October 9, 2007

A label printer for Linux

Author: Lee Schlesinger

When Seiko Instruments said it is now offering Linux drivers for its Smart Label Printer 450 and offered to send me one to test, I was happy to hear it, because it seemed like an example of how Linux is being recognized for even non-mass-market hardware devices. While the printer does work as advertised, it is clear that Linux support is a work in progress.

The printer's Quick Start documentation outlines how to install the hardware and the drivers for Windows and Mac OS X, but makes no mention of Linux. The bundled CD also lacks Linux drivers, but a quick Google search took me to the driver download page.

Within the download archive is a README.txt file that notes the Common UNIX Printing System (CUPS) development libraries and other libraries that must be installed before you can build the driver. I used Adept to install the necessary libraries on my Kubuntu Feisty laptop. The instructions fail to mention that you also need the g++ compiler, but I quickly discovered that fact and installed it too. After a quick execution of sudo make build and sudo make install, the drivers were in place.

The next step is to connect the printer and the computer. The printer comes with both a serial and a USB cable to connect to the computer. I used USB, in part because, as the README file noted, the driver has been validated only with USB connections.

Next, I visited http://localhost:631 to add the printer via the CUPS administration tool, specifying a PostScript Printer Description (PPD) file extracted from the download archive. All went smoothly, and I was ready to start printing.

I created a label in an ordinary OpenOffice.org document and sent it to the printer. Unfortunately, only the top half of the first line of the label was printed. By dragging the margins back to the edge of the page, I was able to print a complete label in beautiful, clear type.

One label is nice, but a label printer is most useful when you can merge and print many labels at a time. Unfortunately, Seiko doesn't yet offer an OOo template for doing that, and no one has created one for Wordlabel.com's handy OOo template page. Seiko software engineer Sanford Selznick suggests that label printer support for applications is the company's next logical step.

Until that support is ready, the $150 Smart Label Printer 450 is a handy tool for anyone who needs one-off labels.

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