How To: Buy Your Thermal Transfer Ribbon.
Read time: 8 minutes

 

INTRODUCTION

Choosing the right Thermal Transfer (TT) ribbon for your application might seem daunting at first, but when you break it down, it can become a simple exercise.

We're the ribbon experts, so in this blog we'll only teach you what you need to know to make the correct buying decisions, minus the extra guff.

Contents:

  1. Understanding terminology
      • Ink Grades
      • Printer technology
      • Winding
      • Measurements
    1. Reasons to buy a new thermal ribbon
    2. Conclusion
    3. Rotech grade comparison chart to branded ribbons

     

    UNDERSTANDING THE TERMINOLOGY

    To start, there are some things that’ll be helpful to understand before making a purchase.
    If you're already familiar with the terminology, skip to section two.

     

    Ink grades

    This can be broken down into three standard types. One way to understand the properties of wax vs resin ribbons is to liken them to allowing a molten candle to drip onto a surface, alongside a drip of molten resin. Once hardened, the wax will be easier to remove from the surface than the resin. The wax will still hold relatively well onto a rough, porous surface such as paper (label stock) whereas resin will adhere much better to both porous and non-porous materials (synthetics). The more resin you add to wax, the more resin-like properties you’ll get.

    WAX – the most cost-effective ribbon type, most suitable for applications using untreated label stock and uncoated materials (varnish or lacquered). The least durable type against smudges and scratches.

    WAX / RESIN – combining properties from both wax and resin, these grades are the most popular. They are ideal for most applications providing good smudge and scratch resistance.

    RESIN – due to the increased resin content this ribbon type provides excellent resistance to smudges and scratches across a variety of substrates (including synthetics). It is also suitable for use in a number of harsh environments.

    In the real world, in can be a bit more specific than what’s above, due to grades having different ratios of wax to resin to make up grades for specific uses / substrates. At Rotech, we have ten grades to suit 95% of all applications.

     

    Printer technology

    All thermal transfer printers use either a flathead (also known as true edge) or a near-edge (also known as corner edge) printhead. This is how to tell what you have:

    Flat Head Thermal Printhead Diagram Near Edge Thermal Printhead Diagram

    Flathead printers  are typically desktop / industrial printers, they sit on a table / desk, or are mobile. They print common tags and labels. Common printer brands include: Zebra, Sato, Datamax, TSC and Honeywell.

    Near-Edge – printers are generally Thermal Transfer Overprint (TTO or on-line) but can sometimes come as tabletop printers too. They can print common tags and labels, but also support thicker materials, including flexible ones. Common printer brands include: Markem Imaje, Videojet, ICE, Toshiba TEC and Novexx.

    If this doesn’t help you,  take a quick look at your printer’s original user manual, or do a Google search. This will help you find what printer technology your printer uses. Still not sure? Talk to one of our experts using live chat.

     

    Winding

    Knowing the winding of your ribbon is important, it tells us what side of the film the ink is coated onto (you want the ink to be touching your substrate, not the printhead!). The two options here are Inside Wound (also known as IW, coated side in or CSI) or Outside Wound (OW, coated side out or CSO). Most desktop printers allow you to use both inside wound and outside wound ribbons.

    Thermal Transfer Ribbon Winding Example Diagram (Inside Wound vs Outside Wound)

    If you already have a ribbon you use on your printer, gently unravel the end of the ribbon. As you pull the ribbon away from the core if the outside surface is shiny, this will indicate an inside wound ribbon, the opposite applies to identifying an outside wound ribbon.

    If you don’t have your printer or a ribbon, a quick Google search or a look in the user manual will give you the answer. If you can’t find any information directly referring to IW or OW, it’s likely that your printer will support both. Alternatively, you can message us using the live chat on this page.

     

    Measurements

    This bit is relatively simple.

    Thermal Transfer Ribbon Measurements Diagram

    Width – Ideally, the ribbon width should at least match the width of the printhead (the size can be found in your user manual, or online) in order to protect the printhead. If you’re only ever printing a smaller image (e.g. a 30mm wide image across a 53mm wide head) you can utilise a smaller ribbon width, but this comes with a risk of damaging the outer edge of the printhead not covered by the ribbon (the remaining 23mm) which if you then wish to use may provide poorer print quality than the middle of the printhead.

    Length – Your printer will have a maximum ribbon roll length specified due to the space limitations within the printer. We recommend going to the maximum length as specified to prevent unnecessary production downtime when you have to change out your empty roll for a new one.

