Thermal Transfer Ribbons
Thermal transfer printers use heated printheads and specially coated ribbons to produce images on labels and tags. Thermal transfer ribbon coatings come in many different formulations, making it possible to print both general purpose labels and extremely durable, chemical-resistant labels with a thermal transfer printer.
The three main types of ribbons are:
- Wax thermal transfer ribbons — These are the most affordable type of ribbon and are best for general purpose applications where the printed label isn’t expected to come into contact with water, oil, or chemicals. Wax thermal transfer ribbons are typically used with high gloss or matte paper labels and tags. Because the ink is wax-based, the printed labels could smudge or smear in sunlight or hot environments.
- Wax-resin ribbons — These are more durable than wax ribbons. They contain a blend of both wax and resin and are typically used with coated glossy paper labels. The printed labels can handle incidental contact with water, but not extended exposures. Wax-resin ribbons produce crisp barcodes and text. Wax-resin ribbons are best when you need crisper images and more durability than wax ribbons offer.
- Resin thermal transfer ribbons — Resin ribbons are the most durable of all. The printed labels are extremely durable and water- and smudge-resistant. Depending on their formulation, they can also resist oils, chemicals, and UV light. Resin thermal transfer ribbons are used with synthetic label materials such as polypropylene, polyester, and vinyl. Resin thermal transfer ribbons are best when you need a highly durable label for items likely to encounter water, oil, UV light, heavy handling, or chemicals.
Whether coated with wax, wax-resin, or resin ink, the coated side of the ribbon faces the label material. When the thermal printhead comes in contact with the thermal ribbon, it heats the ink coating which then transfers the ink to the label.
Thermal Ribbon Formats
In addition to the different formulations, thermal transfer ribbons come in different configurations and sizes.
- Thermal Ribbon Roll and Core Size — Different thermal transfer printer models have different ribbon core size requirements. For example, desktop thermal transfer printers typically take thermal ribbons on 1/2-inch cores. Industrial thermal transfer printers usually take 1-inch cores. The 1 inc core ribbons tend to be longer, so that you can do longer print jobs before having to change the ribbon.
- Ink Coated Side IN or OUT — Some printers require the ribbon to be wound with the ink coated side facing IN while others require the ink coated side to face OUT.
Thus, before you order thermal transfer ribbons for your printer, it’s important to understand the following:
- Label type and application — What type of labels are you printing on and how will they be used? For example, if you’re printing paper mailing labels, you’ll need a different type of ribbon (wax) than if you were printing polypropylene barcode labels for pool equipment (resin).
- Printer requirements — Next, find out what your printer requires as far roll size and ink coating facing in or out goes. What is the maximum length of the ribbon? As long as the other requirements are met, anything under that length will work. If the length is longer than your printer’s maximum length, the outside diameter of the label roll will be too large for the printer and the roll will not fit.
- Label width — Finally, make sure to order a ribbon that’s slightly wider than the thermal transfer label you will be printing.
Order Thermal Transfer Ribbons
Argon Technology has a large selection of thermal transfer ribbons for popular thermal transfer barcode printers like Zebra, SATO, Intermec, Honeywell, Printronix, Datamax, Toshiba, and many more. If you need help selecting a wax, wax-resin, or resin ribbon for your printer or application, we are happy to help. We’ll even send you free ribbon samples so you can test them out before you buy.