Getting the Most Out of Your Printer

Maintain your printer to save money

Thermal Transfer printers are very useful to manufacturers and retailers alike. You can produce high quality labels and media at a fast and economical rate. The printers themselves however are not immune to wear and tear, and this article will help you to extend the life of your printer. Less repairs and replacements means cheaper running costs and more profit!

Hopefully you're already cleaning your printer as advised when you first purchased it. If not, here's some things you can routinely do to reduce wear and increase the print quality.



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Cleaning

Clean your print-head regularly. Most printers are advised to be cleaned with alcohol - normally available as pre-soaked disposable wipes. These will come in small paper sachets and are one use. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning the print-head every time you replace a carbon ribbon, though this can vary on model and ribbon quality/length.

As the printer runs, small particles of dust and carbon can get deposited on the print head itself and become stuck during heating. This reduces the heat transferring from the print head to the carbon ribbon and so reduces the print quality. A potential solution to this is simply turning up the heat on the printer but this is strongly discouraged. As you'll see below, having a higher heat than necessary will wear out the printer faster.

Printers in dusty environments will suffer from this greater, especially if a large volume of printing is being performed each day.

Instead, if the print quality drops from what you're used to, give the print head a good clean and try printing again.


Setting the heat

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As the printer runs, the print head melts the ink on the carbon ribbon, and transfers it to the label/media. Depending on the area of ink transferred and the speed of the printer, the heat may need to be adjusted. Too low a heat doesn't melt the ink enough so it won't transfer. This results in broken and incomplete print. Too high and you risk not only a bleed effect on the transfer, but you'll wear out the print head much faster.

To set the heat correctly, first set the desired speed for your printer. Try and keep the speed as low as possible for your requirements. Bear in mind that the faster you run the machine, the more heat you'll need and the faster the print-head will wear out!

Once you have set the speed, set the heat to the lowest setting. Print off a few items and check the quality. If it's not satisfactory, turn the heat up by a small amount and print again. Repeat this until the print quality is ideal.

Remember, if the print quality drops during use, don't just turn up the heat but clean the printer first. This will prolong the life of the printer saving you money.


Dust Cover

Always use a dust cover where you can to prevent dust settling on the labels before printing. This will not only reduce the amount of dust entering the machine to clog up the print head, but also reduce the required heat to stick the ink to the label or media saving you time and money.


Carbon Ribbon Quality

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Carbon ribbons are not made equally. Even if you remove the variation between wax, resin and wax-resin hybrid ribbons. There are many variants of wax and resin that have specialities for certain applications. They also come in different qualities.

Using a low-quality carbon ribbon can be great for short-term savings, but in the long run they will create extra wear on your printer: Small parts of the ribbon breaking off increasing the amount of dust inside the machine or really budget ribbons can rub or scratch the print-head as it passes, dramatically reducing it's usable life.


Ribbon Width

carbon overprint 1Incorrect
carbon overprint 2Correct

Ensure you have a sufficiently wide ribbon to cover the label.

If you use a ribbon that is thinner than the label width, the print-head will be exposed during printing. This greatly increases the wear and tear on the print-head and reduces it's lifespan.

For the examples illustrated to the right, if you're printing artwork that is 45mm wide onto a 55mm wide label, use a 75mm wide ribbon and not a 50mm wide ribbon.

The ribbon itself acts as a barrier to protects the print head from the labels and their adhesive. It might seem wasteful to use such a large ribbon for the label but there are lots of sizes of ribbons available.


Summary

Perhaps the greatest benefit of following these tips is not the money you'll save in repairs but the time you'll save in fixing problems, from bad print quality to "dirty" labels.

Labels are an important part of product packaging, especially if it's something the end-customer will see. Fixing your label print quality without affecting cost, and you'll reap the benefits.

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