Thermal Barcode Printers: Explaining Media and Ribbons

by ScanSource Technical Services on September 16, 2010 · 0 comments

in Barcode Printing,POS,RFID,ScanSource POS & Barcode,Technical Education Portal,Technology,Wireless


What’s important to keep in mind is there is a media for every application, be that a simple shipping label that only needs to last 3 days, or a warning label that needs to last 10 years on the side of a fishing boat in the North Atlantic. Both are labels, and both can be printed using the same Thermal Barcode Printer, but each is specifically designed to meet the needs of a very different environment.

  • Paper Labels
  • Synthetic Labels
  • Tags
  • Specialty Media
    • Wrist Bands
    • Jewelry
    • Linerless

Paper Labels:
These are perfect for a wide range of applications such as shipping labels, labels on file folder and shelves, price tags, etc. or any application where the label does not need to stand up to the elements. Their chief advantage is price.

Synthetic Labels:
These labels are made of synthetic materials such as polypropylene and polyester (plastics). They are used in situations where the label will be exposed to an environment that is unfriendly to paper. While outdoor application come to mind (the side of the fishing boat), they also have some level of resistance to exposure to chemicals (think Health Care). How much exposure and which chemicals can very on the specific make-up of the label which is why there are such a wide variety of synthetic materials available.

Tags tend to be thick paper without adhesive on the back. Garment and shelf tags are their most common application.

Specialty Media:
Labels and tags tend to be the most common media, but we need to mention at least a few of the most popular specialty Medias. Wrist bands are not only used in health care but also common in event management. Jewelry labels are all referred to barbell or butterfly labels because of their unique shape. They are used for wrapping around small items such as rings. Linerless labels are labels without backing materials. They use special adhesives and usually require a non-stock Thermal Printer with special non-stick label handling mechanisms.


The label is only half of the media solution. For Thermal Transfer labels it is important to keep in mind the ribbon has to match the type of label you are using. When in doubt just ask whoever made the label which ribbon is appropriate but there are some general rules you can follow. The difference between ribbons boils down to the type of ink they carry. Different formulations of inks are used to adhere to different types of materials.

  • Wax
  • Wax/Resin
  • Resin

Wax ribbons are for use with paper labels.

Wax/Resin ribbons are used with synthetic labels that have a matte finish. Also good for certain “coated paper labels” which are paper labels that contain a thin clear coating.

Resin ribbons are used with synthetic labels that have a gloss finish. It is usually clear when the wrong ribbon is being used, as the ink will tend to either print very light, or the ink that does transfer will flake off easily.

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