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The Industrial Manufacturer’s Guide to Protecting Thermal Print Heads

by Cheryl Lininger on April 2, 2019
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Manufacturers rely on thermal printing for material ID and inventory control. Thermal-printed labels and tags are an important tool that can deliver tremendous benefits across the manufacturing process.

A damaged print head can leave your operations team struggling to adapt. Print heads are not only expensive to replace, but the disruption can lead to problems across operations. Poorly printed and unreadable barcodes can mean production delays, costly errors, and unforeseen consequences.  

Not to worry, there are simple steps you can take to protect your thermal print heads and prevent problems.

Three Tips for Protecting Thermal Print Heads for Industrial Manufacturing

The thermal print head is a metal plate with small, square metal pins that are also known as pixels. The metal pins are heated and a spring provides pressure on the print head. An image is created using a ribbon or thermo-sensitive paper passing under the print head.

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Here are three insider tips for protecting your print head and making the most of your thermal printing.

1.      Schedule Cleaning for your Print Head and Platen Roller

It’s a good idea to clean the print head when you change the ribbon on the printer. You can purchase cleaning swabs or cleaning pens, but a simple 9:1 ratio mix of isopropyl alcohol and deionized water with a lint free cloth will also work.

Use light pressure when cleaning the print head – just enough to get it clean – and go over the print head several times. You should also clean the platen roller (the rubber roller that feeds the paper) at the same time. Make sure the print head and roller are dry before resuming printing.

2.      Use the Lowest Heat Setting

Using the lowest possible heat setting for your needs will extend the life of the thermal print head. Test the printer to find the lowest temperature that maintains a clear, quality image and a solid barcode.

If you find that a high heat setting is required for printing, check the alignment and balance of the print head. A misaligned print head requires more heat to produce the same results.

3.      Use Quality Supplies

For some work, low quality supplies and materials will work just fine, but not for thermal printing. Low quality ribbons or media (the label, paper, or tag) will leave abrasive fibers that can damage your print head. You may save a few cents with cheap ribbon or paper, but you end up paying more when you need to replace the print head.

Protect your Thermal Print Heads (and your Business)

Manufacturers across the world are using thermal printers and barcodes to track inventory and manage production.

When everything works correctly, the combination of heated pins and paper creates an accurate and legible image. Problems do happen, but maintenance can reduce those problems. Take the time before a printer goes down to maintain and protect your thermal print heads.

Preventative maintenance will reduce your printing costs and keep your operations team working efficiently.

Topics: MATERIAL ID, Thermal Printing