How to Select the Right Thermal Transfer Ribbon

Thermal Transfer Ribbon

Confused about which thermal transfer ribbon to use? We can help!

RelatedExtremely Reduced Thermal Transfer Printer Ribbon Pricing

Do you have a thermal transfer printer? Thinking about switching to this type of printer? There a so many reasons why this might be a great option for your company.

What is thermal transfer printing?

Thermal transfer printing is an on-demand printing technology that uses a combination of heat, pressure, and speed in order to transfer wax and/or resin from a base film (or ribbon) onto a label substrate.

It requires the use of:

  • thermal transfer printer
  • thermal transfer ribbon
  • compatible label stock

With thermal transfer printing, black ribbons tend to be the most commonly used—although colored ribbons can offer a unique advantage depending on what you need them for.

RelatedRevealPro High-Heat, Direct Thermal Label Solution!

Direct Thermal vs. Thermal Transfer—What’s the Difference?

Here is a simple trick to tell the difference. Scratch your label quickly with your fingernail, as if you were lighting a match. This may take a couple of hard strikes. If a dark mark appears on the label, it is direct thermal. If no dark marks are left behind, it is thermal transfer.

Here are several key differences between the two labels:

Direct Thermal


A direct thermal label does not require a thermal transfer ribbon to print. Because the printer applies heat directly to the heat-activated label, direct thermal material needs a higher heat for printing.


The downside is that printheads tend to burn out faster, as there is no ribbon to act as a buffer against the label material.

Thermal Transfer


  • Thermal transfer labels need less heat when printing.
  • Versatility across multiple applications
  • The printheads tend to last longer because the ribbon works as a buffer to protect the printhead from the label material.

Types of Thermal Transfer Ribbons

When printing with thermal transfer ribbons, it is important to choose the right type of ribbon and label combo for your application. Thermal transfer ribbons are classified into three main categories: wax, wax/resin, and resin.

Wax Ribbons

Also known as resin-enhanced wax, these ribbons are ideal for in-process products or inventory labels that are used indoors. Wax ribbons are used in nearly 75% of all applications.

Typical uses include:

  • warehouse shelf labels
  • food and beverage products
  • exterior box labels

With the ability to be printed at high speeds, wax ribbons produce dark and durable labels. They can also be printed on flood-coated labels.

Wax/Resin Ribbons

Wax/resin ribbons work best when used on gloss paper or synthetic labels like polypropylene, polyethylene, and synthetic paper. They require more heat than printing with a wax ribbon.

These are highly scratch- and smudge-resistant and perfect for harsher environments like:

  • warehouse labeling
  • inventory tags
  • bin labels
  • horticulture tags
  • medical cannabis ID tags
  • and more

RelatedPaladinID Premium Wax/Resin Thermal Transfer Ribbon

Resin Ribbons

Resin ribbons are compatible with a vast array of substrates and produce high-quality barcodes and variable images. They have higher durability than other ribbons. They are suited for many applications when used on polyester—including:

  • nameplate labels
  • safety labels
  • asset tags
  • electronics product labels
  • perfume labels
  • chemical labels

Resin ribbons have a heat resistance of more than 250°F, so they require more heat than wax or wax/resin ribbons do.

Questions to Ask When Choosing a Thermal Transfer Ribbon

When it comes to selecting the right thermal transfer ribbon for your specific application, it’s important to start by asking yourself the following five questions:

  • What is the make and model of the thermal printer being used?
  • What is the application at hand? And what is the expectation that needs to be met?
  • What is the label material and size?
  • Which type of ribbon is currently being used—wax, wax/resin, or resin?
  • What is the ribbon volume? How many labels are used per day/week/month?

Need Help Selecting the Right Thermal Transfer Ribbon?

If you would like to know more about the right thermal transfer ribbon for you, give us a call at 888.972.5234, Email or schedule a Discovery Call below.  We are easy to work with and want to help you improve your business process.

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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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