Archives for category: Thermal Thransfer Ribbon

In thermal transfer printing the material is applied to paper or other materials by melting a coating of ribbon so that is stays glued. The process was invented by SATO corporation somewhere around 1940 and has almost become the standard in label printing.

The ribbon, sometimes called the foil is a polyester film which has been coated on the label side with a wax, wax-resin or pure resin “ink”. Another layer of protective coating keeps it from sticking to the printhead. A previous article that you can read here presents presents more details about the types of printer ribbons and their usage.

Zebra thermal transfer ribbons are a type of well known print ribbons that come in the three variants mentioned by the article, are smudge resistant and produce a crisp black image with excellent high speed performance. They provide very good print quality and image on most European uncoated and coated paper facestocks. The ALS Store are approved partners for Zebra Ribbons.

These transfer ribbons can be paired with zebra thermal transfer labels using thermal printers.  Pulses of heat supplied by the printheads transfer an image from the ribbon to the label. When the correct label and thermal transfer ribbon are used in combination, the result is an image with outstanding visual quality and resistant to many elements. Exposure to indoor or outdoor UV light is one of the main cases considered, that is why carbon black is one of the most desirable pigments in black ribbons, as it is very light-stable.

As labelling industry is more and more demanding, it is imperative to use the best thermal transfer ribbons and labels. Also, it is worth mentioning that there is a clear distinction between direct thermal printing and thermal transfer printing. Although the process of direct printing costs less, the results are more sensitive to light and abrasion, this reducing the life of the printed material. The process is appropriate for materials such as general receipts, coupons and event tickets.

When durability is required, thermal transfer printing is the solution. Labels and asset tags are just two examples that fit into this category.


In a recent article we discussed how does thermal transfer ribbon work? In this blog article we want to show what thermal transfer ribbons are used for.

Many different types of everyday prints are used with thermal ribbons for typically creating labels and barcodes. Different thermal ribbons are used according to the usability and nature of that particular label/barcode. Some labels maybe used for tough conditions, such as exposure to heat and water, other labels may only need to be scratch prove. Thermal prints are produced by thermal labelling printing machines.

There are three different types of ribbons which are wax ribbon, wax/resin ribbon and resin ribbon. Wax is the least expensive with the least durability, wax/resin is tougher than wax ribbon, and lastly, resin is the toughest of all ribbons with high toughness and durability, also comes at the highest price of the three.

This article will present a visual image of what, where and when thermal ribbons is used.

Wax Ribbons

Wax Resin Ribbon

Resin Ribbon

How Does Thermal Transfer Ribbon Work?

Thermal transfer printing is a fast and clean process with no warm-up or cooling time required. It is not a wet or dirty process either and the results are instantly dry, requiring no curing. By using a single-pass ribbon, the print is perfect from the start to the very end of a roll, making it the standard for producing barcodes and variable information labels, on-demand.

A thermal transfer label printer from the likes of Avery, Sato, TEC, Zebra etc produces text, barcodes and graphics by using a fixed low-powered print head which spans the entire width of the print area. The print head comprises of a single row of thousands of tiny elements (“dots”) of a size typically 8 or 12 dots per millimetre, yielding a print resolution of 200dpi or 300dpi – but even 600dpi is available.

The Difference Between “Direct Thermal” and “Thermal Transfer”:

A Direct Thermal printer uses the heat from the dots in the print head to activate a chemical coating in a specially produced thermal label, which darkens the area in contact with each dot, in order to produce the label image.  A Thermal Transfer printer uses a thermal ribbon:-

Thermal transfer ribbon is a roll of clear plastic (PE) film coated on one side with a coloured pigment, or “ink”, most commonly black (although many colours are available). Depending on the printing requirements, the coating can be formulated using either wax, resin or a mixture of both. The thermal transfer ribbon passes over the thermal print head, with the coated side pressed against the label surface. The heat energy produced by each dot causes the pigment to transfer off the carrier film and bond to the surface of the label.

The element dots which make up the print head are electronically heated up and cooled rapidly by the printer as both the label and ribbon pass under it at the same time. Speeds of 300mm per second and faster are quite achievable with the right match of ribbon, label and printer.