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Thermal Transfer Barcode Ribbons: A Guide to Choosing the Correct Ribbons

Thermal Transfer Barcode Ribbons

When it comes to manufacturing or supplying products, the biggest problem is keeping track of all the items. The solution to this problem is to itemize all the products in the database. This was done manually in the past. Nowadays we use barcode labels & RFID to keep track of items.

The Barcode system allows us to collect information regarding assets & products efficiently and prevents errors while managing inventory.

Today, we’ll be discussing one such barcode printing technology, called the Thermal Transfer Barcode Ribbons.

What Are Thermal Transfer Barcode Ribbons?

Thermal Transfer Barcode Ribbons are a type of barcode printing technology used to print labels for products. This technique uses a thermal transfer roll, made of a clear plastic film/ribbon. One side of the ribbon is covered with an ink coating, made of Wax or Resin. 

A TT Barcode Ribbon needs a TT Barcode Printer to be used for printing labels. The printer mainly consists of two printing components – Drum Roller & Printing Dots/Pins. 

• The drum carries the ribbon from the roll, over to the label. 

• The side of the ribbon with the coating is facing towards the label & the back side is pressed against the Drum Roller & Print Head. 

• The dots on the print head heats the coating & the ink is imprinted onto the label.

Types of Thermal Transfer Barcode Ribbons

With the advancement in technology & material science, there have been some innovations in Thermal Transfer Printing technology. For example, the chemical composition of the coating. Due to their requirement in different kinds of industries, we need different types of coatings.

Based on the coating, we can classify TT Barcode Ribbons into three classes:

Wax Coated

As the name suggests, this type of ribbon coating is made completely out of wax. It offers a crisp print at a low cost. However, these are the least durable type of printing material. Though it’s capable of resisting fading better than direct thermal printed labels, it’s vulnerable to scratches & smudges.

It is also prone to chemical damage, thus severely limiting its utility in a variety of situations. However, due to being so cost-effective, they still dominate most of the market (around 70%).

Resin Coated

These are made mostly from Ink resin but may contain a minute quantity of wax. Resin is far better than wax when it comes to durability, temperature resistance & image quality. In addition, it is also compatible with a wide variety of surfaces.

However, it is considerably more expensive to make than wax-coated ribbons. This means that most consumers would avoid using it, unless necessary.

Wax-Resin Coated

This type of ribbon has a coating made with a mixture of wax & resin, making it better at dissipating static from the ribbon. This allows the edges to be crisp & clearer. Wax-Resin-coated ribbons are far more durable than wax-coated ribbons, yet cheaper than pure resin-coated ribbons.

Due to its low cost & high durability, it becomes a good choice to implement in a wide variety of situations. They are resistant to scratches & smears, and as well as moderate chemical damage.

How to Determine the Best Thermal Transfer Ribbon for Your Needs

There are a couple of factors you need to keep in mind while deciding on a Thermal Transfer Barcode Ribbon for your labels. These are:


The first factor that you must account for is the durability of the coating. For example, although wax coating is used in about 70% of all label printing, it’s susceptible to scratch damage & smudges. It is also vulnerable to high temperatures and chemical damage. On the other hand, resin coating is highly resistant to damage & chemical exposure.

So, depending on your product, if there is no risk of chemical exposure & high temperatures. Then, wax-coated labels are your best option.

Cost Considerations

As stated above, resin-coated ribbons are best for almost any type of label, so why not just choose that? The answer, is cost, using resin will dramatically increase your production cost, as opposed to wax.

So, if your labelling needs are fulfilled by wax-coated barcode ribbons, then there is no need for you to look for alternatives.

Label Material

Another thing to keep in mind while choosing a barcode ribbon is the material of the barcode label on which it will be printed on. Different types of ink coatings are compatible with different types of labels. Below is a table with the list of different labels materials & the coatings compatible with them.

Label Material

Wax Coating

Wax-Resin Coating

Resin Coating

Paper Label Stocks












Tyvek Brillion





PVC Shrink Wrap


Ribbon Coating Side

Different manufacturers may put the coating on either side of the ribbon. Based on this, there are two types of Thermal Transfer Ribbons – Coating Side in (CSI), Coating Side Out (CSO). Your label printer may support one type or the other. So, before selecting the ribbon, check your label printer to see the type of Thermal Transfer Ribbon it uses.

Ribbon Dimensions

The size of your ribbon compared to your label & printer is another important factor. In short, make sure that the ribbon’s width is close to the width of your label but slightly wider than it. This makes sure that the entire label is covered while reducing ink wastage.

Thermal Transfer Ribbons come in different lengths; the length of the ribbon you select depends on the bulk of your printing. For example, shorter-length ribbons are usually for desktop use.

However, if you’re printing at an industrial level, you’ll be better off using ribbons around 300 meters in length.

Core Size

Thermal Transfer Ribbons come wrapped around a cylindrical plastic core. Although most printers use the standard 1-inch core, just to be sure, check your printer’s specifications. And select the core size that is compatible with it.

Tips for Using Thermal Transfer Barcode Ribbons

We are sure that you’re a professional who knows your stuff, but caution is never a bad thing. So, here are some easy tips & habits that will ensure that your labelling process runs smoothly.

Clean the Printer Regularly

Be sure to vacuum the inside of your Thermal Printer on a fairly regular basis. This help prevents the accumulation of dust & fibres, which can increase the static formed in the label paper. This results in consistent image quality and optimal functioning of the printer.

Set the Optimal Speed & Heat Settings

A thermal transfer printer works by heating the ink coating on the ribbon, which is then pressed against the label paper. To clarify, three important factors that determine the quality of the print. 

•The temperature of the Coating

•Pressure on the Ribbon Against the Printhead & Label

•Speed of the Ribbon & the Label

Print on low speed, temperature & pressure to increase the life of your print head. However, depending on the darkness of the print, label material & type of coating, you’ll have to regulate these three settings.

Clean the Print Heads

With regular use, the print heads will eventually start to accumulate black residue, formed due to the friction between the print heads & the ribbon. This accumulation will result in black lines on your label, reducing your print quality.

Thus, make sure to clean your print head, every time you replace a ribbon or label roll. Use a print head cleaner pen, or cotton buds dipped into isopropyl alcohol.

No Creases in the TT Ribbon

Any creases in the ribbon will hamper proper contact between the ribbon & the label, resulting in a bad print. Prevent this by regularly cleaning the waste ribbon out of the thrash collection tray. 

Also, if your ribbon is showing diagonal creases, it’s probably because your temperature is too high. So, decrease the speed & the temperature till you get the same quality of print.

Use the Printer’s Tear Bar

After printing, only use your printer’s built-in tear bar or a pair of scissors to cut the printed label. Using any other tool like a paper cutter, scalpel, blade, etc, can result in the drive roller being damaged. This will cause further deterioration in the print quality.

Calibrate Post Installation

When it comes to an intricate machine like a printer, that must perform multiple tasks at the right time. You will need to make periodic calibrations on it. So, we recommend that you calibrate your printer every time you install a new ribbon roll or a label/media roll.

Use Ribbons Wider than the Rolls

As stated above, always make sure that your ribbon’s width is more than your label’s width. This is done to ensure that both the print heads & the roller go through even wear during functioning. Thus, ensuring the optimal quality of print.

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Disclaimer: The information presented here is for general information purposes only and true to best of our understanding. Users are requested to use any information as per their own understanding and knowledge. Before using any of the information, please refer to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.

  • Created on Mar 17, 2023

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