    Rotech have a specialist ribbon grade incorporating a thinner ribbon film, which results in a longer length of ribbon (in excess of some standard manufacturers recommendations) being able to be used remaining within the maximum roll diameter. At Rotech, we supply 74M all the way to 1,400M lengths.

    Core – The last measurement to be aware of is the core. This is normally a 1” / 25.4mm outer diameter, but smaller printers (normally mobile ones) utilize a 0.5” / 12.7mm OD. Some printers specify either a cardboard (C) or plastic (P) core material to be used. If you have a ribbon you currently use on your printer, it’s easy to check the core for what material it uses and its size. Rotech can supply all four core combination options.

    By knowing the information above, you can be certain that your ribbon will be compatible with your printer. What’s better yet? You can request free samples from us if you have any doubt! Plus, if you have any issues, we’ll be happy to help.

     

    REASONS TO BUY A NEW THERMAL RIBBON

    When someone comes to us for help with their ribbon purchases, the first question we will ask is why. Knowing why you’re looking to buy is important in knowing how you can shop. The three reasons we normally see are:

    Non-print-quality pains – You’re happy with your print quality, but perhaps there are other pains.

    Maybe that’s: the number of different ribbon grades you must use for your several production lines, costs are too high, lead-times are too long, frustratingly high inventory cost with minimum order quantities, juggling multiple suppliers, or the support you’re getting isn’t up to par.

    Solution – If you’re using a branded ribbon currently, it may be quite simple for you to find a replacement ribbon - the box or ribbon will often have all of the information you need to find an alternative ribbon (size, core, winding). Further down this post, we provide a direct comparison of common brands to our own range to make that process even simpler.

    Print quality issues Some or all of your ribbons aren’t up to scratch, they’re either not printing well in the first place, or don’t have the properties to withstand what you need to use them for.

    Solution – Unfortunately, this means you can’t just look for an equivalent ribbon, because the issue may lie with the fact that your ribbon is the wrong specification. You’ll need to take everything you’ve learnt above and find a ribbon roll that fits your printer and has an ink formula that will suit your application. If you have multiple production lines, it’s possible to find one ribbon grade that will suit all of your needs. Check out our thermal transfer ribbons, they cover 95% of all applications and there are only 10 grades to choose from. Alternatively, contact our sales team over live chat on this page.

    A new application – You have a new requirement for thermal ribbon. Perhaps a new product line, or a new coating on an existing product that effects the surface and means you’ll need a new type of thermal ribbon.

    Solution – You’ll need to use everything you’ve learnt above to find a new thermal ribbon that is compatible with your printer and a that prints well onto your substrate. We recommend looking at our range, we cover 95% of all thermal transfer applications with just 10 grades, which means not only are we bound to have a ribbon for you, but we may be able to simplify your existing range of thermal ribbons at the same time. Wouldn’t that be nice? Contact us on live chat if you’d like to know more.

     

    CONCLUSION

    Hopefully, this has provided some useful tips on what to look for when buying your TTR. We understand that it can be confusing, which is why we have a team of sales and support engineers on hand to provide guidance throughout the buying process. Connect with them between 8:30-5:30 Monday to Friday on our live chat.

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    ROTECH GRADE COMPARISON CHART

    This table displays some of the most common ribbon grades (although, not a comprehensive list). It shows you every detail you need about your ribbon when searching for a replacement.

    ZEBRA - example ribbon part number: 03200BK06030. Grade number is 2nd to 5th character.

    Branded Ribbon Flat Head Near Edge Grade Description Rotech's Equivalent
    Zebra 2300 Standard Wax RT100
    Zebra 5319 Standard Wax RT100
    Zebra 2100 Premium Wax RT110
    Zebra 3200 Standard Wax Resin RT200
    Zebra 3400 Premium Wax Resin RT210
    Zebra 4800 Premium Resin RT300
    Zebra 5095 Premium Resin RT300
    Zebra 5100 High Performance Resin Contact us

     

    Armor / Inkanto - example ribbon part number: T63457IO. Armor pn's begin with T and end in IO.

