Understanding the Different Thermal Transfer Ribbon Materials
Thermal transfer printers work by applying heat to a ribbon made of wax or resin-based ink. The heat applied by the thermal print-head melts that wax or resin onto the paper or label surface, creating your printed image. Below, we outline the properties of each ribbon type and which jobs they're best suited for.
Types of Thermal Transfer Ribbons
What you use the labels for determines the strength and durability you need from your thermal transfer ribbon. Finding the right printing ribbon can be an important step in ensuring your labels are scannable, readable, and reliable. There are three categories available, each serving a different purpose. They are: full wax, wax/resin, and full resin.
Resin-Enhanced Wax Thermal Transfer Ribbons (aka Full Wax)
A full wax thermal transfer ribbon is coated with a wax-based ink, requiring a low melting temperature.
- Most common type of thermal transfer ribbon
- Recommended for coated and uncoated paper stock
- Softer image durability
- Good for shipping, shelf, bin, retail, and warehouse labels
Durable Wax-Resin Thermal Transfer Ribbons (aka Wax-Resin)
The hybrid of wax and resin-based thermal transfer ribbons have a melting temperature between that of full wax and full resin ribbons. They create sharp and clear images on a wide range of material types, and have been tested extensively with our thermal transfer products.
- Ideal for both standard and weatherproof thermal transfer labels
- Harder printed area than full wax; more resistant to occasional heavy handling, moisture, and temperature changes
- Intermediate price bracket
- Good for barcode, shipping, prescription pharmaceutical, and shelf labels
Full Resin Thermal Transfer Ribbons
Not currently available at OnlineLabels.com.
Full resin thermal transfer printer ribbons are made of pure resin. They melt at a much higher temperature, dissolving into the material on which they're printed, resulting in extreme durability. Unlike certain situations where having the top-of-the-line product is better than an economy version, full resin ribbons can be overkill when the situation doesn't call for it. You should likely bypass them for either of the more economic options detailed above if your project doesn't necessitate their durability.
- Most expensive ribbon type
- For use on non-paper, synthetic stocks
- Most durable of the ribbon types
- Good for labeling very sensitive medical applications and chemicals, textile or garment labels, automotive labels, and flexible packaging
Thermal Transfer Ribbon Buying Guide
|Duration of Use||Full Wax||Wax-Resin||Full Resin|
|Short term / temporary||●|
|Long term / permanent||●|
|Type of Use||Full Wax||Wax-Resin||Full Resin|
|Shipping, shelf, bin, retail, and warehouse labels||●|
|Barcode, shipping, prescription pharmaceutical, and shelf labels||●|
|Sensitive medical applications and chemicals, textile or garment labels, automotive labels, and flexible packaging||●|
|Paper Type||Full Wax||Wax-Resin||Full Resin|
|Uncoated paper stock||●|
|Standard and weatherproof thermal transfer labels||●|
|Non-paper, synthetic stocks||●|
|Exposure To||Full Wax||Wax-Resin||Full Resin|
|Light handling / scratching / abrasion||●||●|
|Moderate temperature changes||●||●|
|Medical applications / machines||●|
|Heavy handling / scratching / abrasion||●|
|Extreme temperature changes||●|
Did you learn enough about the different ribbon types to figure out which one will best suit your printing needs? If the answer is yes, jump over to our Thermal Ribbon Calculator to determine the exact number of ribbons your specific print job will require. If you're still not quite sure, learn more in our article, Thermal Transfer Ribbon Buying Tips, or hop on a call with our customer service team. They can walk you through the process and help you decide which thermal transfer ribbons make the most sense.
Ready to get started? OnlineLabels.com offers a small selection of wax and wax-resin thermal ribbons for use within popular Zebra®, Datamax®, and Sato® printer models. View our thermal transfer ribbon offerings.