Thermal Transfer Ribbon learning centre - DNP Imagingcomm Europe B.V.
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What is a Thermal Transfer Ribbon?

A Thermal Transfer Ribbon is a carrier for ink. The ribbon is designed to transfer ink to a substrate via heat and is used in specific thermal printers. A Thermal Transfer ribbon consists of a PET carrier, on which different layers are coated. Next to the ink, this can, for example, be an adhesive layer to bind the ink to the substrate, or a special backcoating to avoid the build-up of static electricity and dust in the printer.

What is printing with a Thermal Transfer Ribbon?

The image made by a Thermal Transfer Printer appears when the ink from a thermal transfer ribbon contacts a heated print-head and is then transferred onto a substrate. What happens is that heat from the print-head melts the ink on the ribbon and releases/transfers the ink directly onto the substrate. These printers use a special ribbon, often abbreviated to TTR.

Thermal Transfer Printing with TTR

Thermal Transfer Ribbons uses?

Thermal Transfer Ribbons are mostly used for printing variable information. This particularly concerns the information for identification, such as barcodes, batch codes, and expiry dates. Printing with this method is preferred when a durable result is needed, for example against heat, chemicals, sunlight, and abrasion. In addition, It works well in making highly durable non-variable information, such as warning signs.

Barcodes printed on labels

Why print with a Thermal Transfer Ribbon?

Printing with Thermal Transfer Ribbons is a proven technique to deliver durable variable codes, such as barcodes, that always read or scan. It produces dense, high-resolution images in colour or black and white. Additionally, it can be used on a wide variety of substrates. Images made with these ribbons are highly resistant to chemicals and extremely durable. The printers work at high speeds and require little maintenance. Thermal Transfer Printing is a direct technique, meaning that there is actual contact between the ribbon and substrate at the moment of ink transfer, ensuring minimum distortion and the best possible print result.

DNP Thermal Transfer Ribbon Samples

Thermal Transfer Ribbon types

The ink used in the Thermal Transfer process can be made with wax, resin, or wax resin. As a result, the different types of ribbons have a different print sensitivity. This means they transfer ink at different temperatures of the printhead. The requirements of the application determine which ink is needed.

Two types of printers are used: flat-head and near-edge. On the Thermal Transfer Printer info page we answer specific questions on the relation between printer and ribbon.

Thermal Transfer Printing with the right Thermal Transfer Ribbon on your substrate

What ribbon to choose for which substrate?

It is important to realize that a proper combination ribbon and substrate is needed for the optimal print result. The material that is printed influences how well the ink from the ribbon is transferred to the substrate and fixed to the surface. It is, therefore, necessary to consider material characteristics of the substrate, including the smoothness of the surface, when selecting a ribbon for a certain application. DNP is constantly testing new ribbon-substrate combinations. With our ribbon finder you can easily see which ribbons work well with a certain substrate. we have also dedicated a page to the specifics of TTR printing on different materials. DNP recently introduced the Versatility Series, these ribbons are specifically designed to print on the widest range of different substrates.


The difference between Flat-head and Near-edge thermal transfer ribbons

What is the difference between a near-edge and a flat-head ribbon?

Near-edge and flat-head printers require different ribbons. In almost all cases a ribbon is uniquely designed for either a flat-head or a near-edge printer. Some specific ribbons are suitable for both systems. The main difference between the two types of ribbons has to do with the release layer. Due to the short exposure time to the printhead, a near-edge ribbon needs to release the ink much faster and is therefore formulated differently. This animation is specially made to explain the difference. You can use our Thermal Transfer Ribbon finder to find the perfect ribbon for your flat-head or near-edge printer.

R550 Resin extreme durability flat-head Thermal Transfer Ribbon Performance Characteristics

What is the most resistant Thermal Transfer Ribbon in the DNP portfolio?

Some applications and circumstances require a print that withstands extreme exposures, such as heat and chemicals. For these prints, a highly resistant ribbon is needed and we often get the question “What is the best Thermal Transfer Ribbon in your assortment?”. For heat and chemical resistance, the answer is R550. Prints from this resin are resistant for continuous temperatures up to 300°C and are superior in chemical resistance. The information printed with R550 is highly resistant to scratching and abrasion. R550 is an evolution of R510, which is another highly resistant ribbon in our assortment. R510 is approved for many applications and has numerous certifications to be compliant with specific industry requirements. Contact us if you want to know which of the ribbons works best for your specific situation.


ink side in

What does “ink side in” or “ink side out” mean?

Depending on the printer it is intended for, the ink on a Thermal Transfer Ribbon can be coated on different sides of the ribbon. When a ribbon is wound “ink side out” it means that the ink is coated on the side of the foil that is exposed to the outside. When a ribbon is wound “ink side in”, the ink is coated on the inner part of the foil, meaning that the ink is covered by the foil when wound on the roll. The ink side of a DNP ribbon is indicated on the label of the roll and the box. When not sure, a so-called “tape-test” can help: stick a piece of adhesive tape on each side of the ribbon and pull it off. When ink sticks on the adhesive, you have found the ink side. At the end of this video, the test is shown in real-life.


thermal transfer ribbon thickness

What is the difference between a 4.0 and a 4.5 micron ribbon?

Thermal Transfer Ribbons generally come in 4.0 and 4.5 micron varities. This number refers to the thickness of the base film of the ribbon. The base film is the layer that carrier the other layers of the ribbon, such as the ink and the back coating. The 4.5 micron base layer is the standard for most TTR and is generally used for flat head ribbons. For near edge and TTO ribbons, the 4.0 base film is becoming more and more important. Using a thinner film has several advantages:

  • Less change-overs due to longer ribbons: up to 2000 meters
  • Less print energy needed to transfer ink: higher print sensititivity
  • Higher print speeds possible: faster ink transfer
  • Less plastic film waste: more than 10% reduction vs 4.5 micron film

The 4.5 micron film has the advantage is has less ribbon breakage, which is especially important when a lot of heat is needed for the ink transfer (low print sensitivity). This applies to many resin ribbons that are printed on flat head printers. The base film thickness can be found on the product page of the website and the technical datasheet.


Thermal Transfer Printing with DNP ribbons in a nutshell

slitting of wax resin thermal transfer ribbon
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