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All About Thermal Transfer ribbons

1 February 2016

1. Why do I need a ribbon at all?

If you are printing thermal direct then you won’t need a ribbon. In this case the paper has a thermal coating that then allows the print to show on the labels when the print head applies heat. This form of printing is limited and has longevity issues. This is a similar process to thermal receipts from supermarkets etc.

If you want the print to last and look good for some time then you need to print Thermal Transfer (using a ribbon). The name thermal transfer simply means that the print head applies heat (Thermal) to parts of the ribbon and the heat melts the ink and the ink is then transferred (Transfer) to the label. This type of printing means that the print is permanent and you can print on a wide range of materials. It also lasts much longer than thermal direct labels.

2. What are the differences between Wax, Wax Resin and Resin ribbons?

  • Wax ribbons: These are the cheapest ribbons. These ribbons comprise almost entirely of wax. Wax is very soft and scratches (and smudges) easily. Wax ribbons are good for printing on labels with a rougher surface.
  • Wax/Resin ribbons: These are the most common ribbons we sell. They are a combination of Wax and a Resin component. Resin is a much dearer component and there are no standards as to what percentage Resin must be included. Some of the cheaper wax/resin ribbons have only a very small amount of Resin in them really making them more Wax ribbons. Wax resin ribbons have a much better scratch and smudge resistance than wax ribbons and a good print result can be obtained on most label materials.
  • Resin Ribbons: Resin ribbons provide the best scratch and smudge resistance they can however be sometimes difficult to print with. The correct label material and printer heat and speed settings are vital for a good result. Resin ribbons are often used when the scratch resistance is most desired like asset labels, machinery labels, labels used outside etc.

3. What has head temperature and print speed got to do with the ribbon?

The different types of ribbons wax, wax/resin and resin need different head temperatures to be able to melt the ink from the ribbon onto the label material. Even within the ribbon categories some variation may occur. The speed that the label is being has a direct impact on how good the result can be. Set the printing speed too high and the ink will not have time to get to the right temperature and your print won’t turn out very well. Having the print head too hot can also has a detrimental effect on the print quality.

4. What size ribbon do I need?

The important consideration is that to reduce print head wear, the ribbon should always be wider than the total label (and backing) width. Other considerations are the core size and the maximum outside diameter that your printer can take. If you are not sure let us know the label size and printer type so we can help you.

5.  What is the difference between ribbons for near edge printers and flat head printers?

There are two common types of print heads in label printers. Essentially with the flat head printers the heating elements are located in the centre of the print head whilst in near edge print heads the print elements are located closer to the trailing edge (hence the term “Near Edge”). The most common printer brands such as Zebra, Intermec, Datamax and others are flathead printers. We can help you with your printer if you need to check what type it is.





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