Receipts Pt 1 - Receipt Printer Basics

Not your father's printer. A beginning primer about a piece of tech you've probably never even thought about.

May 28, 2022 - Benjamin Wachman
Tags: #Terminology #Overview #Thermal-Printer #Receipt #Grayscale #Point-of-Sale


In days of old, receipts were a hand-written affair to help the buyer and/or seller of goods or services keep track of a purchase. They’ve come a long way in the intervening years. Today, they’re typically automatically generated by the Point of Sale (POS) system and are usually printed, emailed, or texted to the recipient.

There are a number of common uses for receipts. I’ll list a few examples:

Unless you have a specific use for your receipt, they’re either declined at the cash register, end up in your wallet, purse, pocket, car, or in the trash.

To most businesses, the receipt is a sunk cost that’s just a mandated part of doing business.

For most of these uses, the receipt just needs to contain a few pieces of information to be useful. The date, time, a list of goods or services purchased, prices for those items, and payment information. Other common basic information can include the name of the business, its address, its telephone number, the cashier name.

Example Receipt

An example of a basic receipt.

To accomplish its basic purpose(es) a receipt can simply be formatted plain text, but some businesses go a step farther by printing a graphic of their logo somewhere on the receipt for brand recognition.


So why am I bothering to write about receipts? I happen to work in a career that involves receipt printing — really thrilling stuff to most people I’m sure. Through the course of my job I’ve spent more than my fair share of time printing and analyzing receipts. The pieces I write on my blog about receipts are very much separate from my work and I’m going to stay away from bringing up the company I work for or its products.

Ultimately, this post is intended to set the stage for a more technical discussion of a very specific aspect of receipt printing. I’m going to try to strike a balance between laying some groundwork to introduce relevant topics without getting too deep into subjects that are outside of my intended focus.

In my professional duties I really only interact with one type of receipt printer.

Common Receipt Printer Types

A receipt can be printed by a standard document printer on standard printer paper, but the amount of real estate provided by Letter or A4 sized paper often considerably dwarfs what is needed for a standard receipt. Also, if the list of items purchased is considerable the receipt may grow to a length that far exceeds the length of any standard paper size. To avoid wasting paper, both materials and the cost of said materials, the industry has come up with dedicated receipt printers.

Why does this matter?

Where I’m going with this series is an analysis and discussion of printing graphics on receipts.

While this primer barely scratches the surface of the technology that enables printing receipts. I find that some common terminology and a basic understanding of a topic can aid in further discussing it.

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