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Which Thermal Transfer Ribbon Grade Should I Choose?

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Rroll wax ribbon for thermal transfer printer in core and thermal labels on white background

Thermal transfer ribbons are an essential component in thermal transfer printing, the method used to print high-quality, durable images and text onto various materials such as labels, tags, and packaging. The thermal ribbon transfers ink onto the printing substrate using heat from the print head. Thermal transfer ribbons are available in different grades, each designed for specific applications and print requirements.

The main thermal transfer ribbon grades are:

Wax Ribbons

Wax ribbons are the most used and economical type of thermal ribbons. They consist of a wax-based ink coating on a polyester film. These ribbons are perfect for printing on paper labels and tags and offer good print quality for barcodes and text. However, they are not as resistant to smudging and scratching as higher-grade ribbons.

Wax-Resin Ribbons

Wax-resin ribbons are a blend of wax and resin-based inks, contributing towards better durability and resistance to abrasion than pure wax ribbons. They offer improved print quality on smooth paper labels, synthetic materials, and certain tag stocks. Wax-resin ribbons are suitable for applications where the printed labels need to withstand some exposure to environmental factors such as moisture and moderate temperatures.

Resin Ribbons

Resin ribbons are the most durable type of thermal ribbon. They are comprised of a resin-based ink coating on polyester film and are designed for printing on synthetic materials such as polyester and polyimide. Resin ribbons deliver highly resistant prints that can withstand harsh environmental conditions, including exposure to chemicals, extreme temperatures, and outdoor conditions. These ribbons are far more robust and so are ideal for use for asset tracking, chemical drum labels, and other applications requiring long-lasting print quality.

When selecting a thermal transfer ribbon grade, there are several factors to consider:

Printing Substrate

The material on which you will be printing, whether it’s paper, synthetic, or a specific type of label or tag.

Print Durability

Determine the level of resistance required for your printed output, considering factors like environmental exposure, handling, and storage conditions.

Print Quality

The level of clarity and definition you need for barcodes, text, and graphics.


Different grades of thermal transfer ribbons vary in cost, so consider your budget constraints while choosing the appropriate grade.

How Thick is Thermal Transfer Ribbon?

The thickness of a thermal transfer ribbon can vary depending on the specific type and brand. Generally, thermal transfer ribbons are relatively thin, ranging from around 4 to 8 microns (0.004mm to 0.008mm) in thickness. However, there may be variations, and some ribbons can be slightly thicker or thinner. The thinness of the ribbons allows for precise and detailed printing, making them a popular choice for high quality labels and other labelling applications.

What is the Difference Between Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer?

A Direct Thermal printer uses the heat from dots in the print head to activate a chemical coating in a specially produced thermal label. The area in contact with each dot darkens in order to produce the label image.

Thermal transfer printing is a fast and clean process which needs no warm-up or cooling time. The results are instantly dry and require no curing. By using a single-pass ribbon, the print is perfect from the start to the end of the roll, making it the definitive product for producing high quality, professional grade labels.

By understanding the specific requirements of your printing application, you can choose the right thermal transfer ribbon grade that will deliver optimal results and meet your needs. Here at RGS Labels, we are a one-stop solution provider for all types of thermal transfer printing ribbons. We offer a wide range of ribbon grades and types to cover all applications and marking systems. Check here to see which grade of ribbon would suit you best.