Ribbon and labeling selection is the most often overlooked decision in a barcode system. Labels peeling off, scanners unable to make good reads without several retries, or having a label that scratches or smears too easily can slow down your operation and lower efficiency. Ribbons and labels need to be suited to the environment and life expectancy of the label. Temperature, humidity, light, abrasion, chemicals, aging, and other factors will all affect the readability of the label.
Most people are familiar with dot matrix and laser printing technology. With dot matrix printers, pin-fed labels are used and with laser printers, sheet-fed labels are used. However, when it comes to barcoding, the primary methods of label printing are direct thermal and thermal transfer.
With direct thermal printing, the image is burned directly onto the paper and works similarly to a traditional fax machine with heat sensitive paper. On direct thermal printed materials, the image deteriorates with time.
Thermal transfer printers require a ribbon of print material which in turn is burned directly onto the facestock. Labels produced from thermal transfer will last much longer than labels generated from direct thermal transfer.
Thermal transfer ribbons consist of a protective back coat, a film, and ink. The back coat of the ribbon protects the printhead from abrasion and deposit buildup as well as dissipating heat from the printhead. As the heat penetrates the ribbon from the printhead, the film provides a good thermal conductivity for the ink, and prevents the ink from melting or smearing. The ink primarily consists of either wax or resin materials. Wax-based ribbons are predominantly general purpose and are the most economical. Wax and resin blend ribbons provide improved smudge resistance. These ribbons are priced substantially less than pure resins. Resin ribbons provide the most durable image currently available. Pure resin formulations generally require increased print head temperatures.
Unlike barcode labels, barcode ribbons are specific to the printer they are manufactured for. Some manufacturers wind their labels differently (wound out or wound in) and some manufacturers use various sized cores to make their barcode ribbons specific to their barcode printer. For this reason, manufacturers can typically charge a premium for their branded barcode ribbons. Compatible barcode ribbons can take out the expense of the manufacturers mark up. Try System ID's Black Tie brand to find quality compatible ribbons at bargain prices.
Paper labels are the most common and least expensive facestocks for use with thermal, dot matrix and laser printing. Paper facestock is best suited for indoor use and is a good product for labeling, material management, pricing, and shipping.
Synthetic labels withstand more abuse the paper facestocks. They can resist moisture, oil, chemicals, and dirt. Polyester is extremely impervious to temperature, chemicals, and dirt. Polypropylene (such as Kimdura) tends to be more general purpose and less expensive material than polyester.
Vinyl and polyolefin facestocks are strong and very resistant to smear and variations in temperature. They are often recommended for labeling on curved or irregular surfaces or for use in underwater applications.
When purchasing both labels and ribbons, simple calculations can save both time and money. The length of a ribbon roll is generally proportional to the length of a label roll to minimize the number of times in changing out a ribbon. This length ratio is typically 2:1, but may vary based on application. The length of the ribbon roll is usually given, but the same is not always true regarding the length of the label roll. Generally, only the number of labels per roll is printed.
System ID offers the most complete and comprehensive line of barcode printer ribbons and labels in the industry. We carry and stock manufacturer-branded barcode ribbons for all major manufacturers as well as a more economical barcode ribbon brand (Black Tie) that manufactures compatible ribbons at equal or better quality. We offer name-brand barcode labels for nearly any printer and a complete custom label design service. System ID can help you save money on both purchase and operational costs by helping you choose the right label for any application.