Types of thermal transfer label ribbon

While the selection of the label material for a thermal transfer label is vital to the durability of a label, choosing the best ribbon to be used with the thermal label is also essential.

Thermal transfer printers use heat to transfer ink from a thermal transfer ribbon, to the label substrate (e.g. paper label, polyester label, etc.).  The thermal transfer ribbon is a plastic film that is covered with ink on one side.  The ink is "transferred" from the plastic film of the ribbon to the label by heat that is applied by the print head of the thermal transfer printer.

The three types of thermal transfer label ribbon include wax, resin and a combination of the two.

Wax ribbons are designed for printing on matte or semi-gloss paper labels.  This works for most applications of paper labels because paper labels are not intended for applications where they become wet, suffer abrasion, or are exposed to chemicals and solvents.

"Resin ribbons can meet the requirements of the most challenging label applications."

Wax/Resin ribbons are used on gloss paper labels and provide a sharper image than wax ribbons.   The wax/resin ribbon does provide more durability from abrasion compared to the wax ribbon, however, should not be used for applications where the label is exposed to moisture, chemicals or solvents.  

Resin ribbons are the most durable thermal transfer ribbon and are used on synthetic film labels such as polyester, polypropylene and polyimide label materials.  The resin ribbon requires more heat from the print head, which creates a stronger bond of the image to the label material.  Resin ribbons create label images with outstanding resistance to abrasion, chemicals and solvents.

"The resin image is extremely resistant to abrasion, heat, and chemicals, making resin ribbons the ideal choice for any labels that require maximum durability, such as medical, chemical, lab, pharmaceutical, industrial, automotive applications and exposure to harsh environments," Susan Fields explained at IntelliTech International, a label printing solutions provider. " Resin is both the most durable and the most expensive thermal transfer ribbon choice, and also delivers the highest quality label."

Depending on our customers' marking application needs, our expert team will recommend what thermal transfer ribbon and label material will best meet their needs. Contact us today to learn more about our variety of labeling services.

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