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Everything You Need to Know Before Buying Barcode Ribbons

Everything You Need to Know Before Buying Barcode Ribbons

Barcodes make supply chain management, asset tracking, and inventory management very efficient. It replaces the manual entry of data for items with the use of a scanner. There are many different types of barcode labels made from different materials. One such type of barcode is the thermal transfer printed barcode. These barcodes use separate rolls of labels & barcode ribbons to print a barcode sticker.

So, let’s discuss these barcode stickers and barcode ribbons used to print these labels, and how they may be useful to you.

What are Barcode Ribbons?

Barcode ribbons are a major component of making thermal transfer printed barcode labels. A barcode ribbon is made of PET (Polyester) film with a fine coating on top of it, used for printing on labels. The coating is a mixture of adhesive and ink, made from wax, resin, or a combination of both. There are different types of barcode ribbons, suitable for different applications.

So, let’s discuss the types of thermal transfer ribbons.

What are the Different Types of Barcode Ribbons?

Barcode ribbons are classified into three types, based on the materials used to make their coatings. The coating can be made of either wax or resin, the three types of ribbons are – Wax, Resin, and Wax-Resin coating. There are certain benefits of using any one of these ribbons for your labels. 

Wax Ribbon

Wax ribbons are used on most barcode labels due to their affordability. Barcodes printed from wax ribbons are resistant to water and moisture. However, they are prone to scratches, smudges, extreme temperatures & chemical damage. They are also prone to fading due to direct sunlight, but it takes some time. All these shortcomings may disqualify wax ribbons from a lot of industries. However, due to their cost effectiveness, they are still the most used type of ribbons (around 70%).

Resin Ribbon

Thermal Transfer Resin Ribbons have a coating made almost entirely of resin, with some quantity of wax. Resin coating provides the best quality of printing when it comes to thermal transfer printing. Resin ribbon prints are extremely durable and are vulnerable to hot temperatures, scratches, and smudges. In addition, resin ribbon prints are compatible with almost every kind of label material. However, their biggest disadvantage is their cost, they are the most expensive printing method for barcodes.

Wax-Resin Ribbon

Wax-resin ribbons have a coating made from a combination of wax and resin. They provide better picture quality than simple wax ribbons and are more durable against scratches, smudges, and fading. But unlike pure resin ribbons, these are not that expensive. They serve as a bridge between their predecessors, by providing some benefits of both, at a fraction of the cost.

What is the Purpose of a Barcode Ribbon?

As noted above, a barcode ribbon is an integral part of thermal transfer printing. The purpose of the ribbon is to imprint the ink on the barcode label, with the help of the printer. During thermal transfer printing, the printer uses drum rolls and the print head to keep both the barcode label and the barcode ribbon stretched tightly and pressed together. The pins on the print head then heat the backside of the ribbon, this melts the coating in certain areas/shapes which then gets transferred to the label.

Each type of coating has different properties and is suitable for a variety of label materials. Thermal transfer printing by using barcode ribbons has a lot of advantages over traditional printing methods too.

How to Choose the Best Barcode Ribbons for Your Business?

There are various factors that you need to keep in mind before you buy a barcode ribbon for your business. These can help you assess the best product for your needs & may even help you cut costs.

Durability Requirement

The first thing you need to keep in mind is the environment and damage that your label is going to be exposed to. Depending on the type of industry and location, your label will have to deal with extreme temperatures, physical damage, or even chemical exposure. For example, if your label will be in direct exposure to sunlight or for a long time or chemicals, then it’s best to use resin ribbons.

Type of Label

Barcode labels can be made from a variety of materials with different applications, like – Paper, Polyester, Polypropylene, Polyimide, and Vinyl. There are benefits to using each of these materials. For example, paper labels are extremely cost-effective, but they are also the most vulnerable to damage, on the other hand, vinyl labels are the most durable, but they are also the most expensive.

In addition, not all ribbons are compatible with all the label types-

Label Material




Paper Label Stocks
























Tyvek Brillion












PVC Shrink Wrap




Side of Coating

Barcode ribbons have a coating on one side and the other side is the one that is heated by the printer. Ribbons are packed in a roll-around plastic core, manufacturers have a choice to either keep the side with the coating on the inside or the outside. However, this can be a problem if the printer is made for the other type of ribbon roll. So, before buying a barcode ribbon, make sure to check whether your printer supports CSI (Coating Side In) or CSO (Coating Side Out)

Size of Label

Both ribbons and labels come in different widths. Ideally, you want to select a ribbon that is slightly wider than your label, to ensure that the entire label surface is covered. But if the ribbon and label are too far off, then you will increase your cost by wasting a lot of ink.

Core Size

Ribbons are packed in a roll-around plastic core. They can then just be inserted into the printer for use. The core helps the printer hold the roll and rotate it. Although most printers use the standard 1-inch diameter roll, some can use a different size. So, before you buy a ribbon make sure to check the core size compatible with your printer.

Benefits of Using Barcode Ribbons Instead of Thermal Printed Labels

There are two methods of printing barcodes – Direct Thermal Printing (DTP) and Thermal Transfer Printing (TTP). As opposed to TTP, DTP involves the use of a blank barcode label with a photochromatic coating on one side, this side is then heated by the printheads, activating the ink and imprinting the image on it. DTP provides a sharper image than TTP, as the heating element is in direct contact with the ink and paper, and it’s also cheaper.

However, TTP has a lot of advantages over DTP. Thermal transfer labels are more resistant to physical damage and scratches. Due to the photochromatic nature of ink, DTP labels can get easily smudged or distorted by heat. They are also vulnerable to chemical damage and moisture.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is a ribbon and barcode label?

Ans: Thermal Transfer Ribbon (TTR) and Barcode Label are two components of thermal transfer printed barcodes. The label is a self-adhesive sticker made of materials like paper, PET, Vinyl, etc, that usually sticks to packaging or a product. A TTR is a polyester ribbon coated on one side with wax or resin, they contain the ink that is imprinted on the label to make a barcode.

Q2. What is the best barcode type?

Ans: There are several types of barcodes available in the market. Each has its applications and features. For example – 1D barcodes are very cheap and easy to implement, but 2D barcodes can hold much more information.

However, strictly speaking in terms of widespread use, Code 128 (1-D Barcode) barcodes are the most popular and the easiest to read.

Q3. What are the three commonly commercialized barcode ribbons categories?

Ans: There are three types of barcode ribbons, based on what the coatings are made of.

1.  Wax Ribbons

2. Resin Ribbons

3. Wax-Resin Ribbons

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 Apr 12, 2023

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