Flathead vs. Near Edge Thermal Transfer Printing

flathead vs near edge

What is thermal transfer printing in general?

To understand the difference between flathead and near edge, let’s first take a look at thermal transfer printing in general.

Thermal transfer is a digital printing method that melts a coating of ribbon to the material on which the printing is applied.

Related: What is the Difference Between Direct Thermal and Thermal Transfer Labels?

Thermal transfer printing is perfect for barcodes, labels, packaging, lot codes, expiration dates, and serial numbers. You can also use it for printing one-off, unique labels, short runs, or variable data labels. You can also print using colored ribbons.   We also have non-branded thermal transfer ribbons to save money.

Flathead Thermal Transfer Printing

Flathead printing uses a fixed horizontal printhead with heating elements in the center of the printhead.

The ribbon passes over the heating elements and transfers it to the substrate. Next, the ribbon and substrate move together for a short distance after transfer (melting). This gives the hot ink time to re-freeze.  Flathead printing can use wax, wax/resin, or resin ribbons. It can also print up to speeds of 14ips (inches per second).  It is a one for one system.  When one inch of label material advances, one inch of ribbon is consumed whether it is printed or not.

Near Edge Thermal Transfer Printing

Near edge printhead technology uses a floating printhead and is also known as corner edge or floating head, flexible packaging or TTO. This allows for faster printing speeds; up to 40ips for flexible packaging TTO (thermal transfer overprinting.) It can also print thicker substrates up to 14 point.

Unlike flathead printing, the ribbon and substrate separate instantly after transfer melting. Near edge also uses a feature called ribbon saver which halts the ribbon when printing is not needed on the label, preventing wasted ink.

Types of Printers

There are many types of thermal printers. Some use just one type while others can use both flathead and near edge.

Tabletop printers are often referred to as industrial printers and are common for industrial and manufacturing printing. They are the largest and most heavy duty of all thermal transfer printers.  Tabletop printers easily produce high volume printing at top speeds. They can use either flathead or near edge print heads and feature both thermal transfer and direct thermal modes. Tabletop thermal printers also use many different types of paper, labels, tags, etc. Near-edge printing is typically used for high caliper stocks.

Desktop and Mobile Thermal Printers

These desktop printers have a much smaller footprint than tabletop printers and typically use flathead technology. Because they are smaller in size they are used for lower volume applications. They are popular for healthcare, retail, and point-of-sale applications where receipts are produced. These print at lower speeds and need less adjustments.

Mobile thermal printers generally use direct thermal technology.  Direct thermal printers do not require ribbons, the ink is in the label material.

Thermal Transfer Overprinters (TTO)

TTOs are ideal for flexible packaging and commonly use near edge technology. TTOs are used for imprinting expiration dates, lot codes, barcodes, and text and images. Applications include snack foods, packaged produce, meats, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and other products with flexible packaging. As mentioned earlier, TTOs can print at higher speeds ranging from 18-24ips and some higher volume applications can even print up to 40ips.

Which one is best for your printing solution?

If you are unsure if you need flathead or near edge technology, or which printer would be best, we can help you decide. PaladinID has over 30 years experience helping businesses just like you find the perfect printing solution while saving time and money.

Send us an Email or give us a call at 888.972.5234 for more information.

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About PaladinID, LLC
PaladinID develops and supports high-performance barcode labeling applications. We work with our clients to “Make Your Mark” by providing the expertise and tools necessary to create an entire product label printing solution. Located in central New Hampshire, PaladinID has been serving Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New England, and beyond for over 30 years, and in 2017, became an RFID-certified company. We look forward to working with you.

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