A thermal printer used for printing barcodes applies heat to produce images. Whether you’re using a direct thermal or thermal transfer method, both printer types rely on a print head as the heat source. If the print head doesn’t work correctly, the print quality suffers.
A print head consists of 203, 300 or up to 600 resistive heating elements per linear inch (dots-per-inch or dpi). These elements heat up and contact with the label media (in direct thermal printing) or a thermal transfer ribbon (in thermal transfer printing) to form the image.
The printhead is the most sensitive and expensive part on your thermal printer so it’s a good idea to take the necessary steps to extend the life of the print head. However, on average, only about 20 percent of thermal printer owners adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and maintenance. If you’re going to invest in a thermal printer, take a few simple steps to get more life from your thermal printer print head.
1. Clean it regularly. Follow the manufacturer’s directions and clean your print head regularly. A good rule of thumb is to clean the print head on your thermal printer every time you change the roll of labels or the thermal transfer ribbon. Use the cleaning supplies suggested by the manufacturer to avoid contamination or abrasion.
2. Use quality media. Use the labels (including the adhesive) recommended for your printer. Not only will the choice produce higher quality barcodes, but it will also allow you to run the thermal printer at a lower energy setting, which preserves the print head’s life. In addition, lesser quality media can deposit dust and debris that will scratch or abrade the protective coating over the heating elements. Once the coating is damaged, the heating elements are quickly destroyed and results in derogated print quality. Remember that direct thermal media causes friction that prematurely wears the printhead heating elements, compared to thermal transfer printing where the ribbon protects the printhead from direct contact with the label media.
3. Clean the platen. Dust from the paper can build up on both the platen and print head in your thermal printer. Periodically clean the platen by carefully wiping it with a lint-free cloth treated with isopropyl alcohol.
4. Set the print head pressure correctly. To extend the life of your print head, follow the darkness and pressure settings recommended by the manufacturer if you have a thermal printer with adjustable settings. Do not automatically set it on the darkest setting because the higher heat causes premature print element failure and the highest pressure puts more friction on the print head, which also causes premature wear.
5. Use the print speed you need. If you don’t need your thermal printer to run at its maximum speed, lower the setting and match it to the recommended speed for the media you’re using.
6. Cover the printer when not in use. You can protect the print head from exposure to dust and possible contaminants by placing a protective cover over the thermal printer whenever you’re not printing with it.
7. Don’t touch the print head element surface. This area is very sensitive and can be easily contaminated. Don’t reach in and handle the surface of the print head. When cleaning it, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which include removing any jewelry that could scratch the print head and using a grounding strap to prevents static electricity from contacting the part.
Pay attention to the print quality so you can recognize the early signs of potential problems.
By following these steps, you can get a greater return on your thermal printer investment. If you don’t want to do the maintenance yourself, pay for a service contract. It’s well worth the money to protect the printer from unnecessary wear and tear.
If you have any questions about the proper maintenance of your printer and print head, please contact us at IntelliTech International.