Organizations looking for a flexible solution to print labels often pick thermal transfer printers, for good reason. Thermal label printing offers a number of benefits such as:

  • Consistent print quality so barcodes, lot numbers, date codes and logos are clear from the first label you print to the very last.
  • Reduced costs. You don’t need to keep a large label inventory or waste pre-printed labels if you need to make changes to the information they contain.
  • High throughput capacity, helping you increase productivity and reduce downtime.
  • Printed images are resistant to chemicals, wear, smudging and moisture, so you don’t have to worry about costly re-labeling.

Proper care of your thermal transfer printer is critical to keeping it at peak performance for as long as possible. Keep reading for five tips to keep your thermal transfer printer running optimally so you don’t have to spend on unnecessary new parts or wasted media down the line.

1. Maintain the right heat and speed ratio

These two things are true:

  1. High print speeds can improve throughput
  2. Higher heat increases the darkness of your print and therefore the contrast of your barcodes.

However, the wrong ratio can lead to print issues and even damage your printhead.

We generally recommend running your printer on a relatively slow setting. This uses less heat and ensures a crisp, clear printed image. On a similar note, we recommend you avoid increasing heat settings without guidance from a professional.

If you work with a supplier who sets up and tests your printer with your media prior to shipping it to you, they have likely adjusted the heat and speed ratio to one suitable for your application.

Maintaining a proper heat and speed ratio will ensure a scannable barcode and extend the life of your printhead so you can avoid costly waste and unnecessary part replacements.

2. Keep the print head clean

Keeping your print head clean is imperative to maintaining your printer. Without regular cleaning, your print head will be more susceptible to abrasion during printing. This can reduce image quality and shorten the life of your printer.

We recommend you establish a schedule for regular print head cleaning. Our technical team endorses cleaning this part whenever you replace the label roll or install a new ribbon.

3. Protect the print head from the media

To safeguard the print head against abrasion, use a thermal transfer ribbon that’s slightly wider than the media.

4. Don’t use razor blades or box cutters

Unless you’re using a model with a peeler or applicator, you should only use tools such as the printer’s tear bar or scissors to remove labels. Razor blades, box cutters and other inappropriate tools can easily slip and cut the driver roller. These cuts can create voids in your printed labels leading to misreads.

5. Avoid ribbon wrinkle

If you’re seeing seemingly random diagonal lines on your print you’re probably dealing with ribbon wrinkle. The main culprit of ribbon wrinkle is too much heat, so your first option is to lower the heat setting. If that doesn’t work, make sure your printer is set up properly. Check that the ribbon is loaded correctly, the media guides are set properly, and the head pressure is balanced. If you’re still experiencing issues you might want to reach out to your supplier to ensure your media and ribbon combination is ideal.

For help, contact your label solutions provider

It’s important to choose a label solutions provider that tests the functionality of each printer before shipping it to you. After all, your printer should work according to your specifications. However, if an issue does arise, you may need assistance.

Your label solutions &/or label printer provider should be available to help you troubleshoot any issues with your thermal transfer printer over the phone. Usually, we can resolve an issue within a few minutes.

Partner with a provider that offers flexible service agreements and warranties.


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