Pen has become a universal word. We no longer say fountain pen or ballpoint pen. But could we imagine a ballpoint pen without the spherical point?

Not quite. What is nowadays a simple thing we take for granted, was born after years of experimentation and analysis.

The first patent on a ballpoint pen was issued on 30 October 1888, to John Loud, a leather tanner, who needed a writing instrument that could write on his leather products. Obviously, fountain pens couldn’t do that. But because the instrument could not be used for writing letters, (they were way too coarse) it did not gain commercial usage.

László Bíró, was a frustrated Hungarian newspaper editor. Frustrated because he had to spend too much time filling up fountain pens. So something had to be done. Receiving help from his brother, a chemist , Bíró fitted his pen with a tiny ball in its tip that was free to turn in a socket. As the pen moved along the paper, the ball rotated, picking up ink from the ink cartridge Bíró filed a British patent on 15 June 1938.

What do ballpoint pens have in common with print heads?

A lot. Imagine thermal printers without thermal print heads. The truth is the entire functionality of a thermal printer lies in its print head. Their precision is responsible for the quality of their output. That is, the better the quality of a thermal print head, the better the quality of the printed text.

Thermal print heads are mainly used in the industrial labelling sector.  Bar codes and price tags also use the thermal transfer printing system and implicitly the thermal print heads.

As the barcode is now universal and used beyond its initial commercial purpose, barcode printing is an everyday process that needs to rely on quality thermal print heads. The very first scanning of the famous barcode was of a Wrigley chewing gum in June 1974.

Barcode printing can either use the direct thermal printing method or the thermal transfer printing one. Although a bit less expensive, direct thermal printers produce labels that can become illegible if exposed to heat, direct sunlight, or chemical vapors. Needles to say, the print heads used in the thermal transfer printing type produce a more accurate, long lasting image.

For those interested in the latter option, www.als-store.co.uk, as approved partners, is able to supply various thermal print heads like Avery Dennison and Zebra. Other consumables, thermal transfer labels and ribbons can also be found here.

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