October 19, 2021 

How do I Extend The Life of a Barcode Label Printer?

To extend the life of a barcode label printer, it’s important to periodically clean equipment parts and schedule regular equipment maintenance.

To participate in modern commerce, it’s essential to understand how to apply lasting barcodes on products and product packaging. Since barcodes were first developed back in 1973, they have become instrumental in countless industries. From tracking food shipments and maintaining pharmaceutical inventory to preventing construction material counterfeiting, barcodes are equally useful and ubiquitous in the modern world. 

However, barcodes can only perform these functions if they are printed clearly and at a high enough contrast to be easily scanned by a barcode reader. To achieve this, it’s important to use a properly functioning barcode label printer.

When printing barcode labels, the most commonly used machines are thermal transfer printers and direct thermal printers. Although these printers share similar names, their operational principles are quite different. Thermal transfer printers utilize either wax- or resin-based ink-covered ribbons to create markings on paper, plastic, and other substrates. Direct thermal printers, on the other hand, don’t use any printing consumables to create markings. Instead, they apply heat to specially-coated pieces of paper to produce images, text, and barcodes.

However, regardless of whether a thermal transfer or direct thermal printer is used, the occasional operational issue is inevitable. While many of these problems are minor, if they are left unresolved, they can lead to excessive downtime and permanent hardware damage.

If you’re looking for ways to extend the life of a barcode label printer, here’s what you need to know.

How to Extend the Life of a Thermal Transfer Barcode Label Printer

To keep a thermal transfer printer operating at a high level, it’s essential to:

  1. Always use compatible, high-quality thermal ribbons and handle them correctly.
  2. Periodically clean the different parts of the printer.
  3. Schedule regular maintenance on an annual basis.

The longevity of a thermal transfer printer often depends on how well operators treat the printhead. If used correctly, thermal transfer printheads have the potential to last for years, as they aren’t exposed to the same levels of friction and static that a direct thermal printhead is. 

Static and friction can be reduced with the use of a thermal ribbon, which acts as a buffer between the substrate and the printhead. While ribbon presence can extend the life of a thermal transfer printhead significantly more than that of direct thermal printer, improper ribbon usage can also harm the printhead as well. 

Poor quality ribbons can lead to:

  • Adhesive bleeding.
  • Residue deposits on the printhead.
  • Excessive heat generation.
  • Increased friction/abrasion.

Each of these issues can greatly reduce the life of a thermal transfer printhead. To avoid them, users should always use high-quality ribbons and periodically check the machine’s temperature settings to make sure it is not overheating. 

Additionally, it is important to regularly clean the printhead, platen roller, and other parts of the printer. Both thermal transfer and direct thermal printers are prone to accumulating dust and other particles on their various surfaces. Airborne particles increase abrasion levels in the printhead and roller, leading to accelerated deterioration. 

To maximize the printer’s lifespan, follow these maintenance best practices:

  1. Clean both the roller and printhead every time the label roll or ribbon is changed.
  2. Never directly touch the printhead, as the oils on human hands can negatively impact the printhead.
  3. Always clean the printhead with a lint-free cloth and an appropriate cleaning liquid.
  4. After each label roll change, inspect the printer’s interior and clean any dirty surfaces with a soft brush.
  5. Periodically clean any outside surfaces and the media sensor.
  6. If applied markings appear streaky, perform a PAUSE test as described in the printer’s manual.

Finally, always schedule annual maintenance to ensure that all printer components are in top condition. 

How to Extend the Life of a Direct Thermal Barcode Label Printer

Although thermal transfer printers and direct thermal printers are different kinds of machines, they share many of the same maintenance best practices. While ribbon concerns are not an issue when it comes to direct thermal printer upkeep, users still need to be vigilant about:

  1. Regularly cleaning the printhead and other printer components.
  2. Scheduling annual expert maintenance.

As mentioned above, direct thermal printheads aren’t able to achieve the same longevity that thermal transfer printheads can—the presence of static and friction reduce direct thermal printhead life by 25-50% as compared to their thermal transfer counterparts. 

Despite this disparity, vigilant cleaning allows direct thermal printer users to keep their printheads efficient and functional for as long as possible. By cleaning the printhead during every label roll change, users can reduce the level of dust, debris, and other foreign materials. In turn, this improves label quality and maintains efficient operation, as the particles are not being pulled across the printhead and substrate.

With a combination of regular cleanings and annual maintenance, direct thermal printer users can maximize uptime and elongate the machine’s lifespan.

Want More Barcode Label Printer Best Practices? Stay Up-to-Date with C&M Digest’s Regular Coverage

Both thermal transfer and direct thermal printers allow users to create barcode labels that are sharp, machine-scannable, and highly durable. With the best practices laid out above, users can keep these printers running at an efficient level for years to come.

Want to learn more about how to extend the life of a barcode label printer? Stay connected with C&M Digest by subscribing to our newsletter. With information on hardware, formulas, and other important marking 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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