as an optional communication interface. The type of interface and the ports the printer has will dictate what type of operating system can be used. Serial is typically for legacy systems or PCs, USB is best suited for Android systems, with Bluetooth and Ethernet being the best option for iOS.
A bezel is an alternative to the looping presenter. The bezel is positioned between the kiosk slot and the printer, so it provides a path to push paper out of the kiosk. If the best kiosk printer for your enclosure doesn’t accommodate a presenter, a bezel is an alternative solution that provides a clean delivery.
The self-service trend is gaining momentum, and consumers love to be in control—so this growing market will continue to evolve. Choosing the right kiosk printer is a matter of understanding target industries and their customers, as well as a thorough assessment of partner vendors and feature options.
A successful kiosk design requires strategic printer evaluation and selection, and proper attention should be paid to the supported interfaces, paper roll size, alert lights and how the collateral is delivered.
Printers that adequately check these boxes are ideal for different applications, including point of sale, entertainment, food labeling, shipping, gift registry, ATM, parking lots and transportation hubs.