Category Archive: Thermal Transfer Printing

How to Select the Right Thermal Transfer Ribbon Type

Thermal transfer ribbon printing is an efficient and cost-effective way to print labels on a variety of substrates. With the right label printer ribbon, these systems can print on paper, polyester, polypropylene, Tyvek, and other film substrates. However, to get the best quality prints, it’s important to match the transfer ribbon to the application. This process requires considering not only the substrate but also application requirements such as print longevity.

The team at Technicode, Inc. is happy to help evaluate these constraints and develop a custom printing solution for your application. As a leading North American provider of barcode labeling supplies, we offer a full range of thermal transfer ribbons to meet any printing challenge.

Why Choosing the Right Ribbon for Your Application Matters

Thermal transfer ribbons are not completely interchangeable. A ribbon may be able to print on a suboptimal substrate, but there will likely be noticeable quality problems. For instance, incompatibility between these components can cause strange gray shading or partial ink transfer. Similarly, using a ribbon on a too-rough surface can cause pinhole gaps in the final print. Choosing the right ribbon prevents these problems and ensures a smooth, durable print.

Thermal Transfer Ribbon Types

Close-up of light blue thermal transfer ribbonsThermal transfer ribbons can be coated with wax, resin, or some combination of wax and resin. In general, wax ribbons are more economical, while resin ribbons offer a more durable print.

Wax Ribbons

Wax ribbons print dark, crisp images at a range of energy and speed settings. They offer a versatile, cost-effective option for printing on tags and both coated and uncoated papers.

Resin-Enhanced Wax Ribbons

Resin-enhanced wax ribbons have a unique formulation that minimizes static and creates crisper edges than pure wax ribbons. They can also be used with a wider range of substrates, including coated and uncoated paper, synthetic paper, polyethylene, and polypropylene.

Wax / Resin Ribbons

Wax/resin ribbons are formulated with a higher proportion of resin. This composition helps dissipate static and create cleaner prints. They are especially useful for achieving sharp quality on low-end synthetics like polypropylene, top-coated vinyl, polyethylene, and polystyrene.

Full Resin Ribbons

Full-resin ribbons are the most versatile, capable of printing at high speed on almost any substrate. Resin prints are also far more durable than wax prints, withstanding both mechanical and chemical damage. These tough ribbons yield excellent results on substrates as diverse as paper, tags, polypropylene, polyethylene, polyolefin, vinyl, and polyester.

Within these broader categories, a variety of formulations are available, each with distinct benefits. Technicode’s printing experts can help you choose the best specific ribbon for your needs.

Thermal Transfer Ribbon Applications

Thermal transfer ribbons are typically used for retail labeling and product tracking. However, applications differ in several key ways:

  • Print volume and speed
  • Printed substrates
  • Conditions labels face after printing
    • Environmental exposures
    • Chemical exposures
    • Handling frequency

These variables determine which transfer ribbons are most appropriate for an industry’s needs.

General Purpose Wax Thermal Transfer Ribbons

As described above, wax ribbons are best used for general-purpose applications such as:

  • Retail labels
  • Shipping and warehousing tags
  • Product identification

Resin-Enhanced Wax Thermal Transfer Ribbons

Resin-enhanced wax transfer ribbons can be used in a wider variety of applications, including those that require a higher degree of durability or a higher printing speed. These include:

  • Retail labels
  • Shipping and warehousing tags
  • Product identification
  • Logistics labels
  • Film labels
  • Flexible packaging
  • Lumber tags

Wax-Resin Thermal Transfer Ribbons

Wax-resin thermal transfer ribbons offer more durable prints and can accommodate a wider range of substrates. In addition to the shipping and product identification applications listed above, other uses include:

  • Compliance labels
  • Health care labels
  • Textile tags
  • Nursery and lumber labeling
  • Flexible film printing

Full Resin

Full resin ribbons are used where quality and durability are a priority. They are also used when products are stored outdoors or exposed to harsh chemicals. Examples include:

  • Chemical drum labels
  • Medical and pharmaceutical labels
  • Compliance labels
  • Textile tags
  • Nursery and lumber labeling
  • Flexible film printing

High-Quality Thermal Transfer Ribbons from Technicode Labels Inc.

