When most of us think of thermal CD/DVD printing, we think of industrial-strength Rimage systems like the Prism and Everest used in Kodak PhotoCD labs and the like. Primera's Inscripta made thermal disc printing into a desktop phenomenon, but none of these products has done much to unseat inkjet as the technology of choice for small-studio and SOHO CD/DVD printing applications. Which is a shame, since thermal printing has some nice advantages for desktop-based users who like their disc printing quick and easy: no drying time, no smudging, water-resistance, and fairly quick print times. The disadvantage of low-cost thermal disc printers is the restriction to a single color.
Which printing option you choose generally depends on the application. Many of us who put great care into CD/DVD inlay card and case design see disc-labeling as a predominately functional part of the packaging process; we want something that's neater and more systematic than a Sharpie, but don't care about extravagant designs on the one part of the package (the disc) that's usually in the case or the playback device, and rarely sees the light of day except on the road between. And many of us who are archiving our discs rather than delivering them to clients have text-specific needs and just want key information presented clearly and simply. For users in those categories, low-cost, compact thermal printers or LightScribe recorder/printers are the way to go.
Thus TEAC's P11, a new single-color thermal disc printer, makes an interesting addition to the steadily diversifying disc-printing domain. Built on the same Cal-Comp. mechanism as the Primera Signature Z1 introduced in 2004, it's a strikingly compact unit, with a footprint that's roughly equivalent to the copy of A Connecitcut Yankee in King Arthur's Court I have sitting beside it on my desk. It weighs in at 2 lbs., 1 oz. (which is a little less than A Connecticut Yankee), and connects to a PC via USB 1.1 or 2.0. The P11 ships with one black print cartridges, with green, blue, and red sold separately. The unit TEAC submitted for review came with an extra dozen print cartridges that allowed me to sample each color.
The P11 installs quickly and easily with the provided installation disc; my testbed Prostar 3.6GHz laptop recognized the printer immediately following installation, and was ready to print in under a minute. Ribbon installation was simple and self-explanatory too; just pop open the top of the case and slide the ribbon onto the print head (helpful three-step instructions printed on a sticker inside the unit get you quickly from installing the cartridge through inserting and removing a disc).
The unit ships with a simple, template-based printing utility that enables users to add text and images in four regions of a disc. You can change fonts and font sizes and curve text as desired, as well as choosing right, left, or center justification. You can also circumvent the unit's single-color limitation by switching ribbons between print jobs, but you have to be very careful to keep the disc in place to make sure the available print regions don't get out of alignment. You might, say, print the top-region text in blue, swap out the print ribbon, and print the lower-region text in red. Images are printed entirely in whatever-color cartridge you have installed. The top and bottom regions are horizontal in orientation and the left and right printing regions are vertical; in my tests, I stuck mostly to text at the top and bottom and images on the sides. You click on a region to bring it into an active window for adding or manipulating text or importing an image.
Images are easily loaded and positioned in a two-step process. After you click the image icon, the Image Attributes window opens. Import an image, and the image will automatically fill whatever print region you have open. Generally, this will distort the image to some extent; with simple controls you can re-size and re-position the image as needed to strike a balance between unused space and reduced stretching. To crop an image you'll need to open it in a dedicated image editing application like Photoshop or PhotoImpact.
One impressive aspect of the P11 is speed. Print jobs that involved both text and images occupying all four windows were achieved in less than 90 seconds for all four quadrants. Text-only jobs took about 28 seconds per region. And the print quality was clean and attractive in all cases, with finely drawn lines and no smudging. The image printing was far from "photo quality," but that's the last thing you're looking for with this kind of printing choice.
Switching cartridges mid-print job (to get the two-color effect) went pretty smoothly using the Change Cartridge wizard, although the first few times I had to tread very lightly to get the new cartridge in without getting the ribbon snagged and rumpled as I inserted the cartridge. It's virtually impossible to continue printing properly if you take out the disc before the cartridge exchange.
All in all, the P11 makes a great, simple, desktop printing option for attractive single-color disc printing in a compact package, as long as you're aware of its limitations and don't expect photo-quality image results. And with pricing around $135 at various Web outlets ($149.50 at TEAC's online store), it's a small investment to get the kind of results this unit delivers. Consumable costs are always an issue with printers, particularly CD/DVD printers. On-the-Web pricing for P11 cartridges seems to be running around $16 each ($24.99 at www.shopteac.com); with a promised 200 region prints per cartridge, that's 8 cents per region at the Web price.