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Beginning a print-your-own Thermal Transfer labels project can, at first, feel like quite a daunting task!

We want to make sure you have the best printing experience you can. This article will help you narrow down how to choose the right Thermal Transfer Ribbon for your specific kinds of labels you will need for your new project. 

ribbons for transfer printing

Getting Down to Business: 3 different kinds of ribbons

Thermal transfer labels require a ribbon for printing. The transfer printing technology process works with a heated print head which melts wax from a resin onto a printable paper or film surface which imprints the image, creating barcode thermal labels.

Yes there are decisions, decisions! And its ussually wise to sample and test berfore making the ultimate decision. Thermal Transfer Printers are designed to make longer lasting labels with an increase in durability. This is due to the highly durable materials of Wax, Resin, or Wax-Resin. These materials vary in durability and cost, so you will want to be as specific as possible in your requirements before you make your decision! What other factors should you base your decision on?

What kind of material is my label made out of? -Different ribbons will work better with different label materials.

How long do my labels need to last? -Each ribbon has a different durability depending on environmental factors (as referenced in next question below).

What kinds of environments will my labels be exposed to? -In order to avoid any chance of possible wear on your label, you will want to make sure the ribbon material you use will adhere well to specific kinds of environmental conditions.

Which kind of ribbon material is the most affordable for my budget? -Make sure the ribbon you settle on is convenient both for your project’s needs, as well as your budget.

Which size is my printer, and what length are my ribbons?

-This will ensure your ribbon fits perfectly inside your printer so everything works together correctly, ensuring quality prints! Is my Ribbon “Coated Side In” (CSI), or “Coated Side Out” (CSO)?

-Your Printer might only be able to use a Ribbon that will allow ink to adhere to the inner side of the ribbon (“Coating Side In”). The part of your ribbon that is matted will contain the ink created by your Thermal Transfer Printer, and this part of the ribbon will stick to the front of the label where the image will be. Make sure you know which kind of Ribbon coating your Printer requires so that you know how to insert the ribbon correctly. This will ensure everything is working right.


There are three different kinds of Thermal Transfer ribbons on the market.

1) Wax: Perfect for Common and Most Used Labeling Needs

Going back to the first question, you will start by asking, ”What kind of material is my label made out of?”

If you answered “Paper”, then Wax Ribbons are most likely for you! Wax-based labels will sustain their quality best when out of the sun, away from environmental factors that could do potential damage and wear to the label. They are perfect for items that are before warehouses, store shelves and other indoors-only needs.

Wax-made labels are not intended for high maintenance environments where wear and tear is a possibility. They are best used in less complex conditions such as use for products on retail store shelves and for storing larger items in warehouse garages. If you are running a retail business, Wax is a wonderful choice when it comes to making price tags or labeling your products! You can also use Wax-based labels when shipping products out as they are perfect for boxes, as well as bins. As long as Wax-based labels are kept inside, away from the elements and out of the path of direct sunlight, they are more likely to remain smudge-free and should serve you well for quite some time.


2) Wax/Resin: Not Just a Combination, but a Convenient Compromise

If you need your labels to last longer and with a lesser chance of smudging or smearing, then you will most likely be happy with the choice of Wax and Resin! You can use Wax/Resin ribbons to print on both your go-to paper (semi gloss or matte coated labels) and some (not all) synthetic labels (including highly useful plastic, aka polypropylene, vinyl and polyester labels). Wax/Resin is convenient for situations that require your labels to last longer, as well as won’t smear easily and aren’t affected by any external abrasions. Much more durable and longer-lasting than wax, they are the perfect choice for more intense environments such as pharmacies and medical facilities (when not around heat or chemicals). They can also be used for labeling plants in a nursery, and for making quality theater tickets. Keep Wax/Resin labels in the driest environments and out of range of any chemicals or substances that will potentially damage your label. Perfect for indoor and some outdoors use, Wax/Resin is an affordable compromise when it comes to choosing Thermal Transfer Ribbon.


3) Resin: The Best Go-To Ribbon for Extreme Conditions

Need labels that will able to stand up to the unpredictable weather of the great outdoors, deal with moisture from water and other liquids, come into contact with smudgy oil or grease, or put up with potentially unexpected chemical spills? Resin-based labels will stand up to pretty much anything! Resin-based ribbon is melted onto the at extreme temperatures, which will ensure outstanding quality on tougher label materials like plastic, vinyl and polyester. You can expect Resin-based labels to not get easily beaten down by Mother Nature, as well as sustain their readability in spite of oily or greasy encounters or under attack by a chemical spill. Although you can sometimes get away with using a Wax/Resin Ribbon in conjunction with weatherproof labels, in circumstances where heavy water contact is expected, and even submersion and other extreme liquid exposure is anticipated, Resin Ribbons can keep your labels legible in those high-contact situations. Keep in mind that Resin can cost a bit more than the other two, but the payoff is most definitely worth it---your labels will be able to serve your needs in the most strenuous of environments!


Remember, when selecting your ribbon, always make sure you are using a thermal transfer printer and NOT a direct thermal printer (some thermal printers often have both options). Always make sure you are using the right width and length for your printer (as different ribbons come in different lengths and widths). If the exact diameter of your label is not met with an equivalent ribbon measurement, one key detail to keep in mind is that as long as the diameter of a compatible ribbon exceeds the diameter of the label, you can use it as long as the ribbon in question is compatible with your printer and label surface. What size you want your label to be will determine the width/length of your chosen ribbon.

  • https://www.barcodesinc.com/news/?p=11585
  • https://www.zebra.com/us/en/products/supplies/ribbons
  • https://www.peak-ryzex.com/articles/thermal-transfer-printing-vs-other-technologies
  • https://www.satoamerica.com/resource-library/learning-center/ribbon-selection.aspx



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