Double or Triple the Life of your Print Head


Printheads are the most common repair on a thermal printer, and it can cost as much as 30% of the cost of a new printer depending on the printhead resolution. Wouldn’t it be great to increase the printhead life to as much as 2 or 3 times the life that the manufacturer expected? Here are some tips to accomplish that. First of all, your print head life expectancy print head is affected by these factors:

      • Ribbon Residue
      • Paper dust from the label
      • Print speed and temperature settings
      • Physical environment of the printer
      • User damage


Lets first talk about ribbon residue. If you use thermal transfer labels (labels that require a ribbon), you will use a thermal or roll ribbon. Thermal ribbons leave a residue. After each ribbon, we recommend that you clean the print head with an alcohol pad containing 95%  isopropyl alcohol. This will remove the residue from the head.

Paper dust

Your labels, like any paper product, contain paper dust that is abrasive to the printhead. This dust needs to be removed so that the head is not scratched over time. Once again, cleaning the printhead with an alcohol pad containing 95%  isopropyl alcohol will remove the paper dust along with the ribbon residue.

If you use direct thermal labels (labels that do not require a ribbon), it is even more important to clean the heads. Since you are not using a ribbon, which has a smoother coating than the face of a paper label, the label is more abrasive to the printhead surface. Keeping the surface clean will more than double the life of the head.

Print speed

The speed you select to run your labels changes the print head temperature. The faster you print, the higher the temperature required to maintain resolution. In your label creation software, you can select the print speed of the printer and the heat setting of the printhead. All thermal printers like Zebra, Sato or Datamax have print speeds of up to 12 inches per second, depending on your model. The question you should ask is, “Do I need all that speed for my application?”  If you are printing a few labels at a time or even large batches, try running at half the printer speed. That may be 5 or 6 inches per second, still very fast!

Printhead Temperature

Just as speed controls printhead temperature, that printhead temperature controls print quality.

Here are some things you need to know:

•        Direct thermal labels require higher printhead temperatures. That will shorten printhead life.

•        Wax ribbons require lower printhead temperatures than resin ribbons.

•        Higher printhead temperatures will give you better resolution, but too high will greatly shorten printhead life.

•        The higher the temperature – the more strain you will put on the printhead.

So when you create a new label format, make sure you test the print quality and set the temperature at the lowest temp where you see the level of acceptable quality.

Straight white lines or print head voids

If there is a straight white line on your labels, you have a VOID in your printhead. That means one or more of the diodes or dots on the head are no longer functioning. That could mean time to get a new print head. Especially if it is altering a barcode line.

User Damage

Don’t ever use any object like a razor blade to remove a label  or any residue that is sticking to the head. You could damage or destroy the electric diodes that bring heat to the label or ribbon surface. Again, use an alcohol pad with a high concentration of isopropyl alcohol to remove adhesive residue, or call a trained professional.

These simple tips will reduce printer down time, which increases productivity, and saves money which makes you and your boss happy.

Contributed by Robert Hess, President of Paragon Print System, Inc.


Robert Hess | President

Paragon Print Systems  |  Our resources. Your solution. ™
2021 Paragon Drive | Erie, PA 16510  |  p. (814) 456-8331  |  f. (814) 456-7905 | Toll Free 888.237.8525 |

(Image: StarTSP100ECO thermal printer)

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