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Issues With Thermal Transfer Printheads?

Mar 22, 2008
Are you dissatisfied with the print quality of your thermal transfer or direct thermal printer? Do they have unwanted lines and/or blank spots in the print? If so, your thermal transfer printhead might need cleaned or even replaced. The printhead is the most critical component of your thermal printer and one of the most delicate. Before deciding whether or not you need a new thermal transfer printhead, you should first clean it properly. You can clean a printhead by rubbing it with an alcohol pad or better yet, buy ribbon equipped with
"Cleanstart".

What is "Cleanstart" ribbon? "Cleanstart" is a barcode ribbon that has a special printhead cleaning feature at the start of every roll from IIMAK. IIMAK is one of the largest US based manufacturers of barcode ribbon. After installing your new roll of ribbon into your printer, simply close the printhead at the start of the white "Cleanstart" cleaning strip and pull it through the closed printhead. Reopen the printhead and feed the ribbon through for the final setup and installation. Close the printhead and begin printing.

If the quality of print is not improved then more troubleshooting is needed. Many of these printers are very temperamental and the slightest adjustment can make all the difference. Check the heat setting on the printer to make sure it is hot enough. This can usually take care of some of the lines or fading in the image that is printed.

The next step in troubleshooting the printer would be to check the platen roller. That is the rubber roller that is right under the print head. Many users will damage the platen roller by taking a knife to it to get excess label adhesive or paper stuck to the roller off. This is a MAJOR no-no! NEVER take a knife or blade to the platen roller. This roller is critical in keeping the quality of print consistent. Look for a nick in the roller and if there is one, have a service representative replace the platen roller.

So there is no nick in the platen roller? The next step is to inspect the printhead with a light and look right on the black sensor that meets the labels when closed. You will have to open the print head to see. Check the printhead for white spots. White spots on a printhead indicate damage and wear from the course of its print life. If there are white spots on the printhead, this is a good indication that it is time for a new printhead. The printhead life can vary in length based on how well it is maintained. Wiping your printhead with an alcohol pad before every use will ensure its cleanliness and protect it from residue buildup. The same positive results will occur with the proper use of a "cleanstart" ribbon. Proper maintenance will result in the maximum life span of the printhead.

Now, if your troubleshooting indicates that you need a new printhead, then there are a few decisions to make. Do you want to buy the exact OEM printhead? Or do you want to buy a quality compatible printhead? Many times it is the same manufacturer that makes both. There are very high quality off brand printheads on the market that can save you a lot of money. OEM printheads are usually required for some warranties, but if you can, we suggest going with a private brand, high quality printhead as a replacement because they are much less expensive and work just as well.
About the Author
John Barth founded Adazon Barcode Labels and Barcode Equipment www.adazonusa.com in 2003 and has a wealth of information in the barcode arena from over 20 years of experience in distribution. John's experience allows companies to cut costs on barcode printheads, custom labels and total barcode solutions. For more information call 847-235-2700.
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