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Arduino + Thermal Printers (Sparkfun, IBM 4160-TF6)

I've always wanted to print my own receipts... devious activities come to mind; but the following usage of receipt printers is nothing sinister at all. My goal is to print out activities for trains on the layout; certain locations will have a new reporting mechanism!

I'd seen a few printers on eBay, most being USB. Serial was always to be my preferred method and I had the components on hand. I then saw the Thermal Printer at Sparkfun and decided that it'd be my first guinea pig.

Sparkfun Thermal Printer

The Sparkfun themal printer is, like most of their products, targetted at the Arduino. Thanks to this there is a wealth of information on their page on how to connect and use it. After hooking up a proper power supply (they recommend 9v @ 2Amps, so use a 7809 with a heatsink!) the printer just started spewing out whatever I threw at it.

Sparkfun Thermal Printer

The easiest way to use this is via the library found here: Displaying on Paper – Thermal Printer + Arduino. is actually a really cool site full of interesting projects for the Arduino, check it out when you can!

There's a forum for discussing the above library, in which I've already posted my praises to the developer. If you need a hand then go over and ask away... they're always open to feedback and improvements to the library too!

Note that this printer uses small rolls of 58mm paper. I found a 10-pack of these at OfficeWorks (Australia) for AUD$9.95.

IBM 4610-TF6 (on Windows)

I'd finally found a dirt cheap printer on eBay that was RS-232. It was a chunky/retro IBM thermal printer and really was just a larger, more robust version of the Sparkfun thermal printer above. It didn't come with a power supply and, after purchasing, I realised that it wanted 38v! What the hell? It seems that the 'thermal' side of it uses a lot of current to burn the paper! It also wanted 3 AMPS at 38v... where the hell would I find that?

Split open IBM SureMark 4610-TF6 Bypassing the power socket 58mm paper output!

I installed the printer drivers here on a Windows XP 32-Bit machine (DOES NOT WORK WITH 64-Bit!) and provided it 12v @ 2A. The LED came on, but the printer showed up as 'offline'. All attempted connections via Hyper-Terminal showed the port as 'already open'; the printer driver would've been the cause. I uninstalled it and rebooted, but Hyper-Terminal wasn't receiving any responses after connecting successfully.

Middle bar not printing! Bit Switches

I then found a second 12v power supply and chained them together... Prior to this I'd re-installed the printer drivers and, upon the boost to 24v, the printer flicked to 'online' and the LED glowed slightly brighter. I could now also use the line-feed button on the top of the printer! I opened notepad, loaded a text file from the Arduino directory and, without thinking, hit print. The printer control panel window showed the job spooling up to 20 pages and then the printer started .... and kept going ... for an hour. It printed at a rate of about 1 line per 5 seconds.

Testing output

I had no idea how to cancel it... so I had to let it go.

IBM 4610-TF6 (on the Arduino)

It was now time to make this printer talk to my Arduino Mega. I hooked it all up based on how the Sparkfun printer wiring and attempted to use the same code; nothing happened. I then used the code from Tom Taylor's Microprinter blog post. Once uploaded, I had junk coming out of the printer... It occurred to me that I probably needed a MAX232 in the middle to raise the voltages to proper RS232 levels (as per everyone elses examples!)

I hooked up the MAX232 as per the schematic below and then had a functional printer from my Arduino! Determining the actual commands to send it came next.

Printer Connection to Arduino Proper cabling Initial DB9 Connections
MAX232 Setup Two RS232 cables for the Arduino

Fonts, spacing, etc...

Right, this gets tricky... you can either put 58mm or 80mm paper in this printer. 80mm is recommended as it has better chances of staying aligned with the paper cutter (coming out diagonally is actually an issue.) I had started with the 58mm but quickly went and bought 80mm paper (AUD$12 for 4 80x80 rolls) as I also wanted the extra printing space.

You can work out how many characters per line based on the font chosen, character spacing. It is pretty much expected that you're using 80mm paper. Font A is 10x20, Font B is 12x24 and Font C is 8x16. The Cash Receipt print line is 72 mm (2.83 inches) long. There are 576 dots per line and 203 dots per inch.

