September 2, 2021 

Combat Common Thermal Printer Problems with These Tips

Environmental conditions, software malfunctions, and improper equipment storage can create common thermal printer problems.

Compact, reliable, and capable of printing on a wide variety of substrates, thermal inkjet (TIJ) printers play a key role in the daily operations of companies across several industries. Utilizing cartridge-based, drop-on-demand printing systems, TIJ printers may only weigh a few pounds, but they can create high DPI codes at speeds that are growing increasingly fast with new technology developments. For example, the Matthews Marking Systems VIAjet L-Series TIJ printer offers low DPI but an impressive speed of 488 meters per minute—a rate that rivals many continuous inkjet printer models. 

Beyond their compact size and reliability, TIJ printers are also known for their zero-maintenance operation. Because TIJ ink cartridges are designed with built-in printheads, every time a cartridge is replaced, the printhead is changed as well. This regular replacement eliminates the need for printhead services, lowering maintenance needs and boosting uptime. However, even with zero-maintenance operations, TIJ printers can still experience common operational issues. 

Common Thermal Printer Problems

Factors like environmental conditions, software malfunctions, and improper equipment storage can all lead to problems in TIJ print quality. Fortunately, most of these issues have simple fixes. 

Here are four of the most common thermal printer problems along with solutions to keep your TIJ printer operating properly. 

1. The Presence of Static Electricity

Static electricity can cause a variety of issues with thermal inkjet printers. Beyond simply giving a shock to the system operator, static electricity can wreak havoc on print quality as well as cause software disruptions, memory dumps, and message failure. 

Thankfully, static electricity presence has an easy fix—grounding. TIJ users can eliminate static electricity presence by following grounding best practices such as:

  • Only connecting the printer to AC power supplies that have protective ground conductors.
  • Always disconnecting the printer if there are issues with the protective ground conductor.
  • Solely using manufacturer-approved cables to bond conductive equipment together.

With these measures, users can minimize static discharge to avoid printing mishaps. 

2. The Cartridge Won’t Print

Periodic cartridge replacements enable TIJ printers to operate for long periods without the need for printhead services. Nonetheless, there are instances when both new cartridges and already-installed cartridges seemingly refuse to print. This refusal can be the result of a few common thermal printer problems, with the most prevalent being:

  1. Improper cartridge storage: If TIJ cartridges aren’t stored properly, it can cause ink dehydration, printhead harm, and formula degradation, all of which can cause the cartridge to malfunction. Generally speaking, it’s best to store TIJ cartridges upright in a dimly lit room set at around 68–76°F. For extra protection against dryness, it’s recommended to store cartridges in sealed plastic bags.
  2. Dried ink on the nozzle: While TIJ printers don’t often run into printhead problems, their nozzles can still become clogged. If a cartridge has become clogged with old ink, simply dampen a soft, fiberless cloth with water and gently wipe the nozzle area. Next, perform an ink purge as described in the TIJ model’s manual. If the cartridge still won’t work properly after these steps, professional maintenance may be necessary.  

3. The Ink Won’t Reach the Substrate

More often than not, if a TIJ’s ink droplets can’t reach the substrate, it’s because the user has exceeded the printer’s throwing distance. Most TIJ printers offer a throw distance of .25 inches, with industry-leading models achieving up to .4 inches. Beyond this length, TIJ codes will come out faint and illegible. It’s important to note that these throw distances are based on two different cartridge technologies from HP and Funai. HP’s technology, which has a throw distance of .25 inches, is proven in the market and has a failure rate of less than 2%, while Funai’s throw distance of .4 inches is still considered experimental and has a failure rate above 20% after sitting on the shelf for 90 days.

In this case, users will have to perform one of the following actions:

  1. Change the printing process.
  2. Find a different line spot for the TIJ printer.
  3. Buy a new type of printer.

4.  The Printer Won’t Detect Specific Materials

Although TIJ printing inks are compatible with a wide variety of porous and non-porous substrates, certain materials can be challenging for TIJ printing systems to detect. Many of the entry-level systems include a proximity sensor, which is the cheapest type of sensor on the market. For instance, transparent substrates (e.g. clear plastic containers) can often pass by a  TIJ printer undetected. 

Fortunately, by integrating the appropriate sensor (e.g. a photo-eye or encoder) for the substrate, these problems are easily fixed. Devices like photo-eyes use photoelectric sensors to detect the presence of a product. With the help of these sensors, TIJ printers become more accurate and reactive, even when marking transparent materials. 

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Thermal inkjet printing is one of the most versatile and cost-effective marking technologies in the world today. Used throughout the pharmaceutical, food packaging, and aerospace industries, TIJ printers are key to the daily operations of businesses of all sizes and backgrounds.

If you’re using a TIJ printer in your company, learn about the latest usage tips by subscribing to C&M Digest newsletter. With information on common thermal printer problems and other important TIJ topics, our newsletter will keep you updated on the latest industry developments. To get in touch with us about possible collaborations or ideas for coverage, contact us today.

C&M Digest Team

The C&M Digest Team is composed of experts from across the coding and marking world. Comprised of ink developers, hardware veterans, and engineers, our News Team delivers informed coverage that is always free from brand bias.

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