Regular maintenance is key to achieving high density print and consistently scannable barcodes.
Your labels are key elements of your brand and proper maintenance of your thermal printers will ensure your message is communicated consistently and clearly.
The following infographic covers key topics to keep your thermal print operation running smoothly:
Clean your printheads frequently
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is common for cleaning to be delayed or not done at all. A best practice is to clean your printhead every time you replace the ribbon or roll of labels. For higher volume operations, clean your printheads when you open a new case of labels.
The cleaning process is as simple as applying isopropyl alcohol on a lint free swab or cloth and wiping the imaging element to remove residue and build up.
Check your manufacturer’s recommended heat and darkness settings
It’s a good idea to review your printer settings frequently to ensure you are operating within the manufacturer’s temperature and darkness settings.
Departments who switch out from different label materials (ie paper to film), different print methods (ie thermal to direct thermal) and different ribbon formulas (ie resin to wax to combination wax/resin) may tend to overcompensate by running higher settings to print more consistently with various media changes per shift.
Running at higher settings puts added strain that can shorten your printhead’s useful life. A good practice is reviewing the settings at the start of a new shift to ensure run settings are not outside of manufacturer settings.
Use air dusters to keep your media sensor clean
The media sensor plays an important role in your print operations. It notifies you when you need to replace your labels or ribbon and it communicates the end of one ribbon and when the new one begins.
Label and ribbon media come in various thicknesses and as the materials feed through the printer, particulate may abrade and build up and inhibit your media sensor’s performance.
To keep your media sensor clean, use cans of compressed air to blow dust away and keeps the sensors clear and avoid any smears or smudging that could impact performance.
Use quality grade ribbons and wider ribbons to protect your printheads
Thermal ribbons help protect your printhead. The majority of ribbons are made with a polyester base film that carries the ink and can withstand heat generated by the printhead. The polyester has a coating that improves the coefficient of friction as the ribbon unwinds allowing for easy unwind and minimal particulate generation.
Another important practice is to order a slightly wider ribbon than your label media. There’s a reason that the optimal Zebra ribbon width for standard 4″ x 6″ labels is 4.33″ wide ribbons. The wider ribbon protects the printhead from the abrasiveness and uneven nature that papers, films and uncoated tags can put a printhead through.
Coated paper labelstock are less abrasive and help to extend the life of your printheads
Customers who employ direct thermal print technology do not use thermal ribbons and, instead, purchase label stock with ink embedded in the material that will only image in areas where the printhead is heated.
Direct thermal materials come in a variety of formats – paper with adhesive, film with adhesive and tagstock materials with and without a topcoat layer.
The uncoated materials are more cost-effective but do not offer as crisp of an image. The coated materials may cost more, but they offer the best print capabilities, wider operating windows and the coating is less abrasive on your printhead.
Printheads are a key component to ensure your products arrive on time, your brand is represented in the best possible life and your barcodes remain scannable under any and all conditions.
These tips will help you focus on ways to develop a holistic and easily implemented plan to regularly clean and use optimized label and ribbon materials to keep your printers running.