The Application Guide provides the following calculations:

  • 20 CPI ⇒ 8-dot wide character + 2-dot space (Font C) ⇒ 57 characters/line
  • 17 CPI ⇒ 10-dot wide character + 2-dot space (Font A) ⇒ 48 characters/line
  • 15 CPI ⇒ 10-dot wide character + 3-dot space (Font A) ⇒ 44 characters/line
  • 12 CPI ⇒ 12-dot wide character + 5-dot space (Font B) ⇒ 33 characters/line

More test output

Printing a Barcode

In a comment below, Jonas has asked how to print a barcode from any programming language via the serial port... Here's a list of instructions to do so:

  1. Set the Font (0x00 or 0x01):
    0x1d 0x66 FONT 0x0a
  2. Set the Text Location:
    • 0x00 - None
    • 0x01 - Above
    • 0x02 - Below
    • 0x03 - Both
    0x1d 0x66 POSITION 0x0a
  3. Set Barcode Width:
    0x1d 0x68 WIDTH 0x0a
  4. Set Barcode Height:
    0x1d 0x77 HEIGHT 0x0a
  5. Print a Barcode. 'CHARS' is the list of characters to print.
    • 0x00 - UPC-A
    • 0x01 - UPC-E
    • 0x02 - JAN13 (EAN)
    • 0x03 - JAN8 (EAN)
    • 0x04 - CODE 39
    • 0x05 - ITF
    • 0x06 - CODABAR
    • 0x07 - CODE 128 (c)
    • 0x08 - CODE 93
    • 0x09 - CODE 128 (a, b)
    0x1d 0x6b BARCODE_TYPE CHARS 0x00

A 'Hello World' example of point 4 would be:

0x1d 0x6b 0x00 0x48 0x65 0x6C 0x6C 0x6F 0x20 0x57 0x6F 0x72 0x6C 0x64 0x00

IBM SureMark Thermal Printer Library for Arduino 1.0

IBM provides a great reference document for this collection of printers: Application interface specification for IBM 4610 printers. I found it to be a little hit-and-miss as to what commands are available on the TF6, but most worked well. Either way, I built the following library which provides the following functionality:

  • Text Styles: Bold, Underline, Overline, Inverted, Arbitrary Font Scaling, Double Height/Width, Rotated, Upside-down
  • Barcode Printing: UPC-A, UPC-E, JAN13 (EAN), JAN8 (EAN), CODE 39, ITF, CODABAR, CODE 128 (c), CODE 93, CODE 128 (a, b)
  • Image Printing from data stream, image storing to printer RAM and image printing from printer RAM
  • Message storing to printer RAM and printing from printer RAM
  • Beeper sounds. (Example below has 'Mary had a little lamb')
  • Paper cutting, line spacing, line feeding, etc...
Download the library and example here.

Other references

It turns out that, if I'd google'd more, I would've found a lot more help around the traps... here's a few locations to check out:


About stevenh

Trains... trains... trains... + Electronics + Japan.
Comments (9) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Hey, I am looking at getting one of these off ebay, but these also don’t come with power adaptors. Did you ever manage to get one cause I have nothing I can jury rig that can supply that power.

    • Pete,

      I never did find a legit power supply for these printers. 24v was good enough though. If you can find two old PC power supplies or purchase a kit from jaycar then you should be fine. Jaycar also offers the ‘wall wart’ power supplies which should work. Just be careful of the ‘unregulated’ ones!


  2. PLease help me, i simply need the syntax to print an Bar code with that printer from windows with serialport1.Write(#Example#)

    Really, PLEASE help i also think it would be fine if you contact me over email, because, over that website i dont get it, if you answer,
    thank you

    • Hello Jonas,

      Do you have the printer outputting anything right now?
      You should probably get a basic line of text printing first, then get the barcodes going.

      Either way, once you’re ready, look above at the bottom of the post… I’ve added all the information you need.


      • Thank you so much!
        Only one little question can i send the HEX like this: serialport1.write(“0x10 0x11 0xtt”)
        If rhis was wrong, can you correct it?
        Thy you helped me a LOT

        • Not quite… that’ll send 13 bytes + 0x00. Not what you want…

          Use this instead… Make sure you put the full lot of bytes in, including 0x00 where appropriate.

          byte[] b = new [] { 0x10, 0x11, 0x00 };
          serialPort.Write(b, 0, b.Length);
  3. no barcode font to install when printing the barcode?

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