Selecting a Ribbon for Thermal Transfer Label Printing

Selecting a Ribbon for Thermal Transfer Label Printing

At ScanForce, our service to our customers goes beyond just providing technology solutions. We partner with our customers to share best practices we've seen over the years for warehouse efficiency as a whole.

Previously on our blog, we shared tips on Key Considerations for Effective Warehouse Design & Layout and Creating a Warehouse Location Numbering Scheme.

The focus of this article is to help you select the right type of thermal transfer ribbon for your label printer, which will ensure that your thermal labels live up to the required quality and durability for the job at hand.

There are three basic types of thermal ribbons available for most thermal transfer printers: full wax ribbons, wax-resin ribbons, and full-resin ribbons.

Full Wax

Key Facts

  • Most common type of thermal transfer ribbon.
  • Recommended for uncoated paper stock.
  • Less durable, but also less expensive.
  • Good for shipping, shelf, bin, retail, and warehouse labels.

The most common type of thermal transfer ribbon is the full wax ribbon. Wax thermal transfer ribbons are typically recommended for use on uncoated paper stock. While full wax ribbons provide a less durable print than their counterparts, they are also considerably less expensive.

A full wax thermal transfer ribbon is coated with a wax-based ink. During the printing process, heat from the printer's print-head will melt the wax-based ink and transfer it to the surface of the thermal transfer labels, forming the desired printed area.

Full wax ribbons require a lower melting temperature than their counterparts, and are ideal for paper based materials. Applications that are well suited for full wax ribbons include: shipping labels, shelf and bin labels, retail labels, and warehouse labels.

Wax-Resin

Key Facts

  • More durable printed area than full wax.
  • More resistant to heavy handling, chemicals and temperature changes.
  • Ideal for both standard and weatherproof thermal transfer labels.
  • Good for bar code, shipping, prescription pharmaceutical, and shelf labels.

While not as cost effective as full wax ribbons, wax-resin ribbons are very popular because of the significantly more durable printed area they provide.

The printing process is actually very similar to the full wax printing process, where a hybrid of wax and resin based ink is melted and transferred onto the surface of the labels. The printed area will be a sharp, clear image that is much more resistant to heavy handling, chemicals, and temperature changes.

The melting temperature required for wax-resin ribbons falls between that of full wax ribbons and full resin ribbons. Wax-resin ribbons are ideal for a wide range of material types, from uncoated paper stock to coated, glossy paper stock and even synthetic weatherproof label materials. Wax-resin thermal ribbons have been tested extensively with our thermal transfer products and will provide a very high quality image. Applications well suited for wax-resin ribbons include: bar code labels, shipping labels, pharmaceutical and prescription labels, and shelf and bin labels.

Full Resin

Key Facts

  • Most expensive ribbon type.
  • For use on non-paper, synthetic stocks.
  • Most durable of the ribbon types.

Full resin thermal ribbons will be considerably more expensive compared to full wax ribbons or wax-resin ribbons. This type of ribbon is generally intended for use on non-paper, synthetic stocks and will offer the highest durability of any ribbon type.

Considering the cost of pure resin ribbons, they can safely be considered overkill even when printing on our Weatherproof Thermal Transfer material. The extreme durability offered makes pure resin ribbons a strong choice for labeling very sensitive medical applications and chemicals. For other applications they should likely be bypassed for the more economic options detailed above.

Need more help with label printing? We've consulted with hundreds of warehouse operations across a broad range of industries. Contact us for assistance!