Direct Impression Addressing Printers

Fixed Head vs. Shuttle Head Inkjet Addressing Printers

Priority Systems offers a wide variety of fixed head addressing systems as well as several shuttle head models. The right printer for you depends largely on your application, budget and perhaps personal preference. If you aren’t familiar with the difference between these two printing technologies, see the explanation below.

Fixed Head Printer Technology

Fixed head printers use stationary print heads in one or more “banks.” The print heads must be manually positioned to line up with the desired print location(s) on your mail piece. Fixed head printers offer the fastest production speeds because the print heads do not need to move in order to address the mail.


  • The price/performance ratio is almost always superior to competing shuttle head systems
  • Productivity is vastly improved in higher volume applications
  • Fixed head Printers can use special fast drying inks, allowing them to address many types of gloss coat mail pieces without the need for a dryer
  • The system throughput is not dependant upon the print area and amount of data
  • Fixed head systems are able to process thicker mail pieces up to 1/2" and beyond
  • The printing process involves less moving parts


  • Fixed head printers have limited printable area(s). Imagine a horizontal “stripe” across your envelope measuring 1.5” high. Most entry level fixed head printers can only print addresses and other information within this “stripe” (More advanced fixed head systems have a larger printable area or offer banks of print heads that can be positioned independently of one another)
  • Fixed head printers offer spot color only. In other words, only single color cartridges (i.e. red, blue, green, etc) can be used (instead of one multi-color cartridge that can produce most any color required)
  • Print head capping and cleaning is typically manual (ink cartridges should be removed and capped after usage to prevent clogging)
  • The inkjet cartridges usually require purging prior to your print run to ensure first piece quality (prints a think line on a test envelope to promote ink flow)
  • Fixed head printers require slightly longer setup time when running multiple jobs on different sizes of media

Shuttle Head Printer Technology

Shuttle head printers work almost exactly like a business or home inkjet printer, except they are designed and optimized specifically to print on mailable media at high speeds. The print heads in these systems shuttle back and forth horizontally across the mailpiece during the printing process. Shuttle head systems are slower, but can print virtually anywhere on your envelope or post card in a single pass.


  • Shuttle head printers offer maximum print layout flexibility since there are no restrictions on where you can print other than the machine’s maximum media size
  • Users can put both return and destination address information, text messages, logos/graphics and postal indicia anywhere on mailpiece without having to worry about print area limitations
  • Print head capping, cleaning and maintenance built-in – no purging is necessary before a new print run
  • Some shuttle head systems have process color capabilities. Using one black and one multi-color cartridge, they can produce text or images in almost any color desired
  • Minimal setup time is required when switching between jobs


  • The addressing speed of shuttle head printers drops more sharply as print resolution is increased and is typically too slow for production volumes
  • The price/performance ratio almost always lower than competing fixed head systems
  • Not all shuttle head printers support fast drying inks. Many require a stacker/dryer to prevent smearing on glossy stock
  • Throughput is also inversely affected by amount of data printed per piece
  • Shuttle head sysems are typically unable to process thicker-than-normal envelopes
  • The printing process involves more moving parts


If you only anticipate the need to print addresses, barcodes and message lines or you need to process production volumes of mail, then a fixed head system will provide more performance for your money. If you process low to medium volumes and have a routine need to print a variety of data on your mail pieces, a shuttle head system may be a better bet – especially in multiple user environments.

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