Technicode, Inc. specializes in custom printing and labeling solutions for clients from diverse industries. To learn more about our comprehensive thermal transfer ribbon offerings, contact us or request a quote to receive personalized guidance.

What is Thermal Transfer Printing?

Thermal Transfer Ribbons

Thermal transfer printing involves melting resin-based ink or wax ribbons onto printing media, which results in a high-quality, long-lasting image. Manufacturers primarily use thermal transfer printing to print labels due to its resistance to moisture and heat that allows for optimal durability. Depending on the needs of a particular application, this process could be more ideal than direct thermal printing or other printing processes.

How Does a Thermal Transfer Printer Work?

The thermal transfer printing process relies on heat to produce results. Specifically, thermal transfer printing entails generating heat using the elements contained within the thermal printhead. This heat causes thermal transfer ribbon (TTR) ink to melt, transferring it onto the print media to develop the designated image.

Thermal transfer printers work efficiently through the use of sensors that indicate to the system when the TTR roll is out, which helps preserve the printhead. The resulting image features a high print quality that’s capable of withstanding more wear and tear compared to other printed images.

Unlike direct thermal printers, thermal transfer printers work with many types of print media, such as polyester, paper, and polypropylene.

Thermal Transfer Printer Advantages

Thermal printing alone offers numerous benefits compared to other types of printing techniques. Generally, thermal printing offers increased media and application flexibility along with reduced maintenance and increased durability. Because of these benefits, applications often use thermal printing methods to print barcodes, particularly those used on tags and labels that experience levels of exposure to moisture, sunlight, and other harsh conditions.

While both direct thermal and thermal transfer printing each offer similar benefits, thermal transfer printing comes with several key advantages, including:

  • Long-life image stability
  • The ability to produce crisp and high-definition graphics, text, and barcodes
  • Reliability
  • Minimal waste production
  • Low maintenance costs
  • A wide range of available print media options

Limitations of Thermal Transfer Printing

While thermal transfer printing offers a variety of advantages that make it ideal for many applications, it also comes with certain disadvantages compared to direct thermal printing and other methods. These limitations aren’t necessarily bad, but you should keep them in mind when considering this process:

  • Higher Supply Costs: Thermal transfer printers require ribbon for one-time use purposes, which results in higher supply costs compared to direct thermal printing. However, because these systems protect the thermal transfer printheads, these components last longer in thermal transfer printers.
  • Poor For Recycling: The thermal transfer ribbon is difficult to recycle.
  • Potentially wasteful. If an application requires minimal printing, this makes the single-pass thermal transfer ribbon more wasteful.
  • Compatibility: To produce the best possible print quality, both the print media and ribbon must be compatible with each other. If these elements are incompatible, the ribbon may melt onto the label and result in waste.
  • Monochrome Printing: Thermal transfer printing works best with monochrome printing applications, with little to no color applied.

High-Quality Thermal Printing Supplies from Technicode, Inc.

Thermal transfer printing is one of the most reliable printing processes available for printing labels, barcodes, and other materials. If you require some of the best thermal printing products, Technicode, Inc. is here to provide them. We supply many types of thermal transfer printing media that work with a wide variety of thermal printers, including printers from brands such as Datamax®, Zebra®, Monarch®, and many others. Our supplies include a selection of thermal transfer ribbons, thermal transfer labels and tags, and much more based on your thermal transfer printing needs. We also offer supplies for direct thermal printing applications.

Regardless of what you need, we have some of the best products in the industry to provide consistently great results. To learn more about our product offerings and what we can do for you, contact us today.