    Branded Ribbon Flat Head Near Edge Grade Description Rotech's Equivalent
    Armor AWR 1 Standard Wax RT100
    Armor AWR 8 Standard Wax RT100
    Armor AWR 470 Standard Wax RT100
    Armor AWX FH Premium Wax RT110
    Armor APR 6 Premium Wax Resin RT200
    Armor APR FH+ Premium Extra Wax Resin RT210
    Armor APR 600 Premium NE Wax Resin RT400
    Armor APR 650 Premium Extra NE Wax Resin RT400
    Armor AXR 1 Super Premium Resin Contact us
    Armor AXR 7+ Super Premium Resin RT300
    Armor AXR 8 Super Premium Resin - High Solvent & Heat Resistance Contact us
    Armor AXR 9 Super Premium Resin - Textile RT320
    Armor AXR 600 Super Premium NE Resin RT530
    Armor AXR 800 Super Premium NE Resin - High Solvent & Heat Resistance Contact us
    Armor AXR 900 Super Premium NE Resin - Textile RT320

     

    Toshiba TEC - example ribbon part number: BX760102AS1. Begin with "B", the grade is the last 3 characters of the pn.

    *for grades that have both near edge and flathead selected, Toshiba offer these grades for both printhead technologies. Check your printer model and printhead technology to determine which Rotech grade to use.

    Branded Ribbon Flat Head Near Edge Grade Description Rotech's Equivalent
    Toshiba AW1 Standard Wax RT100
    Toshiba AW3 Standard Wax RT100
    Toshiba SW1 High Performance Wax RT110
    Toshiba AG2 Premium Wax Resin RT200 / RT400*
    Toshiba SG2 Premium Wax Resin RT200 / RT400*
    Toshiba RG2 Premium Wax Resin RT400
    Toshiba AG5 High Speed Wax Resin RT400
    Toshiba AG4 Premium Wax Resin - Extra Durability RT400
    Toshiba AS1 Premium Resin RT300 / RT530*
    Toshiba SS1 Premium Resin RT300
    Toshiba RS1 Premium Resin RT530
    Toshiba AS2 Premium Resin - High Durability Contact us

     

    Markem Imaje - All below grades are ribbons that are coated side IN. If you have a grade with a 1 on the end it means that this ribbon is coated side OUT. E.g. 3810 is coated side IN, but 3811 is coated side OUT.

    Branded Ribbon Flat Head Near Edge Grade Description Rotech's Equivalent
    Markem 3100 General Purpose Wax RT100
    Markem 4100 Premium Wax RT110
    Markem 5100 Standard Wax RT100
    Markem 3210 Standard Wax Resin RT200
    Markem 3310 Premium Resin RT300
    Markem 3810 Premium Extra NE Wax Resin RT400
    Markem 3820 Premium Extra NE Wax Resin - Thinner Film RT400X
    Markem 3410 Premium Extra NE Wax Resin - General Colours Contact us
    Markem 3510 Premium NE Wax Resin - Improved Adhesion RT400
    Markem 3520 Premium NE Wax Resin - Improved Adhesion & Thinner Films RT400X
    Markem 3710 Premium NE Wax Resin - for Rough Surfaces RT400
    Markem 3910 Super Premium NE Resin RT530
    Markem 3920 Super Premium NE Resin - Thinner Film RT530
    Markem 7810 Super Premium NE Resin - Metallic White (Silver) Contact us

     

    Videojet / ICE - Example ribbon part number: 14-E162KQ5-500 (doesn't always include the second hyphen).

    Branded Ribbon Flat Head Near Edge Grade Description Rotech's Equivalent
    Videojet ICE 100 Premium NE Wax Resin RT100
    Videojet ICE100LL Premium NE Wax Resin - Thinner Film RT400X
    Videojet ICE 100HS Premium NE Wax Resin - Thinner Film RT400X
    Videojet ICE 105 Premium Extra NE Wax Resin RT400
    Videojet ICE 110 Premium NE Resin RT530
    Videojet ICE 120 Premium NE Resin RT530
    Videojet ICE 130 Premium NE Resin RT530
    Videojet CM 500 Premium NE Wax Resin RT400

     

    ITW Thermal Films - B220005000300AO (grade number is 1st to 4th character, width is the next 4 then length is the next 5).

    Branded Ribbon Flat Head Near Edge Grade Description Rotech's Equivalent
    ITW B220 Resin Enhanced Wax RT100 / RT110
    ITW B121 Flexible Wax Resin RT200
    ITW B128 Durable Wax Resin RT200 / RT210
    ITW B120 Extreme Wax Resin RT210
    ITW B325 Durable Resin RT300
    ITW B324 Durable Resin RT300
    ITW B813 Extreme Resin Contact us
    ITW B112 Premium NE Wax Resin RT400
    ITW P110 Premium NE Wax Resin - Coding RT400
    ITW P110W Premium NE Wax Resin - Coding White Contact us
    ITW P310 Premium NE Wax Resin - Coding RT530

     

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