Thermal Printer Supplies 101 – What Do I Need?

What you need to know before you buy

Thermal printers are the best choice for printing barcode labels and tags. If you’ve invested in a direct thermal or thermal transfer printer to handle your barcode printing, then you should also invest the time in learning how to properly “feed” these machines. Selecting the correct printer supplies can be confusing, the Panatrack team is always here to assist.

The right supplies will produce high-quality output and extend the life of your printer. The wrong supplies—those bargain knock-offs—do the opposite. Lesser quality thermal printer ribbons, for example, snap easily. The result is a mess inside your printer and the downtime to repair it and replace the ribbon and media. Bargain labels and tags often shed dirt and debris inside your printer, which scratches your printhead. Printhead replacement is costly—an average of $400—so you should protect this part from damage.

Saving money on supplies could also lead to poor print quality. You get barcode labels that become scratched or smeared, or they fall off. So, did the initial savings cover the cost of replacing the supplies, repairing the printer, reprinting the labels, and the IT staff and downtime?

For your inventory control, buy the printer supplies that deliver the best return on investment. However, that doesn’t mean Panatrack suggests you need to spend a lot of money. We just want you to understand the factors that should influence your choice.

Questions To Answer

  1. What type of thermal printer do you have? Your printer uses either a thermal transfer or direct thermal technology. A direct thermal printer uses a special paper that is chemically treated to react to heat and is not recommended for printing on synthetic materials, like polypropylene. Thermal transfer accepts a wider variety of media and provides a long-lasting barcode label. Panatrack recommends the use of a Thermal Transfer Printer for most clients. The longevity of a Thermal Transdwe label in the warehouse outlast any Direct Thermal capabilities. If you are using a direct thermal printer, there is no need for a ribbon, while thermal transfer can take one of three types: wax, resin, or wax/resin.
  2. What type of ribbon do you need? The function of your barcode label or tag will dictate the type of thermal transfer printer ribbon you should buy. If you’re printing a paper barcode label that will have little or no exposure to chemicals, moisture, or the sun; a wax ribbon will suit you. Choose a resin ribbon to print on synthetic materials for labels and tags that will need to withstand harsh chemicals and abrasives, and if your label must demonstrate UL/cUL compliance. Finally, use a wax/resin ribbon to produce the most durable label on synthetic media that is UL/cUL-approved.
  3. What type of media should you use? You have a wide array of facestock choices. Tell your supplier whether your labels will be used indoors or outside if they will be affixed to items that will be kept in extreme temperatures (e.g. cold storage), and if they must withstand moisture or exposure to chemicals (e.g., in a lab).
  4. How fast does your printer print? Yes, speed matters. Some facestocks and ribbons are not designed to print at high speeds. Printers that operate at more than 12 inches per second have special requirements for ribbon and facestock; consult with Panatrack on these applications.

Help Selecting Printer Supplies

Need more information? Download Selecting the Right Label to Identify Your Finished Product and talk to us at Panatrack. We offer an extensive selection of thermal printer supplies, so we can make sure you get the right choices for your needs. We also carry the full line of genuine Zebra supplies, which are manufactured to the highest standards, and will deliver exceptional print quality every time. As always, Panatrack is standing by to answer any questions about your inventory control process.

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