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Which Thermal Ribbon is Suitable for My Printer?

Thermal transfer printers offer a variety of thermal ribbon types. Before purchasing a replacement, review which type of ribbon is right for your printer and your printing needs.

  • Full wax
  • Wax-resin
  • Full-resin

You’ll also want to consider several other factors about how to install the ribbon and the way the printer uses it. Here’s a full breakdown of what you need to know about thermal ribbons.

Ribbon Material

Take some time to review the various options for ribbon material to find the one that will work best based on your printing needs.

Full Wax

Full wax is the most common thermal transfer ribbon type. Generally, these are best used on uncoated paper and are the least expensive ribbon option. The printing isn’t as durable as other options, but many use cases don’t call for incredible durability.

The way the ribbon works is that it is coated with wax-based ink. The heat from the print head during the printing process melts the wax-based ink, which transfers it to the paper or label’s surface.

These ribbons have a lower melting temperature compared to other ribbon types, making them ideal for paper-based materials. Some examples of ideal times to use a wax-based ribbon include printing shipping labels, retail labels, bin identification labels and warehouse labels.

Full Wax Ribbons at a Glance

  • Most common thermal ribbon type
  • Good for uncoated paper
  • Inexpensive
  • Effective for printing shipping labels
  • Good for short-term use
  • Ideal for printing labels used indoors
  • Less durable printing

Wax Resin

Although these ribbons are not as inexpensive as full-wax ribbons, they are popular because they balance the budget with durable printing. These ribbons work much the same as full-wax printing does, only instead of a fully wax-based ink, the ribbons are coated with a wax and resin-based ink that melts on transfer.

These ribbons offer a sharper, clearer print job and are more resistant to handling and chemical exposure. They’ll also hold up well under constant temperature changes. 

Many people use these ribbons to print on uncoated and coated paper stock, even glossy paper and weather-resistant materials. Some examples of ideal labels that these ribbons print include bar codes, pharmaceutical, shelf and shipping labels.

Wax Resin Ribbons at a Glance

  • Durable print surface
  • Clear, crisp printing
  • Resistant to heavy handling, temperature changes and chemicals
  • Can be used on coated and uncoated paper stock
  • Ideal for printing bar codes, pharmaceutical, shelf and shipping labels

Full Resin

These are the most expensive thermal ribbons available. Generally, people use these ribbons to print on a non-paper or synthetic stock with high durability.

In many situations, these ribbons are not necessary and will just add expense to your budget. The main use case is for weatherproof thermal transfer. Those in the healthcare industry that print sensitive medical labels and experience regular exposure to chemicals find that the high-quality ribbon is worth it. 

But due to the economics of the ribbon, other applications are generally better served with full-wax or wax-resin ribbons.

Full Resin Ribbons at a Glance

  • Expensive
  • Good for non-paper and synthetic materials
  • Most durable option
  • Ideal for healthcare industry labels
  • Useful when printing long-term labels

Suitable Thermal Ribbon for My Printer

Ribbon Size

Once you’ve found the ribbon material that works best for you, you’ll need to consider the ribbon size. A few factors will help determine this for you.

Label Width

Review how large the labels are that you plan to print. If you’re printing a 2.5-inch label, invest in a 3.27-inch ribbon. You would not want to get a 4.33-inch ribbon because that would waste ink that you’ll never use and result in unnecessary costs.

Regardless of your label size, you’ll need to consider what ribbon your printer can accept. You cannot print labels wider than your printer allows for. So consider both factors when choosing label width.

Ribbon Length

Smaller printers use shorter ribbons and larger, industrial printers use longer ribbons. Ribbons can range in length from 200 feet to nearly 1,500 feet. Make sure your printer can accept the length of ribbon you’re considering.

Core Size

This directly relates to the ribbon length. You’ll want to ensure your printer can accept the core size you’re considering. One-inch is considered standard but some smaller desktop printers can only accept a half-inch core.

Ribbon Quantity

Companies or individuals who print regularly might consider keeping several ribbons on hand. You don’t want to be in the middle of a large project and run out of ribbon. This could lead to project delays, which can be costly.

Track your ribbon usage carefully and keep a few on hand at all times to ensure you never get in a situation where you don’t have a spare.

Loading the Ribbon

Properly loading the ribbon into your printer is an important aspect of getting a new thermal ribbon. That’s because, without proper installation, the ribbon won’t work properly, which can lead to print quality issues or even printer breakdown.

Look up ribbon installation videos on YouTube for your printer and model or reference the user manual to ensure you are installing the ribbon properly.

Test a Sample Ribbon with Your Printer

Ultimately, the only way to be certain that you’ve found the right thermal ribbon for your printer is to run a test. DuraFast Label Company knows that the many options and printer compatibility can be challenging to navigate. That’s why the company offers free ribbon tests. Order a sample thermal ribbon to ensure it produces the results you’re hoping for. 

And the best part is, the company will send these ribbons free of charge upon request. All you have to do is send information about your printer model, label type and labeling application along with your details for mailing and DuraFast will send a sample immediately.

Using the DuraFast website, you can also shop for ribbons by printer manufacturer. Some manufacturers listed include:

  • Avery/Paxar/Monarch
  • Honeywell
  • CAB
  • Datamax
  • GoDex
  • Intermec
  • Printronix
  • SATO
  • Toshiba
  • TSC
  • Zebra
  • VideoJet
  • And more

Under each printer manufacturer, you’ll find thermal ribbon rolls with varying lengths and widths to meet your unique needs as well as varying materials, including wax, wax-resin and resin. 

What to Do if You Can’t Find Ribbon Information for Your Printer Model

Sometimes the owner’s manual for printers is vague about what replacement ribbon you should buy or where you can find ribbons. If you’re struggling to find information about your printer, reach out to the experts at DuraFast Label Company.

All you have to do is send the company your printer model and information and they’ll get to work pairing you with the right replacement thermal ribbon for the job. Explain your use cases or the types of labels you’ll be printing to get the best match for the job.

Contact DuraFast now for more information about finding an ideal thermal ribbon replacement that fits your printer and needs.

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