What’s the Difference Between Thermal Transfer and Direct Thermal Printing?

Thermal Transfer Labels

Thermal printing uses one of two processes: thermal transfer or direct thermal printing. Both methods are similar in that they use a thermal printhead to apply heat to a surface. However, direct thermal printing requires chemically treated, heat-sensitive material, and thermal transfer printing uses a heated ribbon to transfer images onto a wide range of materials.

In both methods, a printhead containing small heating elements delivers heat to specific areas to produce an image. The resolution of the image is determined by the arrangement and number of heating elements, or dots per inch (DPI), in both methods. The higher the DPI, the better print resolution and quality produced. The main difference between the two methods is the printing surface, which we will detail further below.

Thermal Transfer Printing

To choose the best thermal printing technique for a given application, it’s necessary to have a basic understanding of the functionality of each method. Let’s take a closer look at how thermal transfer printing works and its unique advantages.

How Does a Thermal Transfer Printer Work?

Thermal transfer printing uses heating elements located in a printhead to deliver punctual heat to a passing ribbon. The ribbon melts onto a label forming the printed image. The label absorbs the ink to apply the image to the media. In this type of thermal printing, both the ribbon and label stock must be carefully chosen. The material and adhesive qualities of the label and ribbon must be well matched to achieve prints that are of the highest quality and durability. Choosing the correct materials allows the final product the ability to withstand chemical and UV exposure, extreme temperatures, robust cleaning procedures, and more.

Advantages of Thermal Transfer Printing

Thermal transfer printing achieves crisp, high-definition images, text, and graphics that boast maximum readability, scannability, and long-life image stability. Both single and batch printing can be performed while producing virtually no waste, and nearly any media can be printed. Thermal transfer printers are more durable than conventional printers affording your application more reliability and lower maintenance costs.

Applications of Thermal Transfer Printing

Thermal transfer printing is compatible with a virtually unlimited variety of media stock, making the applications for this printing method just as diverse and applicable to many industries. Some common applications include:

  • Circuit board tracking
  • Asset tagging
  • Inventory identification
  • Cold storage
  • Outdoor applications
  • Certification labels
  • Marking laboratory specimens

Direct Thermal Printing

In direct thermal printing, the image is applied directly to the material as opposed to a ribbon as in thermal transfer printing. The following sections will explain how direct thermal printing works, its key advantages, and its most suitable applications.

How Does Direct Thermal Printing Work?

In this technique, the heating elements in the printhead apply punctual heat directly to a label featuring a heat-sensitive coating. The chemicals in this coating cause a reaction that changes the label color from white to black in the areas where heat is applied. Direct thermal printers are simpler in design than thermal transfer printers because they do not require a ribbon.

Advantages of Direct Thermal Printing

This method produces images that scan well and can be used with recyclable materials. This method is ideal for applications in which the image does not need to last long, such as receipts or shipping labels. Direct thermal printers are easy to operate since they do not use ink or toner. They produce virtually no waste and have low, long-term maintenance costs as they are very durable and don’t have supplies that need to be replenished.

Applications of Direct Thermal Printing

Thermal Transfer vs. Direct Thermal Printing

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The labels used in direct thermal printing are extremely sensitive to heat, light, and other environmental conditions. As such, common applications include items typically used or stored indoors, such as:

  • Receipts
  • Tickets
  • Visitor identification for hospitals or schools
  • Shipping labels
  • Pharmacy Labels
  • Food Labeling Labels
  • Restaurant Order Labels
  • Barcodes

In Need of a Thermal Transfer or Direct Thermal Labels?

Technicode, Inc. has been a reliable source for thermal printing supplies for over 20 years. Our products are compatible with all the leading thermal printer brands and we also develop custom-sized labels, with or without printing. Thermal printing media by Technicode is proudly made in the USA and always ships quickly. If you have questions about which printing method is right for your application, please contact us. If you know which labels you need for your application, request a quote today to get started.