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How to choose the right thermal print labels and ribbons

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How to choose labels

The right label and ribbon will depend on how your label is going to be used. The following guidelines will help you decide – if you need more information/help, call us on 1300 656 135.

Should I use thermal transfer or thermal direct labels?

Thermal direct is normally used for short term uses, such as shipping labels, food labels at the deli. Thermal direct paper is sensitive to UV light and will change colour in the sun or under fluorescent lights.

Thermal transfer is normally used for labels that need to last longer, such as retail clothing tags, product ID codes, date and batch coding. Thermal transfer labels will not discolour in UV light.

What is the cost difference between thermal direct and thermal transfer?

With thermal direct there is no ribbon, so it is the cheaper option interms of immediate, direct cost.

However the ribbon has a special, low friction back coat that protects the print head. Thermal direct paper is very abrasive compared to thermal ribbon and head life will be considerably reduced without a ribbon to protect it, so the saving gained by not using a ribbon must be offset by the cost of replacement heads. In some cases the head life for thermal direct will be ¼ that of a head protected by a ribbon.

What ribbon should I use?

Again, it depends on the application – there are three categories of ribbon, each used in different environments.
Wax thermal ribbons are the lowest cost option – also known as Pure Wax, or Economy. They print well on very rough papers, such as vellum, as well as gloss and synthetic labels, however the smoother the paper the higher the chance of smudging and scratching.

Resin – enhanced wax thermal ribbons – also known as premium wax or hard wax. These are smudge and scratch resistant on glossy labels stocks, as well as most synthetics.

The difference in price between pure wax and resin enhanced wax is very small, just a few percent. The benefit of the added smudge and scratch resistance offered by the enhanced wax ribbon usually more than offsets the small increase in price.

Resin thermal ribbons are used where a robust label is needed, for example where labels are exposed to extreme temperatures, chemicals, abrasion or weather. Think plant pots at a garden centre, goods in a builder’s yard, wash care and dry cleaning applications, cook in the bag products.

Resin ribbons are usually used with synthetic labels, need a higher temperature than wax or wax resin labels. They do not print well on paper label.

What width of ribbon should I use?

This will depend on the size of your label – you need your ribbon to be wider than the label, so that the label paper does not touch the print head directly. Part of the role of the ribbon is to protects the print head from abrasion.

Do I need OW or IW ribbon ?

This will depend on the printer you are using. Different printers wind the ribbon from the spool to the print head in different ways – and therefore some need the ink to be on the inside of the roll and some on the outside. These configurations are referred to as Inside Wound (IW) or Outside Wound (OW) – some printer manufacturers call them Carbon Side In (CSI) and Carbon Side Out (CSO) or Ink in.

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